Hundreds of voices swirl around me, the sound echoing— bouncing here and there, so that it’s practically impossible to decipher one conversation from another. But I am listening intently— seeking one voice in the midst of the crowd. I need to find my grandma, because we got separated in the crowd and she is my ride home. I concentrate on trying to recognize the unique tone of her voice. I know her so well that it doesn’t take long for me to tune into the conversation she has joined on the other side of the room. I estimate that she is standing over to my right, and I made my way toward her, still tuning in when I hear her speak. Moments later, I reach her side, and I am successful in my mission. I have sought out a trusted voice and utilized it to navigate to a particular destination.
Maybe you have experienced this to some degree, but maybe not along the lines that I have described. If you are not visually impaired, you can simply glance around a room and seek out the person you want to connect with. But if you are visually impaired like me, you have to rely on listening if you want to find someone who is not at your side. As I described above, it takes concentration, zeroing in on what you want to hear, and then not deviating from who you seek. Any little distraction in the form of a louder voice or some other sound can draw you off course. Even the shape and size of a room can be a distraction. The acoustics, ceiling height, carpeting or lack thereof, can all change how sound is taken in and perceived. Echoes can bounce back and trick the listener’s perception of the actual positioning of a person or object.
Sometimes, listening is hard, especially if you would rather not hear what is being said. Such a scenario was in play for me a few months ago when I engaged in conversation with someone I lived. I had thought this person loved me in return, and I truly believe that love is present now, but the words that were spoken were not words I wanted to hear. It didn’t sound like this person loved me, because my ears perceived criticism, a lack of support, and a general misunderstanding of everything that made up my core sense of self. I felt misjudged, and anger built inside of me as this person proceeded to insinuate that I should approach a particular mindset in a certain way— their way! I wanted none of it! Didn’t this person know me at all?
This conversation left me questioning everything— my life goals, my level of contentment in my circumstances, my connections with others, the motivation and intentions of those closest to me… This conversation essentially rocked my world— and not in a good way. Instead of listening to what was said to me with an open heart, I chose to close myself off and take offense. I heard what was said, but I filtered it into my consciousness in a negative way.
It was then that I had to make a decision. I may have heard what this person said to me, but did I truly need to listen to or heed those words? After a much-needed conversation with one of my best friends, I decided, no— I didn’t need to listen. Although this person claimed to have my best interest in mind, it didn’t mean that I was required to do what they wanted me to do. I needed to discern if what they said was going to be beneficial to me. Even more importantly, I had to consider God’s will in all of this. What did He want me to do? What would He say if I truly gave Him the chance to speak to my heart?
After all, He is always speaking. I just needed to make a concentrated effort to listen. But the question then surfaced: how do I hear from Him? In my crazy-busy, messed up, but yet, well-ordered world, I found that I had crowded out His voice. There was so much noisy chatter all around me— the television blaring bad news, the radio playing positive music (but still creating sound), the voices of friends and family and their many (sometimes too many) opinions, and the seemingly endless list of tasks that needed to be completed. I discovered that first of all, I needed to quiet myself. I needed to set aside the world’s demands and lean into His words. That meant I had to wait, perceive, discern— sometimes without having a ready answer in sight.
It required that I not only read Scripture, but absorb it, internalize it, and truly believe it. After all, Scripture is God’s inspired Word— a living and breathing source of hope and directional guidance. If I paid attention to the words on the page, the phrases that gleamed back at me from my smart phone— then I had the opportunity to embrace His words. If I took it one step further— focusing on a particular verse or phrase and meditating on it— I could fixate on a specific need. If I needed strength: Philippians 4:13; if I needed patience: Psalm 40:1; if I was fearful: Isaiah 41:10; if I needed courage: Joshua 1:9… and the list could go on and on.
These are the words we need to heed. Friends, family, co-workers, even acquaintances all have the opportunity to speak into our lives. Most people mean well and their advice is sound. But in the end, only God can be fully trusted. His words should be and are the only authority. We should seek to listen to His voice above the noise of the crowd. His words are eternal life for those who truly seek Him (John 6:68).
I think Acts 13:48 says it best: “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” May we be followers of Christ who not only hear, but find gladness in listening to His words— honoring Him with a response of belief.
Who are you listening to today? Who are you choosing to believe? May it be His words, and His alone, that guide our way.