Seeing with our ears

Check out this passage of scripture from Ex 20:18-20

Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (ESV)

All the people perceived the thunder and the lightning flashes and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood at a distance. Then they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.” (NASB)

All the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain [surrounded by] smoke. When the people saw [it] they trembled and stood at a distance. “You speak to us, and we will listen,” they said to Moses, “but don’t let God speak to us, or we will die.” (HCSB)

Maybe I’m making too much of this, pushing the point a little too much, but how do you see thunder? How you do see sound?

Have you ever had a baby? When you do these days, you go for an ultrasound, where sound waves are turned into images. Have you ever had to have a MRI? MRI’s use a powerful magnetic field to align the magnetization of some atoms in the body, then uses radio frequency fields to systematically alter the alignment of this magnetization. This causes the nuclei to produce a rotating magnetic field detectable by the scanner¢â‚¬”and this information is recorded to construct an image of the scanned area of the body.

A year or so ago, I took a class in creative writing from a school that was part of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, a community of over 250 universities and associated organizations worldwide committed to advance formal and informal learning through the worldwide sharing and use of free, open, high-quality education materials organized as courses. During this course, one of the assignments I had to complete was to go to a place I frequented and just listen. Then I was to write down my impressions. Since I was spending a lot of time in Starbucks, making it my office, I chose that environment. What I found was that it was very loud and really not conducive to quiet thought or study. I came to hear that Panera Bread was better for that. But what it did do was teach me to listen.

When I did that, I began to hear so many amazing things. It seems everywhere I went, I heard people talking about their church. I also heard kids fearful of their future, especially college. I heard parents trying to get advice from other parents about issues with their kids. I heard about family members in jail and others in the hospital. People were excited about the weekend coming up, and fearful of the job cuts that may be coming to their family. And many were just tired of the race. Combine the hearing with the seeing – what people were wearing, for instance – helped me to perceive something about their life.

But there is one more voice we must consider.

In one particular instance, I noticed a lady who frequented Starbucks as often as I did. She had about a 3 year old daughter and also a newborn. On this one particular day, she just looked worn out, and I could tell by her voice she was having a bad day. As I silently prayed for her I heard the other voice. “Do something nice for her,” it said. So I went to the counter and just bought her a gift card. I walked over to her, introduced myself, and told her that it just seemed like she needed a little encouragement that day. In later conversations she did talk about her faith, which I was also glad to hear.

Oh, that other voice? It was the voice of the Spirit.

I think that if we are honest, too often we fail to listen to people. We walk into a place with a purpose, to get what we need and get out. We rarely linger anymore; we are always on the run. But if we are going to get to missional we have to stop, sit down, linger, and listen. We have to listen to those around us and observe. We have to linger and listen to the Spirit within us, for the voice that gives us direction in whom to interact with and how best to do it.

When was the last time you just went someplace and listened, undistracted by a pile of books prepping for Sunday? Try this one day: take your favorite journal and go somewhere you frequent regularly. Write down what you hear and from whom. Write down what you feel. Make that an exercise you do regularly. This should help you see with your ears where God is working and where you can join in with him.

David has been a systems thinker most of his life. He has started three businesses as well as designed and developed systems and processes in existing organizations. He has a Doctorate in Leadership and has also done additional post-graduate work in communications.

He has also pastored 3 churches and loves to think about, write about and podcast about scripture, theology, and leadership.

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