Tuesday, February 11, 2014

God, Jonah and Nineveh: Listening as a way of finding our voice

The three day Nineveh lent looks at the command of God to Jonah to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. His refusal and subsequent start of a ship journey to Tarshish shows that he did not do one significant thing which we need to do in our lives. Jonah did not ‘listen’ to God.

Listening is a skill which is acquired over a life time. The churches we go to help us acquire this skill over a period of time. But we don’t rely on this acquired skill in our personal lives. Listening to the guidance of God is a skill that exists inside us and yet has to be developed so that it can work completely. This is not just listening for a voice to come and tell us specifically what to do but to listen to God during worship, figuring out a hint in the numerous sermons we hear, understanding the needs of people and acting accordingly and knowing when someone is in need of our time, help and prayer.

Jonah refused to hear. He was simultaneously talked to by God, by the people of Nineveh indirectly and by his own voice telling him what to do. God gives him a clear message. We can identify three types of voices. The first is one’s own voice which is subject to be influenced by other voices. This is a thought inside as to what we should do or be doing. The second voice is a voice from God. This is something we hear as part of God speaking to us. This may be faint or loud, involve and not involve words, and could be misunderstood as other voices. The third voice is the voice we hear from others. They could be cries of help, sounds of joy, a gasp of frustration and shouts of anger. Growing spiritually means listening and understanding these voices. For this we need to keep away from everything else and listen carefully to these voices.

The Nineveh lent in the Jacobite church or any other church is a time to listen to these voices. We have to keep away from everything else so that these voices become audible and clear. A three day lent brings about an atmosphere to listen to what God wants for us and listen to the cries of others and our own body as well. Todd Henry offers ten questions we can ask ourselves to reclaim our voice. They include what angers you, what makes you cry, what have you mastered, what gives you hope, as a child what did you want to be when you grew up, if you had all the time and money in the world, what would you do, what would blow your mind, what platform do you own, what change would you like to see in the world and if you had one day left, how would you spend it?

Most of us are working and we try to play our own political games in our office spaces and institutions. These are games that we think will make our future better and give us the financial security which we and our families are yearning for. All the while the three types of voices continue to sound somewhere inside our mind and head. But we don’t take time to listen to these voices. The three day lent offers a perfect excuse and opportunity to listen to these voices. These are voices which will change our world and the world of others. They are also voices which will tell us that if we can hear something unique then we don’t need to play any politics anymore and the uniqueness will carry us through.

Jonah’s diversion to Tarshish is a purposeful attempt to negate God’s voice, his own voice and the voices of the people of Nineveh. This negation leads to his own journey thinking that it would give him the satisfaction he yearned for. But he is proved wrong eventually. Let us use this time of lent as a time to listen to and find our voice. This is the voice that has always been there but which we have time and again managed to brush away.

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