As you may or may not have noticed – I have been away for about a month. The community I pastor granted me a one month reading and reflection leave for my ongoing spiritual development. I greatly appreciate these annual times.
I found myself reading Bob Ekblad’s book, Reading the Bible with the Damned. In his work with inmates in the Northwest, he remarks that most who are alienated, marginalized, oppressed and poor read the Bible in ways in which God is heard more like a judge or prosecutor than one who has a preference for them. Bob’s work with them in leading Bible Studies in jails opens them up to hearing God in ways they never have before.
And that God me wondering how we hear God? Do we hear God’s voice? Or, even those of us who seek to be missional, do we hear God in the ways we want to hear God? Has our hearing become selective, hearing from God only what we want to hear, or do we practice to keep our ears open to hear God speaking, whatever God has to say. To adapt a statement by Canadian author, Robertson Davies, “the eye sees [and the ear hears] only what the mind is prepared to [encounter and] comprehend.”
I remember a few years ago I was with a gathering of missional pastors in the Chicago area and we were talking about what it means to be missional. One of the identifiers that came out was our willingness to be “edgy.” However, that meant different things to different ones of us. One person I talked with, who had planted a successful missional church plant in Las Vegas was planning on moving to the DC area to do what he did in Las Vegas in the same way he did it in Las Vegas because it was indeed “edgy.”
But I enquired of him – “how is that missional?” “Do you even know what God is doing in DC? Have you taken the time to hear God’s voice, to see God’s actions (Hebrew for “word” dabar means both word and action) to know how you can respond by participating in “edgy” ways to what God is already up to. I remarked that to translate Las Vegas into DC is not missional – but another form of franchising the stuff we create. Acting in such ways is reveal a missional loss of hearing.
Also, as with hearing loss, it makes what we do about us, rather than about God. Hearing God selectively places our agenda ahead of God’s agenda. And that is completely antithetical to what it means to be missional.
To hear God’s voice – and we all struggle with hearing God speaking to us – we need to read Scripture with the damned, as Bob Ekblad puts it. We need to see how God sees people and then read Scripture and hear God with this preference. We need to continually confess our penchant for getting out of Scripture, seeing what is going on around us in ways which are comfortable to us. We need to continually confess that we are more comfortable when missional is about us, rather than about what God is doing in the world.
To hear God’s voice, we need to be open to questions, open to being not knowing the answers, being open to learning, discovering, being open to learning from God – so that our hearts and minds may be shaped by God to hear God speaking to us. Being edgy is not so much about what innovative thing we come up with, being edgy is having the courage to hear God and act on what God is saying and doing, no matter how awkward or uncomfortable it makes us.
So, how do you hear God speaking to you?