One thing I love about the Lord is that his timing is perfect; he always knows just the right thing to say at the right time.
This past Friday I was sitting in the dinning hall with a box of cold pizza waiting for my tardy friends to arrive so that we could eat dinner. Between me arriving ten minutes early and them running behind, I had been waiting for a few minutes at the table, trying to resist the urge to scarf down my food without them. The dinning hall was ringing with the sound of chatter, the scraping of plastic cutlery against plates, the mundane murmur of ordinary talk, and the occasional laugh. Every once and a while someone would call out a greeting to an old friend who had just entered the room, and there would be a response in kind. I reached for my phone to pop in my earbuds and listen to some music while I waited (I know- I do the very things I hate), but some thing stopped me: A quiet voice from across the room.
“I have just really been praying…” a guy’s voice said.
I immediately froze when I heard the word ‘praying’. Could there be another Christian in the room talking about prayer? That’s crazy! The tone in his voice sounded like he was about to break up with someone, though… I have never witnessed a breakup before. This could be good! At this point, any respectable person would stop listing and go about their business. Any human with an ounce of respect for privacy would pretend like they had not heard anything and move on with life. Well, spoiler alert: I am not your average respectable person. My curiosity, once it is kindled, is insatiable. Besides, a little eavesdropping on strangers I had never met and probably would never meet wasn’t that bad, right?
I scanned the room to try and put a face to the voice I had heard.
“… about the Lord’s guidance right now for…”
There it was again. Where was he? I looked around again. Aha! There at a table about fifty feet away from me was a young man and a young woman. I could faintly hear the words he was saying as I tried in vain to read his lips from that distance. No luck. I would just have to listen.
“…my life…you’re in a position… God…I immediately thought of you…. “
My curiosity was stirred. Maybe it’s not a breakup… What is he talking about? If only it was quieter in here I could understand what he was saying. Completely still in my chair, I strained to hear his next sentence.
“… the Lord showed me two characteristics that were needed: creativity and…”
As if on cue, a group of frat guys walked in at that very moment, noisily joking with each other as they crossed the room to a table in the back. No! I wanted to shout. Be quiet! I need to know what the second thing was! You made me miss it! Sheesh! figuring out what this conversation was about was harder than translating fragmented Latin inscriptions.
Ok, Lydia. Focus.
I sat completely still in my seat. Focusing all my mental energy to the couple, I began to listen for his voice again, filtering out the noise. Slowly but surely, the incessant clinking of cups and raucous chatter faded to the background of my mind, and I could hear the young man more clearly. Once I had found his voice, I clung to it with a laser focus. He spoke so quietly, that there were still some things I couldn’t hear, but I could make out most of what he said.
He was telling a story about how God had taken him from a place of trust in himself to a place of trust in God over the course of a year, through job loss and through his search for direction. After almost a year, he still had no job, but he had found contentment in where God was allowing him to serve. At the end of this story, the young man looks straight at the girl and I can hear his words as clearly as if I had been sitting right next to him:
“If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be this: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”
The familiar words from Proverbs were like a balm to my weary soul. I had been wrestling throughout the week, and especially during that day, with trusting the Lord’s timing and surrendering my ministry to him, so this stranger’s words were exactly the reminder I needed that God was in control. Funny, I thought, Who knew that the Lord would speak to me through a conversation, of which I am not supposed to be a part?
I was startled out of my silent contemplation by a vibration from my phone, alerting me to a text. I glanced at the time. 6:20? Have been sitting here for twenty minutes listening to this conversation? The time had gone by so quickly, and I was so caught up in listening that I was not even paying attention to the time.
Later that Friday, as I was reviewing the day and pondering the conversation I had overheard, I began to think, What if we listened to God the way I listened to this random stranger?
It is a good question. We always say we want God to speak to us, but what we really mean is that we want God to speak to us in the way we want. We desire immediate, clear responses to cookie cutter prayers, preferably accompanied by visible signs delivered to us on a silver platter. We treat prayer like a genie or a magic 8 ball, and when we don’t hear an immediate response to our questions and concerns, we give up on prayer. Don’t get me wrong, we still pray- But our prayers lack faith, and they lack power. It becomes less of a relationship and more of a ritual. And when we hear that one friend gushing about how they spend hours talking to the the Lord, we scoff. Must be nice, we think.
If most of us were honest, even a plain audible voice would be nice. Is that too much to ask?
I have often wondered why God doesn’t shout to get my attention, but after eavesdropping on this conversation, I think I have realized the answer: There is so much clamor in our lives that if God shouted, his voice would blend in with the noise. Instead, he whispers. Do you want to know the craziest thing about a whisper? In a crowded room, a whisper will catch your attention and draw you in faster than any shout. Just as I was drawn in by the quiet calmness of the strangers voice, God’s still small voice beckons us to listen to him.
Well that’s all well and good, you may be saying, but is God even speaking to me at all?
I have some good news for you: many times, God is willing and ready to speak to us, but we haven’t learned how to listen. Thankfully, he is very patient with us. When I was in kindergarten, I remember one thing my teacher used to say when she was about to talk to us: “Alright, class, turn up your listening ears.” I believe that more of then then not, God is saying to me, “Alright, my child, turn up your listening ears.”
Just as I had to be still and silent to to hear what that young man was saying, listening requires focus, and a stillness of heart. For us to hear God’s voice we have to stop talking, and commit to being still until God tells us to move. But remember that clamor I was talking about earlier, the noise and distractions of life? There is always something that needs doing or someone who needs our attention. How can we be silent and still with all of that noise around us?
Sometimes, when the noise of life won’t go away, we just have to tune it out and listen for the one voice that really matters. When we hear that still small voice, we should cling to it for dear life and never let go. That is where we will find the words of life.