14.2.16 – Listening Is Prayer Too – Rachel Judge

Read Luke 10: 38 – 42 & Isaiah 30: 15 – 21

Did you remember? Do you need to remember? It’s Valentine’s Day today. The day of ‘love’ (the day when florists prosper!)

So it seems appropriate that today we are confronted with Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha, when Jesus raises the subject of how we show our love for him.

Let’s pray, because this is something we really want to get to grips with….

Loving God, you draw us near, with your warm invitation to sit at your feet and listen to your heart and your words. Enfold us now with your all- embracing love we pray, so that we can be your faithful followers, devoted, compassionate and inspired by your life in us.

May your Holy Spirit so pursue us so that we are stopped in our tracks, our breath taken away by the power of your love, and our words and thoughts filled with your priorities for us,

We pray in the strong Name of Jesus our Saviour,

Amen

I’d love to be like Mary. I’ve told God that many times. I’d like to make the main thing the main thing, and to cut out all other distractions

I’d like to have calm mornings, when we all leave the house peacefully and happily, with no one forgetting anything, having a tantrum over their muesli, or banging doors.  As you know we’re not a large family, and we’re all in double figures now, so there’s really no excuse for the ridiculous rush and muddled multi-tasking that seems necessary for us to get out the door in the morning to three different parts of the city. It’s not rocket science

I would love to be the sort of Christian who could pray all day. I think to myself that if I didn’t have washing to fold, meals to cook, homework to check up on and emails to send I’d be free to hang out with God all day, enjoying the peace of God, and lapping up God’s Word. Well, here’s the thing. An opportunity is knocking.

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, that season of the church’s life, and the Christian’s life, if we so choose, when we deliberately come aside from our usual routines to focus on God’s gift of Jesus, His suffering, and death, which of course, we know, leads to His glorious resurrection, and to abundant life for us, on both sides of the grave.

But, as we know, a hallmark of our contemporary culture is continual visual and verbal stimulation – news, commentary, entertainment, special promotions, advertising, email, social media, mobile phones and other devices. I remember how odd it was for a start, back in the day, around the late 90s to see people in airports, at meetings, and anywhere, anytime, attached to their cell phones, twice the size of our current phones. Now, of course, it’s absolutely normal to combine activities simultaneously such as shopping and phoning a friend, studying and listening to music, or emailing while sitting in a meeting or on a bus. We women can no longer boast of our superior multi-tasking abilities, because everyone’s doing it.

Therefore discerning God’s voice, sitting at the feet of Jesus, to learn, to worship, to trust, in our culture requires a counter –culture challenge. My devotional reading for yesterday asked me to ‘consider deliberately ‘fasting’ from some or all kinds of electronic stimulation of your mind for a particular period of each day during Lent, and reflect on what the experience does to your capacity to focus on what matters most.

And what matters most to me as a follower of Jesus for 45 years is to walk humbly in my Saviour’s footsteps, one by one, obeying, praising, growing, and becoming like Jesus. So it makes sense then to spend as much time with him as possible, learning from Christ, leaning on Christ, in all circumstances. No excuses, no distractions. No worrying continually about what might happen, what is happening, and what has happened.

But the truth is that worries bubble up to the surface, whoever much we pledge to trust in God for all things. Joanna Weaver, author of ‘Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World’ writes “The truth is, we live surrounded by opportunities for fear, anxiety, and worry. Because our world is filled with struggles and real pain, we face legitimate concerns every day. Bad things do happen to good people – and not so good people as well. Real problems do occur, usually on a daily basis. People don’t act the way they ought to. Relationships falter and sometimes fail. There is potential for pain all around us. And there are certainly things that require concern and action on our part.

Jesus knew this better than anybody. He spent most of his life being harassed and pursued by his enemies. So why did he tell us not to worry?”

(Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World, by Joanna Weaver, WaterBrook Press, 2000, p. 37)

Jesus’ words to us in the Sermon on the Mount echo in our heads and hearts when we say we want to obey Jesus, but are haunted and hunted down by lurking worries. Instead Jesus tells us ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Isn’t life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?…. Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?’ (Matthew 6: 25 & 27).

That’s the negative injunction – ‘don’t worry’, and then the positive antidote, the gentle, but strong invitation comes later in Matthew’s Gospel – ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

That’s such an appealing and comforting invitation. So easy, to come, to rest, to lay down burdens, and to offer our exhaustion to Jesus, instead of having to spring into action like a tightly wired coil, forcing ourselves to keep going when we can hardly stand, or think, or love any more.  He rested.

