The following is adapted from a discussion I led at a People of Praise area meeting a while back.
If we wish to live the Christian life well, it is not enough to know what God wants in theory. To be well formed in virtue and to have a sound world view are important. To have sound doctrine is important. But in order to be guided by the Lord daily, we must also be able to discern what he wants here and now – at this time and in this place and with these people. In other words, we have to be able to hear from the Lord in real time as well. We have to be able to put one foot in front of the other, confident that we are walking with the Lord.
There are many ways of hearing from the Lord – the scriptures, wisdom, the teaching of our churches and communities, the circumstances of life, answers to prayer, discernment, the direct guidance of the Holy Spirit, peace and unrest in our hearts, the words of friends and perhaps many others. All of those are ways the Lord can speak to us and many of them can occur in real time. But to hear from the Lord in any of those ways, we must be fully awake. Passively waiting for the Lord to speak to us can leave us less aware of his guidance than we really need to be. So if we really want to hear from the Lord, we need to stop listening for him to speak and start listening to what he's saying.
Listening for the Lord means we believe he might speak to us; and that is good. But listening to the Lord means we believe he is speaking; and that is even better.
I do not listen as faithfully as I would like, but I have begun more and more often to get up in the morning and simply ask, "Well, what do you have for me today, Lord?" When I take my morning walk, I begin with that question and it tends to set the table for the day. Even when I know I am just going to be going through a normal routine, this practice establishes a pattern of listening that tends carries over into the day, having expressed my faith that this will be a day full of what the Lord has for me.
Furthermore, when a situation arises that is difficult to manage, or one that calls for any response from me for that matter, I have found that the small distinction between asking "What do you want here, Lord?" rather than"How should I handle this?" is beginning to make a big difference. When I ask "How should I handle this?" I am assuming that some previously internalized set of ideas is sufficient to figure out what I should do. I have 'the map', so to speak, I just need to take a moment to consult it. But when I ask, "What do you want here, Lord?" I acknowledge, in addition, that the Spirit is guiding me at that moment - not might guide me, is guiding me. I acknowledge that the Lord is near to me and near to the situation. I acknowledge that He is with me in real time.
So far, it is not so much that I am coming up with radically different solutions by following this way as it is that I am developing a different way of thinking about what it means to listen and obey. Maybe the Lord sends me back to that map, but I go back not in pride, naivete, ignorance or stubborn dependence upon a prefabricated system, but in humility and obedience to the Lord's real time guidance. Maybe the Lord suggests a way of looking at the map that I would not have thought of. Maybe the Lord gives me something completely off the map. One way or the other, it's me and the Lord in it together, real time.
A while back for some reason we were in the Har Mar Mall and I ducked into Northwest Christian Bookstore's storefront clearance store. Attracted by the cover, I picked up a book that turned out to be a version of Bono's speech at the 2006 National Prayer Breakfast with some accompanying photography. Among other interesting things, Bono had this to say:
A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord's blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it... I have a family, please look after them... I have this crazy idea...
And this wise man said: stop.
He said, stop asking God to bless what you're doing.
Get involved in what God is doing—because it's already blessed.
I think something similar happens when we ask the Lord what he has for us and believe that the day we receive is an answer to that question. In an act of faith, we say to the Lord, "This is the day that you have made." We acknowledge that "with you is the fountain of life" and only "in your light do we see light." Having expressed that faith, having opened the eyes of our heart to a world lit by the light of God, the day unfolds before us as if through his eyes. Seeing as he sees, we are able to respond as he responds. We are able to do what God is doing. God is able to be more fully in what we are doing.
Though I feel right now like I've just cracked the door to something, I can say that this praxis has begun to result for me in a changing attitude towards my students and my time in the classroom and hallways, greater peace in relationships with my co-workers that might not have otherwise been there, greater freedom and love in my family and a greater ability to see strangers around me with the Lord's eyes not my own.
In fact, when I am not practicing this as well, I sometimes come to the end of a long stretch of blindness and wonder, "My God, what have I missed?"
But even that sense of my own inadequacy is ceasing to be a cry of despair at my own weakness and beginning to become an acknowledgement of hope, hope for a time "When all things are subjected to him ... that God may be all in all." Because even our limited ability to listen to the Lord, see the all-in-allness of God, to exercise our faith, are forerunners of that future reality.
Heavenly Father, keep us in your grace! Keep us in your light! And bring us at last to that place where there is no need of the sun because the Lamb is the light of the City of God!