It happened, in the providence of God, that I, as a teenager,
became a disciple of Jesus in a shabby little church in a northern paper town. This congregation, for the most part, wasn’t loud and irritating; it consisted of parishioners who treasured quietness. But, it was connected to a loud and sometimes in-your-face denomination, a denomination I’ve stayed with. Even though, in my view, it lacks listening grace.
In Mark Twain’s humorous tale, Roughing It, the main character travels across country by stage-coach and meets a female passenger unacquainted with listening grace. Lamenting his misfortune, he says, “The fountains of her great deep were opened up, and she rained the nine parts of speech, forty days and forty nights, metaphorically speaking, and buried us under a desolating deluge of trivial gossip.”
Sometimes I get that drowning sensation in church. Yes, I love to worship God. Yes, I enjoy music. But is there no place for listening? For quietness?
Sometimes the commotion of church annoys. Endless singing and talking with barely a breath taken, except to storm heaven with loud prayers . . . Oh for a quiet corner in an ancient sanctuary where silence is treasured! To attach myself to mute monks for one day of blessed quiet.
I realize that 75% of any given congregation is made up of extroverts. I’m guessing it’s much higher in my denomination. As an introvert, I’m a bit out of my element. Being an introvert doesn’t mean I’m a hermit in waiting; it simply means that I don’t get my energy from crowds, especially noisy crowds.
Perhaps I’m a Quaker at heart. Or, could it be, that Canada’s proximity to a nation that boasts the loudest, most crass form of evangelicalism has tainted our churches? I’m pondering that.
Listening isn’t mentioned in scripture’s lists of spiritual or practical gifts. If it was, my denomination would surely practice it. However . . . Jesus taught the spare use of words. “When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. (Matthew 6:7 NIV)
In Waiting on God, Andrew Murray admits it may be difficult to learn quietness but he says “the little season will bring a peace and a rest that give blessing not only in prayer but all the day.”
Holy moments occur more often in stillness.
God speaks. That’s His modus operandi. He begins in Genesis with “Let there be light!” From there, His voice punctuates one section of scripture after another until the last chapter where Jesus says, “I am coming soon.” The Old Testament records the Father speaking to prophets, kings, priests, farmers, mothers, fathers and children. The New Testament shows Jesus speaking to the rich, the poor, the pompous, the political, the religious, the desperate, the sick and the dead.
He speaks to everyone – but only those who listen benefit.
Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Because God speaks to people, the relationship award goes not to marathon talkers who pile up words while praying, speaking, berating, sharing . . . but to listeners who treasure what He says.
O God, make me a listener. And help me to endure the seemingly endless and noisy diatribe that passes for Christian communication.
Rose McCormick Brandon is the author of many articles and several books, including Promises of Home – Stories of Canada’s British Home Children and One Good Word Makes all the Difference.