Genesis tells us that after God created the world and everything in it, He rested. That was the very first Sabbath. That Sabbath rest has become our example, our framework, for our resting in God.  It’s our gift with God, hand in hand with God’s incredibly gracious gift to us of prayer – of being able to connect with the Creator of the universe, any time, any place, any number of times, with no chance ever that God will be too busy to bother with us.

So if you think that Jesus is being unnecessarily harsh on Martha, when she’s just trying to help, playing the role her time and culture asks her to play, then remember that he doesn’t want her to miss out on all the goodies. He loves Martha, and each of us, to pieces, and wants Martha, and each of us to experience fullness of God, and not live a half- hearted faith life.

God knows, because God created each of us perfectly, that we are easily distracted, and because of the culture we live in, liable to settle for easy options, light entertainment, and even relationships that don’t challenge or stretch us.

Yes, I’ve had some strong words with God at times about this slice of life with Martha and Mary in Bethany. I want to defend Martha, as I want to defend myself, yet what I want more than anything is a deep and lasting relationship with Jesus, knowing that He already knows everything about me, yet longs to spend more and more quality time with me. How extraordinary, how delicious….

For Mary shows us how to listen to God in prayer. We know how empowering it is and how special we feel when someone listens to us completely – to what we don’t say, as well as what we do say.  Over the years in ministry the times I’ve felt most uncomfortable – and stretched and sorry – are the times when I’ve been almost unable to listen to others, at least in any depth. – when the line at the door after church has been long, when words topple out of someone that needed a longer and a quieter time, and a more focused pastor than she is immediately after worship. I know I’ve let people down in those moments when my listening ears, and worse, my listening heart, have gone for a tea break.

But God always listens, with heart and ears wide open – to nuances, to pain, to what is not said, to hopes and dreams, confessions and sorrows. God’s very nature is to listen.

So, modelling herself on her Maker, Mary listens to Jesus, prioritising learning over doing, over fussing. Mary chooses the unusual path in her culture. Normally in the ancient wold all of the adult women would have shared in the responsibility for preparing a meal, but Mary chooses not to help out. Instead she sits quietly at Jesus’ feet like a student would, or a disciple, and listens intently to what Jesus is saying. She understands something anyway of what it is to ‘lean into’ Jesus, to ‘abide in Christ’, a relationship of such quality and intimacy that it is only possible in the heavenly realms, through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the relationship that is picked up by the title of the contemporary worship song ‘The Creator of the Universe is my Best Friend’.

John reminds us and his first readers in his first letter of the loving and crucial reason for God’s sending His Son to us, to our broken world, so that abiding in Christ we might know the fullness of God’s love.

John makes this clear in his letter to encourage his readers to live in fellowship with God, through Jesus. In verse 9 of 1 John 4 he writes “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that that we might live through him.” Then verse 13 reminds us of the privilege that it is to abide in Christ, and how this relationship is sealed by the Holy Spirit – “We know that we live in Him, and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit.”

Shortly, in communion we are united with Jesus who poured out his life for us like the fruit of the vine we drink. This is when we remember that our strength comes from God alone. We cannot earn God’s salvation – it is a free gift. Listening prayer is stripping away all the excess baggage and letting go of all the distractions until we begin to hear the still, small voice of God.

Indeed then we know that clarity of conviction that dying to self and to trivialities and to the expectations of the world brings to us.

Paul describes this inner fortitude in Colossians 3: 3 -4 ‘For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ, in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.”

This realm of glory is a dimension we can never discern under our own steam. This is the end of talking and the beginning of resting in God when we simply run out of words and bask in his glory.

This is what the contemplative writer Joyce Huggett spoke of when she described her early experiences of receiving God’s grace in prayer, rather than doing all the talking. This is how Joyce Huggett, in her book Listening to God, which a small group from our church will study soon, (and you can be part of that group), describes her experiences when she realised that it is God who takes the initiative in listening prayer:-

“My knowledge of God is becoming deeper. It is far less an intellectual knowing, and progressing towards the intimate knowing experienced by a husband and wife: union. Sometimes he comes to me as the Bridegroom to His bride and in that knowing there is such awesome love.”

Listening to God, by Joyce Huggett, Hodder and Stoughton, 1986, p.69

The story of Martha and Mary doesn’t mean that God can’t be found in the ordinary things of life – making school lunches, mending a torn hem or changing a car tyre, or budgeting to make our income cover our expenses. But this charming and at the same time slightly alarming for a busy woman story jolts us into committing to something quite unexpected – taking time out from our routine of duty and of habit – to concentrate on the presence of God, and to listen carefully for God’s personal word to each of us.

May many moments this week reveal God’s heart to you.

Let’s pray, in silence, as we listen for God’s voice now…

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