It’s amazing and humbling to look at Jesus’ words and still find hidden messages of wisdom after years of familiarity. Sayings like, “Enter through the narrow gate,” “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and, “The kingdom of God is within you,” can all be numbingly commonplace to those of us who’ve been or been around Christians for considerable amounts of time. When I’m overly-familiar with something or someone it results in my no longer giving intentional consideration, simply because I don’t need to. “I get it,” I think, and so stop listening or looking closely; whether it be with my spouse, friends, nature, God’s presence, or my responsibilities, the illusion of familiarity numbs my heart and mind.
When I stop really listening and looking, I miss so much wonder and uniqueness and consequently lose intimacy from my life. It is in this way that I feel like familiarity is one of the major culprits within Christianity. We’re too familiar with Jesus, church, Scripture, and the use of the term “Christian.”
One of the most refreshing experiences in my relationship with Christ is when I’m reading Scripture and something strikes me as being totally unfamiliar. This experience happened when I was reading Luke 8:
Consider carefully how you listen…
Jesus goes on to say more, of course, but I was stunned with the implication of this simple instruction before I read on:
Do I consider how I listen? Sure, maybe I consider what I hear; but do I consider how I am listening?
How I am listening really dictates what it is that I hear.
- Am I fearful? Then Jesus’ words will sound scary, condescending, or give the terribly arrogant “turn or burn” impression to compensate for our fear.
- Am I angry? Then I will understand Jesus’ words with an irritable tone, subconsciously justifying my own unresolved aggression.
- Am I bored? Then Jesus will sound like an uninspired 80 year old professor, just counting his days until retirement.
In each case, I am not truly hearing (or reading) Jesus but a projection of my own emotional condition. This can have disastrous effects on my life, faith, relationships, and maturation.
The goal, I believe, is to be fully and purely receptive. To truly hear and see Christ we must:
- Learn to let go of what it is we might be afraid to hear or see.
- We must also learn to let go of what it is that we might be hoping to hear or see.
- Lastly, we have to unbind ourselves from opinions and things we’re so convinced of that we've stopped needing to listen to God and others. This way they can be permitted to grow, change, and mature.
This third step includes our use and understanding of Scripture. Used correctly, it is an indispensable guide to intimacy with God and others. Used incorrectly, is a terrible disabler of relationship and intimacy with God and our neighbors, namely because it is used in place of intimacy and relationship. Christianity should only ever bring us to continuously and increasingly loving God, our neighbors (whoever they may be at any given moment), and ourselves. If it is not doing this, we’re not truly practicing Christianity.
When I listen to Jesus’ instruction to consider carefully how I listen, I can see how once we’ve released our fears, entitlements, and over-identification with opinions, we will be able to truly listen to God and our neighbors, without a self-centered filter. God is infinitely creative and finds ways and, being made in God's image, so should we.
How am I listening to God? How am I listening to my neighbor? It might be helpful to consider it this way:
“Listen to the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. And listen to your neighbor as yourself.”