Yesterday, I heard a prompt from the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t on a major issue but it was wise advice that had I received and heeded it, my day would have gone better.
I wish now the Holy Spirit would have yelled. But does God yell? Should He yell? Does yelling even work?
Listening has become a great focus of mine over the last several years. Personally, I have been a talker most of my life and I see how damaging it has been to others and how much I missed out in learning from others. My family of origin as well as my current family have tried to help me cut down on the talking, refrain from telling (a softer form of yelling), and try to settle more into using listening as a way to improve relationships – especially with God.
I have been going through the book of Acts and see the need to listen everywhere in that powerful book about what the Holy Spirit can do in a community that is active in waiting and listening, and then doing what they are prompted to do. It also has a lot to say about those who don’t listen and instead use threats and yelling. The evil influences are usually the louder ones – evil spirits shrieking out truth but in a wrong way, bad leaders breathing out threats to Christians, shrieking mobs that need to be quieted, or the constant barrage of distorted messages. (Kind of sounds like our times!)
The people who listen learn and do amazing things. The people who don’t end up rejecting good stuff, even God himself.
The book of Acts makes profound and repeated appeals to listen to the Holy Spirit and others.
Sometimes I wonder why the Holy Spirit doesn’t just turn up the volume and blast the words and ideas and truth into people’s ears so he can get through all the other noise. Maybe, like a good classroom teacher, he knows how to help people listen. Maybe he gave us the adage: “A person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”
At times, there is force in the Holy Spirit’s work – when Ananias and Sapphira drop dead for lying against the Holy Spirit; when Saul is confronted on the road to Damascus – but we don’t see yelling. I guess I should be learning something from the Holy Spirit’s technique in my own life.
In Acts 27, when Paul is at the lowest status – a prisoner stuck on a boat he can’t control – the call to listen gets quietly but profoundly strong:
So Paul warned them, ‘Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.’ But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete.”
What resulted was pure disaster. Paul later chides them for not listening to him, but in his gracious way reassures them that if they NOW listened and obeyed, despite their poor choices and a shredded ship, the people would not be lost.
We used a book this summer in our Andrews University Leadership program by Edgar Schein called “Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking Instead of Telling.” It has helped me see why the Holy Spirit does gentle nudging and why I should too. Asking prompts our curiosity more and draws our will away from our ruts of thinking and believing and acting into new areas. It activates our prefrontal cortex and invites us to make a judgment that is not judgmental but more informed.
And therein is the challenge of the Holy Spirit and church community. How can our bull-headed, self-absorbed, fixated minds be drawn to better thinking?
Paul paints the challenge clearly in Romans 1 when he describes us all:
who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them…so that people are without excuse…but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools…Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen.”
How does God get us out of our mental ruts? How does he help us learn? It is often by how well we listen – to Him, to each other, to new and even opposing ideas.
When I finished the book of Acts and read Paul’s last warning (Acts 28:25-28), the theme became even more obvious:
The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”
Prayer: Oh, gentle Holy Spirit. Forgive me for not hearing your soft counsel to me yesterday. I know you still stayed with me and I eventually heard and heeded, but I want to hear your still small voice more and more, especially through the lovely and not so lovely people you will send my way today and the guardrails of life you have created to keep me pliable. I don’t want to be like the Jews and Gentiles in the book of Acts who rejected your new ideas. I want to be like the Jews and Gentiles in the book of Acts who received your words with gladness.
Duane Covrig is the Chair of the Department of Leadership at Andrews University. He teaches courses in leadership and ethics and blogs at AdventistEthics.com, where this article originally appeared (it has been reprinted here with permission).
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