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Well, as promised, today I’m going to talk about the problem of hearing right when we are praying, and by praying I mean not just saying things to the ceiling, but actual two way conversations with God. Of course, I don’t overlook the problem these days, especially in the west, of the fact that if you tell people you are talking to God and listening to God, they might rush you off to a place where they put people who are ‘hearing things’.
That almost happened to me, one day I was visiting a person in hospital, actually they had been sectioned because they were ‘hearing things’ I’m not sure where from. I had brought a friend with me to visit the patient; my friend was a doctor, of medicine not psychiatry. We were chatting to the psychiatrist, discussing the prognosis of the patient and my friend happened to mention that he had heard from God. I was instantly very nervous as I thought the psychiatrist was going to have my friend sectioned as well. Therein lies the problem, some people are hearing ‘things’ rather than hearing from God.
Let me tell you a story, this is one of the stories in a book I wrote called ‘Hello is that you God’ which is all about hearing from God, and this is how the story goes. Some years ago I took a crowd of young people to a friend’s church, the group were mainly English young people, most of them were Londoners, born and bred. The church we were visiting was a Ghanaian community, and in the past when I had spoken there they had run their meetings in their own language, providing me with an interpreter. Although the church was based in London, and the majority of the members spoke English to a greater or lesser degree, they felt it was easier to run meetings in their first language. On this occasion, as I was visiting with a group of English speaking youngsters, they decided to run the whole service in English.
It was a long meeting with lots of singing, dancing and preaching, all in English to accommodate the group I had brought along for the experience, and they all seemed to be enjoying themselves. Towards the end of the meeting I turned to the group I had brought and said, ‘Isn’t it kind of them to run the whole thing in English because we are here.’ Without exception, they all looked at me with a bemused expression, then one of them said, ‘But no-one has said a word of English the whole way through!’
It was now my turn to look bemused, I didn’t know what they were on about, I said, ‘What do you mean, they’re singing in English now!’ ‘No, they’re not, we can’t understand a word.’ They said to me. As the song went on, I pointed out the words to them, admittedly the words carried a heavy West African accent, but gradually the light of understanding dawned on the faces of my young friends. ‘Wow, you’re right,’ they said, ‘they are singing in English!’ My conclusion was that I had been there many times, and listened to the people sing and speak, and was now easily able to understand the accent and hardly noticed it was there, but for my friends, this was their first time, something entirely new and their understanding was clouded.
It’s interesting that the same kind of phenomena occurs in the Bible, for example when Jesus was baptised and God spoke to him it’s obvious that Jesus heard and understood the words, but for the crowd of onlookers, they just heard a noise, a bit like my friends at the Ghanaian meeting. Then again, in the account of Paul on the Damascus road, he sees a light, falls off a donkey and then hears Jesus saying, ‘Why are you persecuting me?’ Paul clearly hears the words, and his life is turned around, but those with him didn’t hear the words, they said that it thundered. So it does seem to me that sometimes, perhaps many, many times, God is speaking to us but we don’t hear him, what we hear is thunder, or what we think is our own mind, or worse the effects of the drink or cheese from the night before.
So where do we go from here, well like a young child learning to talk, understanding comes gradually, and takes practice. The same applies to an older child learning a new language, and all its various sounds, it takes practice. Watch a young child experimenting with language, they are practicing, they don’t always get it right, and they don’t always get it wrong, and the practicing doesn’t seem like hard work, it’s fun. And to hear from God will take practice too, and I don’t think talking to God is hard work, it’s often just fun, there will be some serious talks, which may not be so much fun, but perhaps that’s another subject for a talk or discussion. It would be great to hear your stories and opinions.
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