There’s a voice of love in the world that is always telling each of us who we really are and drawing us into the embrace of our Creator. The problem is that we are caught up in a swarm of other voices who tell us lies which distract us and keep us from hearing the Holy Spirit. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) at 7 pm, something beautiful is going to start at Burke United Methodist Church: a series of conversations called “The voice you long to hear,” led by our brand-new Barnabas ministry of spiritual companionship. The hope is to discover together how to listen to God and thus gain a much richer and deeper taste of the eternal life that He is constantly offering to us.
This ministry effort is the culmination of many years of visioning that God has planted into our congregation. Before I arrived at Burke United Methodist Church, our leadership went through a visioning process in which they discerned that many people in the congregation were very hungry for more spiritual vitality in their daily lives. So a committee was formed that met together to discuss spiritual formation. For a number of reasons, that committee was tabled for a season, but then last fall, a new initiative was launched out of the seeds that had been sown. It is called the Barnabas ministry, named after the apostle Barnabas whose name means “the encourager.”
Over the spring, a group of about 15 people gathered together to share their spiritual journeys and listen to God and learn from each other. The Holy Spirit did amazing things in this group, though I only got to join them on a few occasions. It’s been a different phenomenon than any other small group I’ve been a part of. It’s a group of people who are discovering the deep joy of growing in their intimacy with God and want to share this joy with others.
The next phase of this ministry is for members of the original group to facilitate new break-off groups. I don’t know about you, but my prayer life is nowhere near what it should be. That’s why I plan on participating in these conversations. There’s a lot more to prayer than just closing your eyes and asking God for a bunch of stuff. The most important part of prayer is the part that most people do the least, if at all: listening.
There are a number of ways to listen to God prayerfully. One of the ways that the Barnabas group will be exploring in their first session is to read a Biblical passage slowly aloud as a group and meditate upon what God is saying to each of them through it. When we read the Bible prayerfully, we discover that it’s not just a book with words that always mean the same thing to everyone who reads them. It is rather a gateway by which the Holy Spirit’s voice draws our eye to a word from God that speaks directly into our life circumstances at that moment in time. Each week, the group will be looking at a different spiritual practice for listening to God like this one.
At our Virginia Methodist annual conference this year, Bishop Cho challenged us to be a people of prayer. A life of prayer is really the foundation for everything else. We can do all the good in the world but if it’s not rooted in prayer, it will just feel to us like so much drudgery. I cannot put into words how beautiful my life becomes when I take the time to listen to God; I wish I did it every day. So if you live around these parts, come and check out our gathering tomorrow night 7 pm here at Burke United Methodist Church or else Sunday mornings at 10:30 am all summer.