“Consider carefully how you listen.” Jesus’ words in Luke 8:18 are ringing in my head.
Listening has been front and center in my thoughts these days as I’ve been choosing through Lent to listen even more intentionally not because I must but because I may.
But at first I’m puzzled as I read Jesus’ command. It begins with “therefore,” but what does considering carefully how I listen have to do with a lamp on a stand and everything concealed being brought into the open? And how, specifically, am I meant to listen?
And then I look a little further. Three verses back I find this: “The seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
And three verses later: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”
I’m beginning to catch on. The most important thing about my listening is how it shapes my life. Every parent knows this. (“Johnny, did you hear what I said?”)
And the mysterious verses in between aren’t so mysterious anymore. A lamp is meant to shine, not hide. Listeners are meant to shine too, the light of the word that has entered them illuminating them from the inside, reaching into the corners and revealing the cobwebs along with the lost coins, cleaning and purifying and shining out so those around can see.
God’s light shines into the corners as I listen. It often isn’t comfortable. Over to the far right, trying to hide under a pile of old tarps, Fear is camping out, and lounging on a mattress nearby is Selfishness. When the searchlight gets a little too close to the Desire To Protect My Life, she assumes an aggressive stance, none too eager to let herself be replaced by Willingness To Let Go.
I read on toward the end of Luke 9 and listen to Jesus say “Follow me” to three different people. I find their same set of excuses in me. Follow You when it means giving up the right to the comfort of my own home (v. 58)? Really, Jesus? Follow You when it means rocking the boat and breaking with tradition and having the community think I’m an uncaring, irresponsible member of society (v. 59)? Follow You when it means letting go of the need to have even those closest to me in agreement with my decision to follow (v. 61)? Really, Jesus? Did You have to pick on those things that are dearest to me—comfort and security in rules and relationships, or, to put it differently, what I think of myself and what others think of me, or, again, home and reputation and family? Nothing known and safe and predictable is exempt from the light of Your gaze.
I wonder how I’ll ever get past my fear of letting go of those things to follow Jesus. I tell Jesus that, tell him I want to follow, I want to be made willing, that he’s got a hard job ahead of him. And I hear him say, “Look at me.”
Ah. Right. I look and remember that this is how Peter took those impossible few steps on water: he kept looking at Jesus. My Grandpa told me the same thing when he was teaching me to drive: Look where you want to go. Don’t look at the ditch that you want to avoid, keep your eyes on the road ahead of you. And as I look back into Jesus’ face and see him smiling at me I remember how much he loves me and how badly I want to be where he is and all of a sudden none of those worries seem so big anymore. “Follow me,” is the command. That means I’ll never be asked to go into those hard places alone. That makes a huge difference.
It changes how I pray: I don’t have to learn to want those uncomfortable things. I can simply ask that Jesus would keep growing my desire for him until it’s big enough that I’m willing to follow no matter where he leads.
It is, I think, one of the secrets of learning to listen so that my listening shapes my life: Don’t worry too much about figuring it all out and trying to make it happen, just keep your eyes on Jesus. If I’m staying close to him, when he moves I’ll move, and I’ll end up where I’m meant to be.
“Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. . . . Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.” (Hebrews 12:2 The Message)