Friday, 21 May 2010

Listening - part two

In my previous post I wrote about the privilege and necessity of listening to one another.  In our rushed and hectic world, even in the church, this is often forgotten and overlooked.  We always seem to put doing  above being.
The supreme form of listening of course is listening to God.  Our God wants a two-way fellowship with his children.  Often we usually make it a one-way fellowship.  We come to God with our spiritual shopping list and bombard Him with our requests.  We rarely stop to listen to  what he has to say.  In the end the whole thing is in danger of becoming boring and sterile. 
George Muller of Bristol was an immensely influential figure in the nineteenth century.  he said that the secret of his effectiveness was his determination to keep his soul happy in the Lord.  He did this by regular scripture reading and listening to God in the morning.  I quote his words.

    I saw more clearly than ever that the first great primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord . . . not how much I might serve the Lord, . . . but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man might be nourished. For I might seek to set the truth before the unconverted, I might seek to benefit believers . . . and yet, not being happy in the Lord, and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, all this might not be attended to in a right spirit. Before this time my practice had been . . . to give myself to prayer after having dressed myself in the morning.
      Now, I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God, and to meditation on it, that thus my heart might be comforted, encouraged, warned, reproved, instructed; and that thus, by means of the Word of God, whilst meditating on it, my heart might be brought into experimental communion with the Lord.

    In the first half of the  twentieth century the Oxford Group was very influential.  Although I think that their emphases were a bit one sided and unbalanced,  they did introduce the idea and the practice of listening to God to many Christians.  Their practice was quite simple;  chose a quiet place, preferably in the morning, get yourself relaxed, take a pencil or pen and a clean sheet of paper, then simply make your mind receptive to God. Write down whatever comes to you even if it seems a bit odd.  At the end of your session delete whatever is obviously foolish or erroneous.   
    As you persevere you will be surprised what comes.   

    Thursday, 13 May 2010


    People are so busy these days that a constant complaint often heard is that nobody seems to listen.  Often a person is speaking about something that really is important, but the listener, by his body language and shifting eyes, gives the infallible impression that he isn't paying attention. Or a person begins to speak about their family  or their inner problems when their listener immediately begins to talk at length about themselves. Some people have the ability to spend a long conversation talking solely about what concerns them. 

    Perhaps the most common complaint that wives make to their husbands is this, "I don't want you to rush and sort out the problem; I just want you to listen to me and truly hear me." 

    I have found an excellent quotation written by Dietrich Bonhoeffer while he was running a sort of illegal seminary in Finkenwalde in the Baltic region.


    The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
    Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

    Tuesday, 4 May 2010

    Toc H and Tubby Clayton

    Almost exactly three years ago a friend and I  decided  to visit the war graves of northern France and Belgium.  We had both lost uncles in the Great War.  We decided to base ourselves in the beautiful medieval  town of Ypres, fondly known as Wipers by many thousands of British soldiers.  This town, almost totally destroyed in the war, has been painstakingly rebuilt and the ancient cloth hall in the main square is a marvellous piece of architecture.

    The land towards the  east of Ypres is an area that has seen more bloodshed and vicious fighting than almost an area on the  planet.  Wherever you travel you are met with neat and tidy British cemeteries,  with row after row  of simple white tombstones edged carefully with flowers.  It is a quietly moving experience to travel to the town that epitomises the senseless slaughter of 1917, the small Flemish town of Passiondale, the very name of which seems to evoke profoundly sad memories.  (I was told, however, that the word has no associations with the Latin word, passio, to suffer).  I remember sitting quietly drinking coffee is a small cafe in the main square,  thinking about the savage fighting that led to its capture during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. It all seemed so unreal. 

    We left Ypres for a day and travelled to the market town of  Poperinge.  We wanted to pay a visit to Talbot House.  It was here that Rev. Tubby Clayton (1885-1972) exercised a profound ministry to the troops. He and another British officer bought a large town house near the centre and opened it as a place of rest and refreshment to the  thousands of British troops who were billeted nearby. It was a remarkable place where troops could rest, read, think and pray in a peaceful atmosphere.  It was probably the  only place on the Western Front where all notions of rank were ignored and men could mix and socialise in total freedom.  
    Probably the most important room in the building was the chapel, which was built in the former storage area for hops at the top of the house.  A carpenters bench was the altar, which is still there today.  Though Clayton was a High Anglican he welcomed men of all denominations or none.  The services were often packed with men sitting on the stairs leading to the loft.  Clayton knew that many who attended would die within a few weeks. Many sought him out and made their peace with God.  
    There was an amazing atmosphere of peace and friendship in the house and garden.

    The chapel as it is today.

    The garden where war-weary men could forget the war for a while.

    No pessimism, an amazing statement to make in 1917!

    There is a story about Tubby Clayton that I find very moving.  One day he was on the battlefield and he arranged a simple communion service right in the midst of the fighting.  As the men knelt in prayer a large shell exploded overhead.  These shells were very lethal, because their casings would disintegrate into thousands of pieces of shrapnel.  When they lifted their heads they noticed that the surrounding  trees and bushes were shredded but the grass and bushes next to them were unscathed.

    After the war many wanted to retain the fellowship and friendships they had experienced in the war.  The Toc H movement came into being.

    In researching the life of this remarkable man I came across a simple poem that he wrote towards the end of his life, a sort of plea for mercy at the resurrection. I found it a very moving poem,

    Lord Jesu, redeemer,
    Wilt wake an old dreamer?
    Of workers the weakest,
    Of liegemen the least,
    Of fainthearts the faithless,
    Of saints' scars the scatheless,
    Wilt robe in redemption a fool for thy feast?