Stressed, depressed, busy, angry, anxious, tired.
I bet you identify with one or all of those, or have gone in and out of them for the last 6 months. I have.
And in the last month God has clearly spoken similar words to my soul as the brother of Jesus wrote in James 1:19-27…except this is how I heard it: Calm Down and Shut Up, Listen and Live.
This is how James says it:
19-21 Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.
22-24 Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
25 But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.
26-27 Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world.
[The Message Paraphrase]
I’m not sure what you gather from those passages, but for me it boils down to 2 essential rhythms: Listen & Live it out.
Seems simple enough, right? Except it obviously isn’t as evidenced by the roller coaster of our spiritual lives that COVID has revealed.
Our Lives Need To Be Broken
One thing I have realized during this time is that the gardening and farming analogies used by Scripture are very intentional. In order to have the “good soil” of healthy rhythms in your life, the “hard soil” you’ve likely created (or at least allowed to form) needs to be broken up…
And that starts with the first 2 things I heard: Calm Down (both your emotions and your schedule) and Shut Up (both your mouth and your mind).
Many Christians simply go throughout our weeks trading the busyness of one thing (maybe work) for the busyness of another (likely kids activities), the distraction of one thing (likely social media) for the distraction of another (maybe sports), and the consumerism of one thing (usually materialism for most Americans) for the consumerism of another (usually a religiosity that touts itself as Christianity but really looks only partially like Christ).
What COVID has revealed is a disturbingly ugly truth about many Christians in America: we actually live very little like Jesus did.
Jesus was calm and never hurried. Jesus listened and had compassion.
We are anxious & stressed and always in a hurry for one reason or another. We can’t stop long enough to actually listen, let alone have compassion.
Many in the American Church seem to be worried about many things today, mostly concerning COVID: masks, whether the numbers are accurate, gathering in person, government overreach, and so on.
And while those are not unimportant things, they are certainly not the better portion. The better portion is what Jesus said Mary chose – sitting at Jesus’ feet as a disciple – when Martha was worried about so much (Luke 10:42).
Rebuilding Our Lives To Look Like Jesus
If COVID was a test, I’d say the American Church has widely failed it if I had to be honest. I’d say most have still missed what Jesus has been trying to say, because we haven’t really sat at His feet. We’ve been afraid (of the disease or of the economy) and we’ve been rushing to get back to some semblance normal (which clearly wasn’t working anyways).
What if Jesus wanted to use COVID to get us to Calm Down and Shut Up, Listen and Live like He lived? To change the rhythms of our lives and our churches which continue to produce rampant spiritual and relational immaturity? To make us more compassionate, more connected, more Christlike?
There’s a line in one of my recent favorite songs: “So don’t tell me God is silent when your Bible is closed.” [“Enough” by Social Club Misfits]
Have you been listening to God? Are you even stopping long enough to?
Or are your thoughts and your actions keeping you so busy you can’t hear Him? Are social media and the voices of others creating so much noise that you can’t even hear His voice?
Maybe we’ve missed the opportunity to hear from God. Or maybe the opportunity is still here.
For us to learn to listen.
Listen to Jesus.
Not to ourselves.
Not to others.
Just to Jesus.
Will you Calm Down and Shut Up, Listen and Live like Jesus?
Listening Is An Intentional Act
So go ahead and make plans to do it. Not a “one off” period of listening. But a consistent, daily (throughout the day) & weekly rhythm of stopping your busyness, resting in His presence, calming your mind, and slowing down long enough to actually hear His voice.
Make these rhythms a priority in your life, but especially in this season more than they’ve ever been.
Listen in the morning, in the middle of your day, and in the evening.
Once a week, set aside a half day (or even better a whole day – a Sabbath), to listen more closely and with others.
Figure out simple ways you can hear from Him and live like Him: reading Scripture (alone and with others), spending time in prayer (alone and with others), recreating & eating (definitely with others), showing compassion toward those who are hurting by listening to them (definitely with others), and engaging in meeting the physical needs of those around you (also definitely with others).
It’s these rhythms of life that like a plow running through the ground will actually break up the hard soil that has been there. Plowing is intentional, it takes action, and its hard work. So will living in healthy ways during a season that could only harden you more, make you more busy, and make you less likely to listen (to anyone, let alone Jesus).
It’s not just good advice. It’s how you will tend for your stressed, depressed, busy, angry, anxious, and/or tired soul.