NovelSisters

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The Importance of Listening

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I don’t know about you, but when I was growing up, I was the ‘shy’ kid. I didn’t talk much, at least to strangers and I was often quiet. It seemed like talking was just too hard, probably because I wasn’t sure what others would think about what I said, or I just didn’t feel like I had anything to contribute to the conversation. Especially in a big group, this can still be the case. So I thought it was a problem, if only I could talk freely like other kids… or adults.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve overcome some of those irrational fears that I had as a kid. I can talk in a group, or even on stage if I need to. But I still have a tendency to listen instead of speak. And I’m glad I do. I’ve heard so many things about the importance of listening… or “active listening.” It’s a real skill and not everyone has it naturally. I think because of my ‘shy’ personality, this was easier for me to learn, and it is very beneficial, especially in close relationships.

I’ve gone through a lot of trainings for Disaster Relief, or working with impoverished people, and even for leadership, and all of them have emphasized the importance of listening. Listening shows care for another person. It includes eye contact, nodding and can even include talking, such as repeating what the other person says to make sure you understand, or asking follow-up questions. But the focus is on what the other person wants to talk about, or in some cases needs to talk about.

Now being quiet and listening isn’t something I feel ashamed of, but something I’m thankful for. It’s a blessing to be a true friend for someone else and show care through listening. And though there are times I need to talk too, I’m glad I’ve learned how to listen.

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Knowing God’s Will

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I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s will recently and how a person knows what God wants them to do, or what His will is. I’ve had a few conversations about it recently and this past weekend seemed to give me a perfect illustration, so I thought I’d write about it. I know there are a lot of Christians that struggle with this and I admit, I have too. And I’m still not great at it, but I think I can give a few helpful suggestions to those who are struggling with how to hear from God. And maybe through my experience, you can get a better idea of what listening to God and doing His will can look like.

So here it goes. This past weekend I came upon one of those decisions. I’m sure we’ve all been there. An opportunity presented itself and I had to choose to say yes, or no. Which was the right answer? What did God want me to do? What was His will? It might help, if you knew what the actual decision was about, so I’ll tell you. I was invited to go to the Passion Conference in Houston. I have heard about the young adult conference, with all it’s big name pastors and worship leaders gathering to encourage 18-25 year-olds. And honestly, I had always wanted to go. I’ve loved many of the books these pastors have written and sung along to the radio with a lot of the bands that would be performing. And the conference was all about God and Jesus and being passionate about your faith. So God would obviously want me to go… right?

Well it wasn’t that simple. I thought about it, prayed about it, and talked to other Christians I trusted about it. (Hint, this is a good way to determine what God’s will is.) And I came to a realization.

Here are the reasons I had for why I should go:

-I’ve always wanted to go to Passion.

-I’m 24, this may be my last chance.

-I really like Francis Chan.

-I could really grow in my faith.

-Maybe this will help prepare me to be used by God.

Now these aren’t bad things, but can you spot the pattern? I, me, my, the language is all self centered. Now compare this list of why I wanted to go, to why I wanted to stay.

Why I should stay:

-My small group needs me to help set up the church on Friday and if I go to the conference, I couldn’t help them.

-I’ve made a commitment to be at church on Sunday, and help lead the Jr High girls group. There’s only one girl leader, and if I’m not there, there won’t be any.

-I promised to help plan a Superbowl Party for the youth group, and if I’m gone all weekend, even if I make it to the party, I won’t be much help and will really put the other person planning it in a bind.

I knew that I could ask all of these people to let me off the hook. After all, an opportunity like this doesn’t come up very often. They’d understand. But what would God think? What is following Jesus really about anyway? Is it about learning more about Him? Is it about praising Him with lots of other believers? Is it about getting spiritual highs? Or is it about being faithful in the tasks He’s given you to do, not matter how mundane, or unexciting they are?

The more I thought about it, the more I felt like going to the Passion Conference would be all about me, doing what I wanted no matter how it affected others. And me staying, and fulfilling my promises was really what would honor God. And I told myself, “I don’t need to go to a conference to follow Jesus. I can follow Him and glorify Him right here, where He’s put me.”

Now I don’t want you to get the impression that the Passion Conference is wrong or not needed. Lots of people go and it has changed their lives and helped them grow. But in this situation, it wasn’t God’s will for me. So I stayed, and I helped at my home church and, I’m glad I did. In the sermon on Sunday, my pastor said that it’s hard to be certain about God’s will. The whole point of following God is being close to Him, not knowing what to do. But he did say there was one thing you can be certain about when it comes to God’s will. God’s will is always for you to die… to self. And looking back on my decision, I can say that is what I did. And my decision led to some really great things happening. I was able to connect with two friends about service opportunities in the future, I was able to disciple young middle schoolers and spend quality time with them. And thankfully, I was able to be with my family when we heard the news that my grandpa had passed away.

So, I hope this story helped with learning how to listen to God and do His will. If you’ve been struggling with a decision, my suggestions would be:

-Do what you know is right.

-Do what is unselfish.

-Pray.

-And ask friends and family for their perspective.

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Bearing Other’s Burdens

This past year I learned a lot about fulfilling the law of Christ, or bearing others’ burdens. So much so that I thought I would do a blog post about it. So here it goes.

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Galatians 6:2 tells us to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” -NIV or in anther version “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” -ESV.

And this makes sense, even if you’re not a Christian. It’s hard to go through life all by yourself. We need other people, to advise us, encourage us, listen to us complain, or just be there when we hit a rough patch. So why is this fulfilling the law of Christ? What’s so special about this command and what does it look like in everyday life?

Well, I’d say that this command is important because it ties into the golden rule,”Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It also connects with Jesus’s teaching about the greatest commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 NIV

So bearing others’ burdens is showing them love, and fulfilling the greatest commandment. But what does it actually mean to “bear a burden?” I don’t think God is telling us to go find people who need help moving and start carrying their boxes into the moving truck, or if you’re a student to start carrying other kid’s backpacks at school. Don’t get me wrong helping people can have various applications and maybe actually carrying a heavy object is sometimes what we should do. But I think it boils down to what people get stressed out about.

This past year I’ve had plenty of opportunities to listen to other people talk about their problems, worries, concerns, and stress-filled lives. And I think that sometimes, this is what people really need. They need to know someone cares when they’re having a bad day, or a bad month. And it may not seem like much, but listening to others vent is sometimes all that they really need. In some cases, you might get to go a step further and offer help with whatever is stressing them out, but sometimes the situation cannot be changed, and the best thing to do is listen.

I would like to provide a word of caution though. In my experiences I see that many people in relationships can fall into two roles: The Talker, and The Listener. In a healthy relationship, the two friends can switch roles and be both a listener and a talker. But if the roles never switch, it can easily become one person always bearing the weight of the other person’s problems, without getting to release their own stress. I’ve been in this situation before. Sometimes I felt that my friend’s problems were so huge compared to mine that I didn’t have a right to talk about myself or what I was struggling with. But that’s not true, we all need to bear each others’ burdens (especially in the church). So that means take time to listen and be ready to talk.

Another caution I would add to this is that sometimes when sharing about difficult problems, a friend may ask that it be kept secret. And I believe that is good thing, however, swearing a friend to secrecy and forcing them not to tell anyone, is a bit of a stretch. You don’t want to blab what you know to everyone, but sometimes knowing someone else’s stress, creates stress in your own life, and if you can’t talk about it to anyone because of secrecy, that makes it even worse for you.

Lastly, I want to mention that none of us have to bear our burdens or our friends’ burdens alone. As Christians we can bring all of these burdens to Christ and ask Him to do the heavy lifting. He tells us “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

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