It encourages me greatly to know that I’m engaged in God’s mission for the world. I join in God’s mission, but it’s not my own or my church’s or my organization’s to start with. I’m assured that, wherever I participate in God’s mission, God will lead and guide.
What does such participation look like, especially in communal contexts? I’m learning more and more that listening for Jesus’ voice is key. If we say that we want to follow Jesus into the world, then we need to be listening for Jesus to tell us, “this way.”
A scary thought, perhaps. What is Jesus’ voice all about? Are we hoping to hear an audible sound in our ears? Should we expect some kind of clear message to appear out of nowhere?
When we seek to listen for Jesus’ voice, we’re taking seriously the relational nature of our relationship with God. In John 10, we hear Jesus saying, “My sheep know my voice.” I’m grateful for the times when knowing Jesus’ voice came about through praying with others over time, letting God’s words in Scripture sink into my life and paying attention to themes that developed over time as I talked with others and reflected on what was going on around me.
For most of us – not barring God’s ways of doing things outside the norm – “listening” and “voice” aren’t literal. Yet many of us can speak to times when we have a sense of a word from God – perhaps we could say we hear it with the “ears of our heart.” How it all works is a mystery, but being attentive to such words points to the trust I have that Jesus wants to lead us in God’s mission and is giving us guidance along the way.
So how do I and others I’m with become “listening communities”? Communal prayer, shared reflection on Scripture, seeking meaning together in what may seem disconnected – all these practices help make us more attentive to the voice of Jesus. It’s not always easy but trusting that Jesus is leading out of his own obedient participation in his Father’s mission builds assurance over time that God is indeed calling us, often in practical terms, to similar obedience.
As we engage in practices of discerning God’s guiding presence among us, clarity around next steps will emerge, unity will be strengthened and assurance of God’s leading will abound. That’s been my experience, at least, and I pray it will be yours also.