I would like share this joke with you. The picture is of a wife addressing her husband, who is somewhat pre-occupied. “You never listen to me,” she says in frustration, “you only hear what you want to hear.” “Sure,” he replies, “I’ll have a beer.” The sad truth is that we are not always very good at listening to one another. It is all too easy to get locked into our own little world, and pay too little attention to the views and feelings of others. But that is not the way it should be. It has been suggested that since humans have two ears and one mouth they should listen at least twice as much as they speak.
Listening skills are a key part of the curriculum at good medical schools. Such skills are taught for at least two reasons. Not only is good listening therapeutic in itself, it is also essential to the process of making a diagnosis. It is said that 90% of all diagnoses can be made simply from listening to what a patient says. Listening is also a key part of the next stage in making a diagnosis – the examination – hence the importance of the stethoscope. Another reason for listening is to expand one’s own resources by gaining from the wisdom and experience of others.
I and my family are new to Harwell and Chilton, and since arriving we have been listening hard, trying to learn who’s who, what’s what, and where’s where. I have decided, particularly during my first 70 days in post, intentionally and carefully to listen in order to discern the future direction for the churches of Harwell and Chilton. This decision is partly informed by common sense but also by Christian theology. You see, Christians believe that God is a God who cares for his people and speaks to them in order to guide them.
A familiar biblical image of God is that of a shepherd. In the ancient near-east and in many parts of the world today, shepherds guide their flocks to places of safety and good pasture by calling to them. The sheep learn to recognise and trust the voice of the shepherd and so follow. Jesus says “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
God speaks to and guides us in all sorts of ways. Christians believe that the primary way is through his Son, Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Bible, but that God also speaks to us indirectly through other people, our circumstances and our consciences. It can be difficult to hear the ‘still small voice’ of God (cf 1 Kings 19:11-13) and it can be all too easy to hear what we want to hear. But if we genuinely want to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd guiding us, we can.
Revd Dr Jonathan Mobey
Rector of Harwell with Chilton