“Did you not hear what I just told you?” This conversation happened quite frequently at my house growing up. My mom to my dad, my mom to my sister, me to my mom, my sister to me. There were five of us under one roof, so this conversation could occur between any permutation of us. This issue is rarely ever about hearing, all five of us have perfectly normal hearing capabilities. My eavesdropping dropping skills may mean that my hearing is even above normal, but that says more about being nosy that my ears.
These conversations were not about hearing, they were about listening.We can hear everything, but if we are not listening, it is all moot.
I hear a lot of things throughout the day. My co-worker who shares an office with me tells me about her previous evening at home with her kids, my roommates fill me in on their days, my boss pops into my office to remind me of a task, a prospective adoptive parent shares a story over the phone, pop up ads on Facebook try to convince me to buy something, my Pandora station is interrupted for advertisements, the NPR news anchor updates me on what I missed overnight, and it goes on and on and on. My ears hear all this information. But often times, I am not listening. Not listening to the details of a story, a product or a problem. There is so much to hear and yet I listen to and am able to process so little.
In one of Jesus’ frequent metaphors, He is the shepherd and His followers are the sheep. He says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Often, I look at the lives of those I consider brave; friends taking bold steps of faith, going out into the unknown because of a call of the Lord. I wonder how they can go somewhere scary and unfamiliar. And yet, I understand. When You hear God’s voice, you listen and you obey.
There is intimacy in the way Jesus cares for His followers, but also trust in the way His followers go where He leads. It is more than just hearing a story. Obedience requires listening. Listening requires trust. The trust is rooted in knowing and being known.
I am a chronic verbal processor. I famously verbal vomit all over my friends, usually during a phone call. I feel known when a friend will ask me a follow-up question, even if we switched topics quickly, since I tend to do that throughout a monologue. I realize then that they are not simply hearing the words come out of my mouth, but they are truly listening. As they listen to me, and I listen back, our trust in each other grows and know each other increasingly better.
Shepherds lead their sheep and their sheep trust them. Just as friendship builds through two way communication, so does my relationship with the Lord. I can only go where I am led and I can only be led when I am listening. The first step to obedience is to listen.