Listen up!

flapping ears

A reflection from John Dempster on this morning’s service.

I loved this morning’s service, an all-age family service led by Ros and Philip Noble. There was for me a real sense of God’s love for us as individuals and as a community.

The theme of the service was ‘Listening to God’, and Ros began by reminding us that the root cause of all the wrong stuff we do, all our sin is that we have drifted away from relationship with the Father who loves us. Her words challenged us to draw close to the God who gives us light to discern the way ahead, the God who is the source of all love. Philip then led us in this prayer – I particularly loved the image of the ‘no-good bird’ building a nest in our lives and wreaking havoc. With God’s help, we can be freed from both nest and bird, and make our branches home to another nurturing presence, the dove of God’s Spirit.

There had been a wee communication glitch, and the Bible passage Ros and Philip discussed was a different one from that announced in the Bulletin and on-line. The intended passage was about King David’s catastrophic series of wrong choices which left him guilty of adultery and murder, and his prayer, in brokenness, for forgiveness.  But Philip’s prayer, and the whole of this morning’s service reminded us that God while fully aware of our sins has dealt with them in Jesus, and is joyfully willing and able to forgive us and embrace us in arms of pure, unconditional love.

The passage we look at this morning was from 1 Kings 3:4-9 in The Message translation and the later part of the chapter where Solomon’s wisdom is displayed in his dealings with a couple of woman who were disputing which was the real mother of a baby they both claimed as theirs. It is, as Ros implied, an odd story, and Solomon’s approach would not, in our culture, be deemed the wisest – but Ros led some children in acting out this story with warmth and lightness of touch.

But  ‘listening’ remained the theme of the service. Ros played some recordings of birds and insects and mammals and asked us to identify the creature responsible for each sound. And as I read the verses from Kings we were all asked to ‘listen’ both to the words and to the meaning and to what God might be whispering to us through them. I thought the rendering of the passage in The Message was absolutely brilliant.

Here it is:

4-5 King Solomon went to Gibeon, the most prestigious of the local shrines, to worship. He sacrificed a thousand Whole-Burnt-Offerings on that altar. That night, there in Gibeon, God appeared to Solomon in a dream: God said, “What can I give you? Ask.”

Solomon said, “You were extravagantly generous in love with David my father, and he lived faithfully in your presence, his relationships were just and his heart right. And you have persisted in this great and generous love by giving him—and this very day!—a son to sit on his throne.

7-8 “And now here I am: God, my God, you have made me, your servant, ruler of the kingdom in place of David my father. I’m too young for this, a mere child! I don’t know the ropes, hardly know the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of this job. And here I am, set down in the middle of the people you’ve chosen, a great people—far too many to ever count.

“Here’s what I want: Give me a God-listening heart so I can lead your people well, discerning the difference between good and evil. For who on their own is capable of leading your glorious people?”

I realised that I, and all the rest of us, can stand in Solomon’s footsteps and acknowledge God’s goodness and love, and our lack of ability and insight in the light of the challenges we face, and ask for ‘a God-listening heart.’ That’s the most wonderful gift we can ever seek. The more God-listening our hearts, the more our branches make welcome the Dove the more whole and happy and good and fulfilled we will be. The more we will not only discern ‘the difference between good and evil’ but be free to choose good, and stand against evil. The Dove seeks not to be an occasional visitor, but to make our hearts her nest.

As I read the passage, the words which seemed to ‘speak’ most to me came from verse 5 ‘God said, “What can I give you? Ask.’  I struggle with prayer as ‘asking for things’ – I’m not one of those folk who has lots of stories of answers to prayer. But I do understand the idea of prayer as ‘hanging out with God’, being open to God. And Solomon’s prayer is one we can all pray with great confidence – ‘Please Father, grant me a heart to listen to you, to discern your voice, to tell good from evil, to tell the very best from the merely good.’ And this is a prayer God will answer because God seeks to communicate with us every moment of every day.

Philip asked two folk in the congregation to share a recent experience of ‘listening to God,’ Stephen and Ashish.  Both of these men have experience of discerning the way ahead through reading the Bible, understanding its principles, and being open as certain verses ‘come alive’ for them. But today they spoke about God on-line and God in the air.

Stephen, about to stop working at the Hospice and seeking to discern the way ahead mentioned how a PS in one of the many emails he receives referring to an organisation he hadn’t previously heard of caught his attention so that he felt impelled to explore further. He now feels that his future may lie in association with that body.

Ashish spoke about wondering, after three full years in Inverness, whether he and the family should be moving on elsewhere. His sense that they should stay was confirmed when, as he looked out of the window one Sunday while reflecting on the way ahead, he saw the vapour trails of two high-flying jets produce an X in the sky. For Ashish it was as if God was saying ‘No’ to a move at the present. That day, he’d been at the Kirking of the Council Service, and the Referendum lay ahead, and what he heard in the sermon that day on the words from the Bible ‘Choose today whom you will service’ seemed to Ashish to be the voice of God to the Council and to the nation.

For me the key thing about these stories is that these men were not trying to press an interpretation on a PS in an email or a vapour cross in the sky, but rather that they had an inner insight that the words in the email and the sign in the sky were a God-given message to them. And these men will also have experience of discerning which inner promptings truly come from beyond them, and which are simply thrown up by their own subconscious.

The point is that God speaks to us, constantly, in the Bible, in the book of creation, in the lives of other people, and God gives us discernment to know what is genuinely from God. Recently I heard of a classical composer who described music as an ever-flowing stream into which musicians dip, and draw forth what they hear into the world. I guess it’s a way of describing creative inspiration, but perhaps that ever-flowing stream is a way of describing the creative God who is always present. The ever flowing stream of God’s creative presence lies just beneath the surface of the whole of creation – scratch the surface, and the glory shines through.

We finished the service with Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?  Jonathan, who chose today’s songs, mentioned that they’d been on holiday on the west coast last week, and the boys had been fascinated by boats, and Jonathan reflected on anchors, and Christ as our ultimate anchor, and in that thought God spoke to him.

This week, let’s fall into the arms of the forgiving Father, and evict the no-good bird, and ask God to speak, and reach down to the ever-flowing stream, and welcome the gentle dove.




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