A few years back we were reading through the Narnia books with a new set of children who were ready for them. In Prince Caspian, there comes the moment when Lucy is aware that Aslan wants her to go a certain way, but after telling her brothers and sister about which way she believed they should go, they talk her into going another way. It turned out to be harder and longer than they thought. When they finally reach their destination, Lucy is confronted by Aslan and asked why she did not do what He had said. She was immediately ashamed.
And at the same time as Lucy's revelation in the book, I had one of my own. I, too, was immediately ashamed and later than evening sat down to write a letter of apology to a woman who didn't even know she deserved one. It was to a former pastor's wife. They had recently left the church and moved to another state and I know her time in my church was not going to rank as one of her favorite memories. I was writing to ask her forgiveness for not listening to what God had asked me to do. Over and over while she was part of our church I felt the nudge to get in contact with her and befriend her, but I never did. I had a list of many good excuses... I was too busy, she probably didn't want people invading her privacy, it was really difficult to find a way to contact her. Yeah, I know. It's a pretty wimpy list of excuses. She did write back and accepted my apology, but did say it would have been very nice had I actually done the thing I never did. I don't think my overtures of friendship would have ultimately changed her family's story line, but it could have made it a lot more pleasant.
Yesterday in the girls' Bible study that I lead, we were looking at the parable in Luke about the wise man who builds his house on the rock. While all the girls had heard the story so often it was overly familiar, what struck all of us was that this was a visual representation of a person who comes to Jesus, listens to Him, and does what He says. We all agreed that we are not so good at the listening and doing part.
Sometimes listening to what God calls us to do involves big, big thing. Perhaps a move, a job change, a family addition, or perhaps it is to do something quite outside our comfort zones. Sometimes it is the big things that are easier to discern and do. We know it's big. We know it's going to change our lives. We don't do it lightly and with a lot of prayer and thought. We may not know what lies ahead, but we're ready to say yes.
At other times, listening and doing involves pretty small and little things. Sometimes it might be to call someone on the phone and ask how they are doing... or bringing a meal just because... or finally dropping off some diapers to a new mom. These are the things that are so easy to ignore. It's easy to wonder if we are just making things us, and if so it doesn't really matter. It's easy to dismiss it as not important. It's easy to get so busy that we don't even hear that still, small voice asking us to do something.
In my experience, most times those small things will come and go and we will never know the eternal impact they had. The whole effort might not even turn out as we expect, but we do them because they we have been asked to. Other times, we get to see the immediate impact. I remember hearing a story (I really wish I could remember where so I can attribute it... if you know it's provenance, please put it in the comments) about a man who decided one afternoon to purposefully listen for God's voice. He feels as though he is to stop at a convenience store and buy a gallon of milk. He thinks this is odd, and because of its oddness and randomness almost ignores the feeling. He then remembers what he had set out to do and buys the milk. Then he feels he is to drive to a certain neighborhood and stop at a certain house (apartment? can't remember) and knock on the door and hand the resident the milk. This he thinks is truly odd and now potentially embarrassing. Still, he remembers his plan for the day and decides that a little embarrassment is a small price to pay for his 'experiment'. He knocks on the door and it is opened by a man who stands a little agog at being handed a gallon of milk and being told that God had told the man delivering it to give it to him. Instead of being laughed at, he is told that the man and his wife were out of work and had run out of milk for their children (I'm a little fuzzy on the exact details, but you get the gist) and had prayed that they needed help. I'm pretty sure the man delivering the milk was just as blessed as the family receiving it.
Now, one last tidbit that I learned as I was preparing for yesterday's Bible study. The author of the commentary I was looking at was suggesting that true listening involves several different parts and that it requires effort. Part of learning to listen in church is to:
"Pray -- for the preacher and for yourself. Come prepared to listen, understanding that listening is work. The will to concentrate is fundamental. We cannot listen to God's Word the way we watch TV -- kicked back with a bag of chips in hand or pleasant daydreams occupying our minds. Keep your Bible open to the sermon text and turn to other passages that are cited. Take notes. One of the curious by-products of the Great Awakening in America was a sudden interest in shorthand. It was not unusual to see men and women, quill pens in hand, carrying portable inkwells as they hurried to a preaching service on the village green. The same thing happened in Scotland under similar circumstances. Revived hearts lead to scribbling hand." (from Luke, volume 1, That You May Know the Word by R. Kent Hughes)