Saturday, January 21, 2012

Filtering The Noise

“And we pray, Lord, that we might listen to You and not to others.”

It was a simple prayer the priest voiced, and perhaps had I not recently been thinking about hearing His call, I might not have heard what He said. So often it seems I am deaf to Him.

I’ve been thinking about praying and how to distinguish the call of God, if He should speak to me, but note the words of the priest’s prayer: he said no IF God speaks to me. He said the Lord IS speaking to me, and I should listen. But if that is true, then how come I can’t hear Him speaking, at least sometimes? Ah, then there is the second part of the priest’s prayer: “And not listen to others.” I don’t hear Him because I am listening to others, because I like what they have to say.

The fact is that we are bombarded with people speaking to us all the time, and we can’t help but listen to them. And we should listen to them, for surely God often uses others, their words and their actions, to speak to us. But if His words are in this noise which reaches us continually, how do we filter out the less essential stuff, and hear Him?

I think a simple filter for most of us might be to ask: These words and actions I hear and see, do I want them for me, for my benefit? Remember the prayer: “Not my will but Thy will be done, O Lord?” Implied but not said in that prayer is the fact that it is WE who must do something with ourselves; we are doing our will or His. We must stop filtering the world around us looking for things we want to do, our will for ourselves, and instead find what we and God would have us do, for others.

The advertisements of television and radio appeal to things we want. “Buy this and you’ll be happy.” Our friends also appeal to things we want so that we will appreciate them in return: “Let’s go play, or go to the mall or to the movies. Let’s have fun together.” And even among the more noble and virtuous words we hear from others: “Let’s give to the poor; come to this prayer meeting, or give your life to Jesus,” we hear the good words but then filter them to hear what they will mean for us and what we want: “Others may like me more if I do these things, and perhaps even God will!”

We filter so much of this world around us and think: “What’s in it for me?”

Consolations and rewards and simple “Thank you’s” really are good things and we should try to do things to deserve to hear them said to us, but the good we feel as a result of hearing these words said to us shouldn’t be a pride-like good feeling, “They acknowledge how great I am,” but rather an accomplishment feeling: “For all the times I screwed up, perhaps I got that one right, as You would wish me to do it. Thank you, Lord, for Your help.”

If we filter the world around us with the thought “Could this be God calling to me,” rather than “Is this what I want,” I believe we will be on a path to more often hearing --- and answering --- His call. If we look at the television ads and truthfully ask: “I wonder if God’s telling me to buy ANOTHER pair of shoes” or “Is God telling me to eat more French fries,” then we will be able to know with some confidence if it is His call. There are many things He would call us to say or do (or sometimes even buy) if we listen correctly.

Perhaps we might worry about God calling us to be “too holy.” But God doesn’t call us all to do priest-like things all the time (even priests!), especially if we have a family or other life commitments at this time. But He does call us to do some things each day, because He loves us and has a unique purpose for each of us, for exactly where we are now in our life.

And if we can but listen, perhaps we’ll even hear those words of praise (we so love) from someone and not think, like Little Jack Horner: “What a good boy am I,” but rather: “I heard God speaking those words to me through that person. And He told me He is pleased.”

Having God say “thank you” to us, isn’t that grand? If we are naturally inclined to seek the things we want in this life, shouldn’t we want that most of all?

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