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Learning to Listen


The Life Less Traveled


July 13, 2011
My preschool daughters love to pray, especially in public places like restaurants, but they don't exactly have "inside voices." You'll probably hear us before you see us.

Imagine a toddler screaming at the top of her lungs, "God is great! God is good! Let us thank Him for our food! Woo-hoo!" They like to cheer at the end instead of saying, "Amen." For them, it's way more exciting. It's at times like this, when all of the world can hear, that I realize that prayer can seem a little weird.

C'mon, talking to someone you can't see and waiting for answers you can't technically hear? That's weird. Some days it can feel more like talking to yourself than hanging out with the Creator of the universe. It reminds me of a stand-up comedian who is bombing on stage, tapping on his microphone saying, "Is this thing on?"

It's one thing to ask God for stuff, but, when you ask God for direction or specific questions, can you really expect answers? I guess it all depends on how much you're paying attention.

I had some guys challenge me a couple of years ago about how much I was listening to God. I generally knew what God wanted me to do, how He wanted me to live and interact with Him. Most of the big stuff like that is in the Bible.

But what about day-to-day, minute-by-minute? Does God really have something to say to me in the average moments of my life? I was pretty sure He did, but I wasn't making much space in my life to listen.

All of this was fresh on my mind when I pulled up to the library one day to pick up some books for my 3-year-old daughter. She was at home, but I had my 6-month-old asleep in the back of the car, and I was waiting for her to wake up from her morning nap before I went in.

While I was waiting in the parking lot, I was talking to God, and then I just tried to shut up and listen. Not an easy thing for a chatterbox like me. While I was sitting there feeling dumb, I began to get this peculiar sense that maybe God had someone in that library I was supposed to meet today. I couldn't escape the feeling. It was like a divine appointment popping up on my Outlook calendar.

Maybe it was someone who needed some encouragement. Maybe it was someone who needed some help. I had no idea, so I checked my wallet to see how much cash I had. It wasn't much, just a few bucks, but I shoved it in my pocket ready to give it away if I saw a need. I also wrote my name and phone number down in case I got into a conversation with someone who might want to talk further. I'm no counselor but I figured I could at least lend a listening ear if God sent someone to unload on me.

Once Kate woke up, I loaded her into the stroller and went in. I could feel my excitement growing as I approached the library. This was no random thought. I was convinced I supposed to pay close attention to everyone in that building.

As I walked through the lobby and toward the stacks, I passed each person in the library with expectation. I felt like a secret agent trying to meet up with a courier I'd never seen before. I wanted to walk up to people and say, "Are you Agent X?" I didn't think that was exactly what God was going for, so I just tried to play it cool and watch for people who looked discouraged or in need of help.

I passed an elderly gentleman, a young mom with three screaming kids and a couple of librarians, but I didn't sense an opening with any of them. I even struck up a conversation with a guy while in line to check out books. Nothing. I kept praying, "OK, God, what's up? Where are they?"

Eventually, I ran out of time and had to leave. I felt like I'd totally struck out. Maybe it wasn't God after all. Maybe it was just my imagination. But as I was getting back into the car, I was struck with a thought so clear that it might as well have an audible voice.

"When was the last time you listened to me like that?" That was what it was about. There was no specific person that day, but I walked away satisfied because I'd learned to listen again, learned to approach my day with the expectation that God had something to say.

Some people might say I was just having imaginary conversations in my head. Sometimes I do, but not this time. This conversation was real, and I'm convinced it was God's way to teach me to pay attention.

Since that day, God has led me to people who've needed help or encouragement. I've had some definite divine appointments. Sometimes the "coincidences" that led me to cross their paths have been hard to dismiss.

The more this happens, the more I realize that I was right after all. Prayer is weird. It's weird that great big God wants to be friends with little old us. It's weird that He talks to us. It's weird that He wants to hang out. And the weirdest part of all is that someone like me can actually learn to hear Him.

Jason Byerly, a 1990 graduate of Crawford County Junior-Senior High School, is the children's pastor at Southland Christian Church near Lexington, Ky. He and his wife have two daughters. For more from Byerly, visit www.jasonbyerly.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/jasondbyerly.

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