Service Time Change & The Practice of Listening

I am no athlete, but I did play baseball for a few years in elementary school. My illustrious career culminated with playing right field for the Pizza Hut team. I would stuff a handful of sunflower seeds in my back pocket and stand out in right field every inning, slowly working through my stash. What did my stance communicate? I had a readiness to snack and a total lack of readiness to field anything that came my way. I remember my coach yelling from the dugout for me to adjust my stance, wanting me to develop a readiness to respond to a hit by fielding the ball. I continued to eat my sunflower seeds. Unsurprisingly, we never won a single game.

Let’s take a moment this morning to consider our own readiness, using an instruction from the book of James from yesterday’s sermon.

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” James 1:19-20

Why are we warned against anger? It’s not because anger is unjustified – in fact, we need to be slow to become angry precisely because there’s so much worth being upset about. If we have a readiness to anger, we will always be able to find reasons to be angry.

This perpetual outrage is a problem because, simply put, anger doesn’t work. It can feel really good to be angry, but a heart of anger does not produce the abundant life of God within us. Anger is not a sufficient energy source for the slow, patient, restoring work of love. When we are angry, we double down on our own beliefs, we oversimplify and villainize our opponents, and we tend to be vengeful rather than just. Most importantly, anger makes it harder for us to hear from God as we conflate our own self-righteous indignation with the voice of the Spirit.

As our culture instructs us to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry, we need an alternative formation in the ways of the Spirit in order to develop a different readiness – the readiness to listen. Developing this readiness requires holding back our urgency to speak and slowing down our tendency toward outrage. This hard work begins by learning to listen to God.

As part of our fall series “Extending the Table” we have a weekly practice to connect Sunday morning with the rest of our week. This week, the practice is to listen intentionally. After 5 -10 minutes of silence and prayer, consider one of the following ideas:

  • In the course of natural conversation, ask a neighbor, coworker, or someone who needs a listening ear some questions about their background/history/current needs.
  • Walk or drive your neighborhood, paying close attention to who lives around you. Record your observations.
  • Do some research on a topic you’re passionate about but include perspectives with which you’re unfamiliar or might usually disagree.
  • Research the demographics of your neighborhood or city, taking special care to note the greatest needs you observe. Record your observations.
  • Fast from all media for a day. Ask the Lord to speak to you.

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