What we are looking for

Published 1:35 pm Saturday, June 20, 2015

by Andrew Book

Birds are amazing creatures. They have found a way to thrive in nearly every environment on this planet. Regardless of where you live, the chances are good that you have a sizable population of birds living nearby. The chances are also good that some of those birds are song birds with a beautiful melody that they are offering to the world.

I love hearing the birds sing. It is peaceful and beautiful, and their songs are going on almost all the time, but here’s the rub: I almost never hear them. The reason I almost never hear them is because I am simply not listening for them. They are singing, but I am not listening!

I was reminded of the importance of slowing down enough to listen last Sunday as the people of Courtland United Methodist Church gathered to worship outdoors at the Airfield Conference Center. We began our time of worship by recognizing that God is able (and wants to!) speak to us in every place we find ourselves. Then, I invited us to be silent and look at our surroundings and listen for what God is saying. That was when we began to hear the birds. There wasn’t just one or two singing, but an entire choir was offering their songs that morning. I had been at the site long before anyone else arrived, but I had not heard a single bird song that morning before we stopped to be intentional about listening.

I may simply be more oblivious to the world around me that most people, and the rest of you may be aware of all that is going on around you at all times, but I am suspicious that my struggle is one that we all share: a struggle to see beyond the narrow focus of our immediate thoughts and concerns. Most of us struggle to hear the birds. However, the only way we are going to be able to learn and grow is if we find a way to open our eyes and ears to look for what God is doing in the world around us.

Something else I noticed looking at the world around me on Sunday was the lilies in the lake next to our worship spot. Lilies are easy to ignore: they are low to the ground, they cling to the edge of the lake, and their green color blends with the grass on the shoreline. However, once I noticed them, I was captivated by the symmetry and perfection of each lily flower and amazed by the ability of the plant to be rooted in the lake bottom while deftly growing the lily pad at just the right place to be supported by the water and receive the full light of the sun. Staring at the lilies in the lake reminded me of Jesus’ words about the lilies of the field (spoken, I expect, as he and his disciples were looking over a field of lilies!)

And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. 29 But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 30 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, won’t God do much more for you, you people of weak faith? -Matthew 6:28-30

Each of us has opportunities to learn, grow, and be changed every day. The question is, do we open our eyes to see what is around us and do we open our ears to hear what God would like to speak to us? Jesus often ended his teachings with some form of this statement: “Let the person who has ears to hear, listen.” He recognized that many people in front of him simply were not listening. May we be those who listen!

At Courtland United Methodist Church, we are constantly listening for God’s guidance and direction. We will be gathering a ten week Encounter Group later in the summer to spend time intentionally trying the practices of faith that allow us to draw near to God and hear from God, so if you are interested in growing in your ability to “have ears,” consider joining us. Whether you join us or not, I hope you will walk out your door with your eyes and ears open, prepared to see something new, hear a song of joy, and be changed by the world around you!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.