Listening to the Spirit can sometimes feel like trying to hear someone over a band at a concert. How do we make out his voice? What exactly is he saying? To hear the Spirit, to become acquainted with his voice, we have to quiet the noise. One form of noise is busyness.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote: “We have lost the art of being still and doing nothing.” Can you remember the last time you did nothing? Really, stop and think about it. I have to talk myself into doing nothing sometimes, and when I am doing nothing, I have to remind myself that it’s okay to do nothing. I even have to shoo away the guilt for not being productive so I can just sit and enjoy grace. Occasionally when I’m reading the Bible, items for my to-do list materialize. They distract me and try to push God’s words around my mind. Suddenly getting a task done feels more urgent than meeting with God!
Once we slow down long enough to eliminate busyness, we may not like what we see. Danish philosopher and father of existentialism Søren Kierkegaard wrote volumes of thought-provoking philosophy that required gobs of doing nothing. Yet in reflection he described himself as a spectator in life, someone who learned about the views and theories of others while contributing nothing to the greater base of knowledge. He envied “great men” who pursued interests with great success, while struggling to find his own purpose. He struggled with a profound sense of inadequacy.
Do you ever feel inadequate? I think of mothers in our church who feel the pressure to accomplish something: well-disciplined children, organic, gluten-free diets, well-kept homes with inviting interior design, a stand-out hobby, side job, or great career. If they don’t accomplish these goals, they feel like they don’t measure up. Or men who are so driven by work and platform building that they have lost touch with the Spirit of God. We often mistake accomplishment for purpose.
Kierkegaard eventually saw through all of this: “Let us never deceive youth by foolish talk about the matter of accomplishing. Let us never make them so busy in the service of the moment, that they forget the patience of willing something eternal.”
He came to the point where he realized the futility of busyness in the service of temporal things and began to value the importance of slow, patient eternal things. This is particularly challenging in our age, where we believe just the opposite—that we need to accomplish a bunch of great things in order to be purposeful.
In this milieu, how do we hear the voice of the Spirit? We may need to begin by renouncing accomplishment, to throw off the claim that a meaningful life is based purely on what we do and instead learn to rest in what God has done. We must patiently set aside productivity to slow down enough to value the things of God. Embrace the value of silencing other voices in order to make out the sound of the voice that matters most. This is a lifelong endeavor: cultivating the patience of willing something eternal. And it is worth it, every single bit.
You can read more about listening to the Spirit in Here in Spirit: Knowing the Spirit who Create, Sustains, and Transforms Everything.