You know when you have been in the company of someone who listens. Simply being around them is a blessing of immense and vast depth. It’s as if you’ve been refreshed. Washed by cool spring waters of nourishing clarity. To hear and respond is both fundamentally relational and vitally human. They are the signature affections of creation and the singular hope of humankind.
They are affections we would do well to nurture today! Indeed, those who have gone before us found that nurturing an affection for hearing and responding developed a state of awareness in life providing hope and leading to worship; even in the midst of conflicting and confusing times.
Those who have gone before us also found that these affections, when nurtured, lead to a fully aware and actively engaged life. They lead, in other words, to the good life!
In the ancient book of Psalms chapter 27 King David – ever in pursuit of the good life – encourages a fully aware and actively engaged life when he says,
“My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” I believe that I will look (gaze) upon the goodness of the Lord while I am here in the land of the living. Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”
He is, essentially, asking that God would teach him how to live the good life. That God would heighten his desires that they might desire Him. Fundamentally, it’s a prayer for wisdom. David longs to be lead along the pathways of life that are right and true; pathways away from evil; ever climbing toward God and His good!
The King’s prayer reveals at least two affections we must nurture if our desire for God is to be heightened; if awareness of God is to increase. They are
- An affection for hearing.
- An affection for responding.
Earlier in Psalm 27 King David asks a three-fold request of God:
- That he would delight in God all the days of his life.
- That he would live with God all the days of his.
- That he would meditate on God all the days of his life.
His prayer reveals a soul that has nurtured affections for hearing and responding.
Hearing and responding are affections we too must nurture. These affections become the soil from which a fully aware and actively engaged life is birthed. These affections allow us to be fully (heart and soul) with others; they actualize a way of being that is both fundamentally relational and vitally human.
They are, ironically, counter-intuitive; requiring the suppression of entrenched internal default response mechanisms if we ever hope to nurture them.
Think about it.
Life is built on a series of decisions that typically revolve around our affection for self-expression (assertion) and control (demand) rather than hearing (silence) and response (trust/surrender). Affections for hearing and responding have been replaced by common response mechanisms such as assertion and control.
Hearing and responding, however, are hardwired affections bestowed upon us in creation.
The Hebrew creation narrative in Genesis 1 – 2 paints a poetic scene in which God and His people begin life fully aware and actively engaged in a divine/human drama of hearing and responding. As the scene develops we notice a subtle but pervasive disruption in the drama. We slowly but surely move away from hearing and responding – our creational birthright – toward assertion and control.
Several of this ancient scenes are worth mentioning
- Scene 1: Hear and Respond. God calls us to tend the Garden. Take care of things for me. You are supernaturally endowed to perfect the surroundings in which I am placing you. I have formed you to flourish in this environment and to bring flourishing through this environment. Go for it! We hear and respond: “Got it, God. Thanks.”
- Scene 2: Hear and Respond. God notices that we are alone. He notes a fault in this. Identifying this reality – and this reality alone among creation – as the counter good. He knows that we are created to be complimentary. He delivers a mind blowing and life altering remedy by creating a counter partner. He expands the calling. From I to we, we now tend together; developing nations, countries, goods, services, etc. He exclaims, “Your life will be – together – comprised of sacred service to and worship of me!” We hear and respond: “God it, God. Thanks.”
- Scene 3: Hear and Respond. We take notice of a tree that represents all the good and gain God has in mind for us and the flourishing environment in which he has placed us. He looks at us with love and says, “Just depend on me to provide it for you at the right time and in its fullest sense. You will be tempted to go and take for you this which I long to give to you. Don’t give in. If you do, your eyes will see the dependent nature of your being; you will revolt against dependence in ever increasing and thorough ways.” We hear and respond: “God it, God. Thanks.”
- Scene 4: Assert and Control. God’s enemy slips into the mix and twists the words of God (his specialty);re-framing our sacred affections for hearing and responding; reshaping them into assertion and control. We take (assert) and we eat (control). Suddenly the vastness of God’s goodness and greatness is revealed and our utter need for dependence is displayed before us. Thus begins our unending experience of shutter, stammer, stumble and strive.
- Scene 5: Assert and Control Lead to Cower and Cover. God shows up and calls us. Where we once heard and responded, we now cower and cover. We cover ourselves to mask our sin and shame. We shift blame one unto the other to mask our internal guilt and appease our once hungry now inflamed hearts. We begin, in a formal and systematic way, to practice the habits or develop affections for assertion and control.
As you see, our affections for hearing and responding are no longer normative. They are, and always will remain, however, sacred. Because of this creation reality, there is hope that we can experience the good life and gaze on the goodness of God in the land of the living!
The Psalmist encourages us to identify our normative practice of assertion and control and replace them with our sacred affections for hearing and responding – perhaps habitually over time.
In fact, the entire prayer of Psalm 27 is a prayer of orientation toward God in the midst of a life that is terribly difficult, complex and frightening to live.
Nurturing our affection for hearing and responding to God will not only bring great joy to our soul but will also offer great hope to those around us. Indeed, these affections may be the posture from which we can regain our sacred footing and bring His good for His glory to His world.
Interested in experiencing the good life; nurturing our sacred affections?
Spend some time this week and reflect on the following questions (maybe you ought to ask someone who knows well to help you answer them honestly).
- What is my definition of the good life?
- Would others characterize my life as a life bent on asserting myself and controlling others or as offering genuine attentiveness and a willingness to respond?
- Does my daily pattern leave room to ‘clear the mechanism‘ and sit – even if for a moment – in silent reflection (Try to recall the moments when you have been truly silent and awake.)?
- What would be one small change I might make or one habit I might develop to nurture an affection for hearing and responding?
Disrupting to Renew!