Why did it take so long? At 57, I may finally be learning one of the reasons that God gave me two ears and only one mouth.
Years ago I was helping to lead a Church Planting Canada Assessment Centre. I had laryngitis and could barely get a word out. I listened more intently than usual and was surprised to hear both the candidates stories as well as God speaking in the midst. My few words must have sounded wise as only a few months later I was chosen to lead the whole organization.
Another time, when Fresh Expressions was being launched in the UK, I was a guest at a Church Planting Conference in Sheffield. I was invited into a think tank discussing the future of church planting with a number of key leaders, and was more than intimidated. Once again my words were few – l merely listened and then responded to what I heard. I was then asked to contribute to the speaking at the final session of the conference.
There have been other times when I have listened instead of speaking. Too often it is the other way around. I have missed out on so much because I have not learned the value of listening. But last week I experienced both the value and joy in listening, at a deeper level than before.
Each Wednesday, our church hosts The Neighbourhood Table at one of our buildings. This neighbourhood has many who struggle with mental illness and a lack of finances. Others are new to Canada and trying to make sense of their new environment. We have shifted from merely serving food, to creating an environment where many participate in serving before siting down to eat together. The numbers range from 30-100, depending on the occasion.
Last Wednesday, I sat with two men I knew a little. Jim (not his real name) does not speak much but I asked him a question about his life and he needed to talk. For 20-25 minutes he told his story in what seemed like one run on sentence. I had no idea he had done all that – or that someone could talk that fast and for that long without taking a breath. A smile came on my face about 10 minutes in. Jim was in his element – telling his story – with someone who was listening. Normally I try and cut in to escape, but had no desire to do so. He felt valued. I was listening. I heard him, and I heard God through Him.
Stan (not his name) was the other man at the table. When Jim had run out of story or breath I am not sure, I asked Stan about his job. He told us that he worked Saturday and Sunday on the day shift, and Monday, Tuesday and Thursday on the evening shift. I asked why he did not work Wednesday instead of Thursday so that he would get two days off in a row. He looked at me as if some alien had just removed my brain. “But then,” he said, “I would not be able to come to this dinner every week! I asked for Wednesdays off on purpose so I could come and be with these neighbours.” Every week Stan shows up and brings beverages for everyone.
I heard Jesus speak to me in each of these stories. I saw Him at work in people that are not part of the church, but are deeply valued and loved by Jesus. I remained fairly quiet, pondering why I do not spend more time listening to the stories of others so that I might pay attention to the voice of God.
** Why not explore joining The Neighbourhood Project through Forge and TMN so as to learn to listen to the voice of God in your neighbourhood. Maybe you can learn to do this before you turn 57.