Preparing for Worship – George Mason, senior pastor.
We sometimes confuse the words hear and listen. To hear can either mean the physiological act of having sound waves bounce off our eardrums and register in our brain, or it can mean comprehension of what is heard.
When my wife, Kim, is trying to get my attention and is frustrated by my lack of response, she may say, Are you hearing me? In that case, she means both the process of hearing and the outcome of it. In between is where listening comes in.
Listening is a conscious activity we set our minds to. It involves tuning out and tuning in. To focus our attention requires blocking out the ambient noise around us and in us. Then we can become more acutely aware of the one across/above/below/beside us who is speaking to us.
The psalmist writes about true worship: Sacrifice and offering you do not desire, but you have given me an open ear (40:6). The first part is not God refusing our tithes and offerings. (Just to be clear.) It’s that they not be viewed as a substitute for our hearing God.
Vividly, in the Hebrew, the phrase “you have given me an open ear” is literally “ears you have dug for me.” It’s as if we are blockheads until God digs ears for us to be able to hear. And then God expects us to use them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his little book, Life Together, said this: “The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear… . We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.”
Worship and friendship both begin with listening, because to love and to be loved—whether with humans or the Divine—always entails the feeling that we hear and are heard. The intimacy that comes from true listening and hearing overcomes misunderstanding and mends broken relationships.
We can practice that in worship today, and then we go out into our divided world with open ears and open hearts to bring about reconciliation.