Are you listening? If not, why not? If so, to whom? Read on as Angie Ward opens our ears to hear.
By Angie Ward
Her lips were moving, but I couldn't hear a thing.
"What?" I asked, leaning closer.
The woman in uniform moved her mouth again. This time I heard vague sounds, but still no words. "Ooyuuulieintuhdrin," she repeated her statement - or was it a question? - and looked at me curiously.
It took me another long moment before I realized why I couldn't hear her. Yanking my noise-blocking earplugs by their cord, I was suddenly assailed by the cacophony of chattering passengers, the drone of jet engines, the whoosh of air vents - and the voice of the infinitely kind flight attendant, patiently repeating her question.
"Would you like something to drink?"
My earplugs are travel essentials. After a full day of talking and listening in a conference, classroom, or meeting, I relish the moment when I pull them out of their case and push them into my ears. As I sink into my seat, all noise fades away and I am left with the delicious sound of silence.
Except sometimes I miss the voices I need to hear. The flight attendant, asking for my beverage selection. The captain, providing an update on our itinerary. Several times I have almost missed my boarding call over the airport intercom as I sat blissfully oblivious to the noise around me.
As I walk the path to living out my calling, I am faced with the same challenges. There are endless voices calling for my attention, my time, my energy, my gifts, my heart. The noise could overwhelm me, or I could miss the voices that matter most. I need to determine which voices are important, which ones need to be blocked out, and how to tune my ear to the voices that matter most.
Of course, it's easy to say that I want God to be the most important voice in my life. He not only created me, he has called me: both to follow him, and to join his work in this world. He knows me inside and out, and loves me with an everlasting love.
In reality, however, far too often I let other voices take precedence. The well-meaning family members whose voices are governed by their own fears. The friends who like to tell, rather than to listen. The coworkers who have their own interests to protect. And, loudest of all, my own internal voices: of doubt, of shame, of criticism. I can easily find myself paralyzed, like a contestant in a game show trying to sort through the voices of the studio audience shouting "helpful" advice.
The solution is not to block out all the voices, but to learn to tune my heart to the right Voice. To do that, I need to make time and space to sit with God just to listen to him. Although God can speak over other voices, he rarely shouts for attention. But when I quiet my heart and stop striving (Psalm 46:10), I immediately recognize the voice of God: a gentle but firm whisper, so clearly meant for me. In addition, God's voice is accompanied only by peace, never by fear - even when his direction may require tremendous strength, patience, or courage.
The more I intentionally seek his voice, the easier it is to hear it, and the less urgent the other voices become. That's why I set aside time on a regular basis to put aside distractions, to quiet my soul, and to ask God what he wants to say to me.
Angie Ward is a leadership teacher and writer with over 30 years of ministry experience in church, parachurch, nonprofit, and educational contexts. She is the author of I Am A Leader. She is an award-winning contributor to Christianity Today leadership publications and a highly regarded teacher and speaker. Angie graduated from Denver Seminary with an MA in Educational Ministries and holds a PhD in Ministry Leadership from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. A sportswriter in a previous life, Angie lives just outside Indianapolis with her husband. They have two young adult sons and one very spoiled beagle.