Today's topic is from chapter 5 of Michael Frost's great little book 'Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People.' It is on developing the habit of listening for the Spirit's voice in our lives.
This came at a very interesting time for me, personally. My present tribe is fond of emphasizing two main questions to ask ourselves: 1) What is God saying to you? and 2) What are you going to do about it? While sitting in our weekly worship gathering this past Sunday it became apparent to me that... I don't have a clue what God is saying to me. So I prayed about it a couple times that day. Then, on Monday, I opened up this chapter on listening for the Spirit's voice! Quite the coincidence, I would say. ;)
Frost suggests spending at least one period of the week listening for the Spirit's voice. Simply a time - preferably at least 20 minutes - where we stop and create space to commune with God. As he says on p. 58:
"How are we to know how to navigate our way through the world, eating with and blessing unbelievers, without the Spirit's voice to guide us away from falling into sin?
When I say "falling into sin," I don't necessarily mean getting drunk or running off with your neighbor's spouse (although of course we're never immune to making such choices). I'm referring to the much less dramatic but far more prevalent sins of fear and laziness.
Fear and laziness are mission killers. Fear of persecution, fear of standing out or causing offense, fear of having to answer someone's tricky questions--fear will shut down missional engagement every time. Likewise with laziness: I don't mean the kind of laziness that has you lying on the couch eating Doritos and watching sports on television. I mean the inner voice that prompts you not to bother with offering yourself in the service of others. Laziness tells you that you don't have the time; laziness whispers to you that you need to take care of yourself first."
He continues on the next page:
"My experience when engaging with my neighbors is that I must open my heart to the Holy Spirit in order to separate truth from untruth, fiction from knowledge, the honorable from the dishonorable. Figuring out how best to be an intriguing, blessing, godly presence in community isn't easy. If I'm going to encourage you to bless others and eat with them, it would be irresponsible of me not to also encourage you to listen to the Spirit."
This habit of listening is designed to provide us with the nurture, sustenance, and accountability for the missional lifestyle. So for those willing to undertake the challenge of silence and solitude as a missional habit, this is the advice he offers for fostering an openness to the Spirit's promptings:
- Set aside a designated time - Actually block it out on your schedule. He prefers a Sunday or Monday (early in the week).
- Eliminate distractions - Find ways to avoid any intrusion on the senses of touch, sight, smell, taste, or sound. As Jesus taught in Matthew 6:6, "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray... in secret." Again, he suggests 20 minutes or more, saying something often happens to the stillness around ten to fifteen minutes in.
- Let God in - He suggests some type of "centering prayer" (more in this below). As Thomas Merton said, "The prayer of the heart has to be always very simple, confined to the simplest of acts."
- Follow God's promptings - It is somewhat pointless to listen if we are not prepared to follow.
On pages 64-65 Frost talks about "centering prayer." Centering prayer is different from classic Eastern meditation, which is designed to empty your mind by pushing thoughts away or by having no thoughts. The key to Christian contemplative prayer (centering) is to focus our attention. Perhaps using a prayer-word, such as: amen, Abba, grace, love, let go, stillness, Jesus; or maybe the so-called Jesus Prayer (adapted from Luke 18:13) "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." It's okay to let thoughts in, but we don't want to engage them. Ideally, after a period of centering prayer, our thoughts will begin to slow down, becoming more captive to the object of our worship, and shaped by the Holy Spirit.
One thing that really leaped off the page for me in this chapter was the quote by St. Therese of Lisieux:
"If you are willing to bear serenely the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter."
Wow. That brought me such a sense of hope and comfort. I am often displeasing to myself. I like the thought that, rather than disqualifying me for Christ's love, it actually qualifies me as a "pleasant place of shelter" for Jesus; A person he wants to be with.
Naturally, as an introvert, this chapter on listening was much more to my liking than the acts of blessing and eating. It's not anymore important, perhaps, but I found it very timely and powerful.