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Open ears, open heart

“And so, my children, listen to me, for all who follow my ways are joyful. Listen to my instruction and be wise.  Don’t ignore it.  Joyful are those who listen to me, watching for me daily at my gates, waiting for me outside my home!  For whoever finds me finds life and receives favor from the Lord36 But those who miss me injure themselves. All who hate me love death.” (Proverbs 8:32-36 NLT)

The call is to "listen" - not absent-mindedly, but with deliberate attentiveness to what is being said, how it is said, and even when it is said - for all God says has a purpose and a plan and a specific timing.  God's instruction brings joy. You might ask how that can be since his Word sometimes brings conviction. The end result of conviction is repentance - the result of repentance is a "do-over" - a chance to do again what the heart had not done well the first time. How many times in this life do we actually get a "do-over"? In the natural sense, it isn't very often. In fact, even when there is a chance to do again or set something right that was done wrong, there is much work trying to do again that which wasn't done so well in the first place. As we look again at what is said to us in our passage, it reminds us that when we "follow his ways" we are joyful. Maybe it is because following requires watching with expectation - waiting with open hearts. This is what truly brings us joy - not the work required in the "do-over", but the trust declared in the hope and expectation of waiting on him.

Listening is probably one of the hardest things we have to do in this lifetime, not because it has anything to do with how well our ears "hear", but because of how poorly our heart actually pays attention! We might be sitting alone right now as we consider these words. If so, we likely don't hear much more than the words rolling around in our minds as we consider them. Now that I called your attention to what it is you are hearing, you probably hear that hum of the air blowing overhead from the vent, or even the low pitched hum of the refrigerator and the crackling of the coffee pot as the coffee drips slowly into the pot. You heard these things because you were attentive - but how long does it take for you to forget them - to allow them to become what is coined as "white noise" once again? Probably not very long! I wonder if this might just be the cause of some of our heart problems - the tendency we have to "forget we were listening" and drift into some other pursuit without even noticing.

There is likely no specific way or plan for how we "listen" to God's direction in our lives - it simply happens because we actually turn our attention to him for sometimes even a fraction of a second. Imagine what it might be like if we actually took that fraction of a second and multiplied it by a thousand or a couple thousand seconds! We might actually find our hearts settling into his timing, understanding his purpose, paying close attention to his warnings, and getting caught up in the joy of getting to know him a little better! There is something to be said for "purposeful listening" - paying attention because you don't want to miss what is right there at your doorstep or fingertips. To listen with this kind of "intent" opens the heart to actually being affected - and when the heart is affected, trust is built. God is after trust - the purpose of listening is to allow a trust to develop in someone other than ourselves. When we take in the Words he brings, we are opening ourselves to the possibilities of some other answer other than our own.

Perhaps the greatest means of building trust comes in the exchange that happens when two individuals actually get to know the ins and outs of each other. No one really does this apart from listening - for your sighs even declare something about our level of fatigue, contentment, and even the depths of our hope. The words of God are everywhere, but they aren't heard with the ear alone. They are caught in the sighs of the wind, the movement of the grass on a lazy afternoon, and the buzzing of the bees busily gathering nectar from the newly opened blossoms on the plants. They are intercepted in the happy laughter of children at play and the tender tears of a broken heart weeping with deep agony over loss. They are multiplied in the melody of a song of praise and cultivated in the moments we actually open the pages of the Bible to seek out his plan. Trust in God isn't just an attitude - it is an action - a desire to focus our attention toward another other than ourselves. If we really want to listen so that we will know the joy of the Lord to the fullest extent, we need to do more than open our ears - we need to open our hearts! Just sayin!

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