Timothy W. Massaro
Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer
What do habits have to do with hearing God? Actually, a lot.
Habits can be good or bad, distracting or uplifting. They can bring us closer to God and others, or drive us farther away. Their importance is often misunderstood, and we can become easily susceptible to forming destructive habits that hamper our entire lives.
Today, it is no surprise that we have become addicted to a fast-paced life. People everywhere are exhausted, and yet we don’t know how to get off this hamster wheel. Some pressing issue is always on our minds. Some piece of technology interrupts us from concentration or peace.
Amid this growing noise, we may lose our ability to hear those closest to us and therefore lose our ability to hear from God. Maybe part of the reason we see so many tensions and problems in colleges and schools today is that we are no longer able to listen. We have all these means of communication, all this information, but we cannot really hear. No one is listening, even though most people are talking, texting, or typing.
Sadly, the more outlets we have for immediate expression, the more voiceless our society has become. The habits that we have made and shaped for ourselves perpetuate this lack of communication, and this is especially true when it comes to hearing God. It becomes easier and easier to not even try.
Putting God out of Sight
One of the ways we hide God from our presence is through the noise and busyness of life, distracting us from each other, which in the end hinders our prayers (1 Peter 3:7). Frustration, and a seeming inability to change our ways, builds cold, loveless relationships that fail to bring true communication and fellowship.
Forming good habits are important and can stop this destructive cycle. As David Mathis reminds us,
With a habit, the decision is already made, and the bandwidth of our mind, so to speak, is free to us to focus our energy and attention elsewhere. “The real key to habits is decision making,” [Gretchen] Rubin writes, “or, more accurately, the lack of decision making” (Better than Before, 5).
For Christians, the so-called spiritual disciplines—or, as I like to call them, “habits of grace”—free our minds from preoccupation with technique and skill, and the depleting energy of making the same regular decisions, so that we can tune our attention elsewhere, to the most important thing. Habits that get us into the Bible and prayer, and that keep us deeply connected in the body of Christ are spiritual life-savers.
So, how do we form new habits of trust and gratitude? How can we begin seeing the Lord’s goodness to us? Well, it begins with listening—or rather, knowing what to listen for!
Listening for God Again
We need daily time with God in his Word and in prayer, as well as time with God’s people (Heb. 10:25). We need time to hear God’s story to teach us about how things really are. We need time to turn off the noise and listen to his goodness again—first, in his Word and second, in each other (2 Tim. 3:10–17; 2 Cor. 3:1–18).
Good habits can help us understand God’s presence in our lives. God walks everywhere incognito, as C. S. Lewis often said. In the closest people around us, God seeks to communicate with his children. God wears the masks of friends and family, providing us with signs of his immeasurable goodness, leading us into his constant praise (James 1:16–18). If we turn off the noise, we might be able to hear his voice again, even in the smallest smile or in our children’s laughter.