Lin Button suggests we need to be still and listen more
This article was published in the May to August 2023 edition of Rapport magazine.
Augustine of Hippo said, ‘Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.’ So often, even after we have found God, we remain restless. Why is this? It may be because we become content with far less than God wants us to have.
We may have lost, or never known, our child-like capacity to come before our Father without being self-conscious, without censoring what we think he wants to hear. No longer filled with wonder, with joyful anticipation of hearing the Father’s voice, we find we are reduced to approaching God with obligation and maybe even boredom. This dissatisfaction can be due to a mixture of church culture and how we think we should behave as Christians.
God has made us to worship, and it is often in worship that we hear the Father’s voice. In the Bible, worship appears to be quite emotional and noisy with clapping, shouts of joy, trumpets and lots of singing (see Psalm 47). We are good at expressing ourselves in other contexts such as football matches or music festivals; we leave with a satisfied heart having expressed ourselves – we feel more fully alive.
Christianity is about knowing God, and prayer is central to that knowing. If by prayer we think only of our part – that is, how we worship, praise, petition, intercede and give thanksgiving – then it is a very one-sided affair. At the heart of Christianity is relationship; as Trinity, God is always relational and therefore we as his children become part of this family, part of the conversation. However, we do not always experience this in our own prayer life or in prayer meetings.
I once returned from a prayer meeting with a picture of a large number of people all speaking through the mouthpiece of a telephone, but there was no one holding the telephone to their ear or even behaving as though there was anyone at the other end of the telephone wanting to speak – we often pray with a megaphone! I find that sort of meeting quite boring; I want to know what’s on God’s heart, listen to him, receive pictures, words of knowledge, Scriptures and so much more.
I want to hear the Father’s voice
We have lost the knowledge that we need to listen, and with that loss, the ability and desire; we remain disconnected and restless. We often fear the silence and quietening of our hearts that is needed to be able to listen. Dallas Willard wrote, ‘Silence is frightening because it strips us as nothing else does, throwing us upon the stark realities of life.’ So to hear the Father’s voice we need to be able to freely express ourselves and learn to be quiet. These two states are not in opposition but complement each other.
The more we are able to be honest with God, the less we fear the silence.
Finding a place of blessing
We also need a healthy image of God. Psalm 1:1–3 in The Passion Translation says:
What delight comes to the one who follows God’s ways!
He won’t walk in step with the wicked,
nor share the sinner’s way,
nor be found sitting in the scorner’s seat.
His passion is to remain true to the Word of “I AM,”
meditating day and night on the true revelation of light.
He will be standing firm like a flourishing tree planted by God’s design,
deeply rooted by the brooks of bliss,
bearing fruit in every season of life.
This psalm begins with the word happy or blessed delight, and it is linked to those who follow God’s ways. They are ‘on the road’ or ‘going straight’. The essence of Judaism is a rhythm of worship and right living that helps us to be blessed. This happy person is like a tree planted by streams of water that bears fruit in season and whose leaves never wither – green leaves in drought. This gives me a picture of a man being like a ‘walking tree’, walking straight, drawing life and peace from the living water, allowing God to plant him in a place of blessing where there is flourishing, productivity and fulfilment.
We all want a father like this – strong, reliable and safe
I used to have a fairy-story book with a picture of an oak tree with a door in the trunk. I wanted to live in there, inside the protection and safety it would provide – a place where the branches pointed upwards to God. This is how fathers are meant to be. However, this is not what we always experience so our knowledge of earthly dads may not correlate with what we know about our Father God through Scripture.
Responding from both our head and our heart
The left side of our brain – often known as our ‘head’ – specialises in analysis, language and problem-solving. It suppresses information that it cannot grasp conceptually or doesn’t ‘fit’. The right hemisphere of the brain – commonly referred to as our ‘heart’ – is essential for the creation of poetry, art, visualisation and intuition. It is comfortable with parable and metaphor, whereas our left side tends to be more literal. The right side is sensitive to, and aware of, relationships. It absorbs and records atmosphere, facial and body language even when these impressions and tensions do not fit with the words being spoken. This can translate into what is commonly called the split between the head and heart. With one part of my mind – left brain – I may know that God is not like my earthly father, but with my heart – another part of my mind – I have a picture or impression that is different.
I had been a Christian at least ten years and had been praying for people to be healed for at least eight years, when I heard a curate during his sermon ask God to show us some of the distorted imagery we had of him in our hearts. I saw a shadowy distant person. I always knew my earthly father loved me and I had accepted that God loved me, but my earthly father was emotionally absent, and in my heart God was absent. He was shadowy and distant. Despite the fact that I could quote endless Scriptures about God being near me and that he would never leave me, my heart was playing a different tune.
‘… blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears because they hear’ (Matt. 13:16). Jesus was not speaking here of our physical eyes and ears but the eyes and ears of our heart.
I was meditating on Matthew 6:9, the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer where Jesus was teaching his followers how to pray. He began, ‘Our Father’, and although I understand we usually think of ‘our’ as the corporate response, since we are all God’s children, in my picture Jesus was putting his arms around two of the disciples. In this act ‘our Father’ became Jesus joining with us as the elder brother ushering us into our Father’s presence. In this intimate act, Jesus is inviting us into the warmth of his and our Father’s heart.
Invited into relationship
Jesus invites us into a relationship – not into an abstract doctrine, but a divine life shaped by grace: a relationship with the Trinity, a God of grace, a God who saves, the Lord, the giver of life. At the heart of the doctrine of God as Trinity is the conviction that God is a communion of persons, a divine dance of mutual indwelling love, who we are invited to join.
Whilst talking to God one day, I wrote in my journal God’s words to me:
‘I want a listening community: to have Me at the centre both individually and corporately means to listen to Me, to listen to My love words, My encouragement, My desire to be with you and spend time with you. When you don’t know how much I love you, you are unable to believe this. I am never far from you but some of you need to turn your ear towards Me. Let Me love you.’
Lin Button is Head of Pastoral Ministry at All Saints Woodford Wells and has a one-to-one healing prayer ministry.