Today it’s my privilege to introduce you to my friend Jim Ozee. Jim is an elder in the church I once pastored in south-central Wisconsin, a man who loves Jesus deeply, and an all around good guy, despite his passion for the Cardinals.
Isa 30:15 (NIV)
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
Experts define active listening as, “The process of making a conscious concentrated effort to hear not only the words that another is saying, but more importantly, to understand the complete message being sent.”
Since we typically only remember about a third of what we hear, it appears most of us aren’t very good at active listening. I know I’m not.
We either let our minds become easily distracted by the sensory overload of the world around us, or worse, we are so anxious to prove our points or to be right that instead of listening we are busy formulating our next response.
All those who are guilty say, “Aye!”
I am so often convinced of the brilliance and perfection of my own thoughts that I rarely even consider that someone else may also have something important to say – unless of course it is just to reaffirm what I already believed. The experts also say that our inability to be good listeners leads to communication breakdowns and fractured relationships.
My ex-wives (yes, that is plural) would likely agree.
In Isaiah 30, the Israelites were experiencing a fractured relationship with God. They too were having difficulties with active listening.
Isaiah accused them of being stubborn, of refusing to listen to what God was trying to tell them, of thinking they had all the answers – that they were right and just in their thoughts, words, and deeds. The people only wanted to hear what they wanted to hear – to have someone reaffirm what they already believed.
They had the approach of, “We’re happy as long as you agree with us and everything is going our way.” (Yikes. Like I haven’t said that to myself a gazillion times!)
God told them to be quiet, to be still, to trust in His providence and guidance.
He was telling them, “If you honestly admit you are wrong, that you don’t know everything, and that you need Me first in your lives then everything will be good between us.”
But the people of Israel wanted none of that. They didn’t want to be challenged. They didn’t want to be told they were wrong.
Like the people of Israel, I hate to be challenged. Like Israel himself, I like to wrestle with God.
Even after years as a Christian, I stumble and stagger down the narrow path, still trying to prove that I’m right – that I know what’s best.
I still try to prove that I am in control of my life and my future.
I’m still prone to “foot in mouth” syndrome by being quick to speak and slow to listen, including listening to God.
But in those special times when God does grab my attention, like He tried to do with His people through Isaiah, something happens. Something happens when I am able to quiet those internal and external distractions and voices and actually listen to the only expert I need. Something happens when I acknowledge that I am not the center of my universe.
I realize that I don’t have to be right all the time.
I realize that I don’t have to carry the weight of control on my shoulders.
I realize that in that quietness and trust in God I can find both rest and strength – just as God promised.
It is there that the breakdown can be mended; it is there that the fracture can begin to heal.
Where are you struggling to listen to God? How can you quiet yourself before him this Advent?
Jim Ozee enjoys small town life in the northwestern part of the Land of Lincoln. He is a Human Resource Manager for Aramark Corporation and currently working on his Master’s Degree in HR Management. He serves as a Ruling Elder for First Presbyterian Church in Clinton, Wisconsin. When he is not working or in school he enjoys watching Cardinals baseball, exercising, losing badly on the links, and hanging out with his kids.