listening as service

As Christians, we can be experts at getting things done. And rightly so. The way of Jesus and the early church was defined by activity, “go”, “love”, “serve”, “preach”...Christianity, it’s safe to say, is an active faith.

A challenge, however, is when we equate active with modern notions of success and progress. What’s active is identified with tangible results, a good “return” on your investment of time and energy (and money!).

Or take the popular practices associated with spirituality. Prayer, Bible reading, and church attendance can be tangibly measured, and so become our litmus test for spiritual maturity. And while all important activities for a vibrant spirituality, our desire for faithfulness can quickly turn into busyness or simply “trying harder.”.

I wonder if we need to consider broadening our understanding of active spirituality?

In her book Sacred Pauses, April Yamasaki suggests we root spiritual practices in our ordinary life with God - slowing down to observe God in our everyday lives is just as vital as the disciplines of prayer and scripture reading. “God is always with us, and there is room in our ordinary lives to be with God.” In this sense, then, something as simple as paying attention becomes a spiritual discipline.

Similarly, I think such a posture affects how we approach active service in the world. As I took my students to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission we took the posture of listening as service. We were intentional to actively listen to the people around us. While hard to tangibly measure our activity, it was anything but passive. Listening was our service.

When I think of our call to be salt and light, the call is as much about what we do as who we are. Are we observant, paying attention to intricacies of life and faith in the rhythms of life? Are we active listeners, giving ear to the countless stories people are yearning to have heard?

This doesn’t mean giving up our desire to tangibly make a difference in the world and peoples’ lives. It does mean, however, that we need to reframe how we measure our impact. I like how one friend recently challenged our tendency as Christians to produce results: “Jesus said ‘I will make you fishers of men’ not boat builders.” In our efforts to gauge spiritual health and faithfulness, let’s be sure we take all aspects of our life seriously, even the most ordinary of activities.


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