31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
May 22, 2022
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
As part of my sabbatical this summer, I am deaning Team Lego at Silver Lake Camp, our UCC camp, and one of the games we are sure to play is the Great Wind Blows. It’s a fun icebreaker game. It’s a fun anytime game where you gather in a circle with one person in the middle. That person shouts “The great wind blows for everyone who…” and fills in some characteristic – like ‘who is wearing sneakers’ or ‘who has brown eyes’. Then everyone who fits that characteristic runs to find another spot, hoping to not be left as the one in the middle. Fourth and fifth graders love it as they chaotically run all around wherever the great wind blows.
In the scripture passage we heard today, the Apostle Paul sounds like he is being blown about by the great wind of the Holy Spirit. Paul and his ministry partners were sharing the good news in the regions of Phrygia and Galatia, but when they tried to share farther northwest, they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit” and when they “attempted to go into Bithynia”, “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them”.
In my mind, I picture Paul and his ministry partners being bumped and pushed around like bumper cars or like a ball in a pinball machine– go this way, no; okay, go that way. Bump, turn, bump. Bing, bing, bing. Bump, turn again.
Finally, they end up in Troas, a city which would have been located in our modern day Turkey, and Paul has a vision, a vision of a man from Macedonia The man pleads with Paul to come and help them in Macedonia. Paul shares this vision with his partners in ministry, and they are “convinced that God has called us to proclaim the good news” to the people of Macedonia.
They are convinced God is calling them to travel into what is modern day Greece to share the good news of God’s love. They are convinced that the Holy Spirit is guiding them, convinced that this is the ministry journey God is calling them to take.
How did they know though? How is a person to know how and where the Holy Spirit is leading? How are we to know that we aren’t just being tossed about by the great wind and instead are being intentionally guided forward by the Holy Spirit on our life and faith journeys? How do we hear God? How do we hear God?
Bob and Barbara Japenga, who decades ago created ListeningtoGod.org, share that answering ‘how do we hear God?’ is the same as answering ‘how do we hear our loved ones?’ How do we nurture the ability to listen to our partners, our parents, our children, our friends and neighbors?
As Bob and Barbara share, if you want to be able to hear someone, you have to be open. Your heart has to be open to that person. You have to want to make it a priority to listen to them – giving them your full attention and not just a distracted ear.
And it takes time.
Listening to others, listening to God, truly hearing them takes openness, intentionality, and it takes time. The Apostle Paul wasn’t tossed to and fro by the great wind because he intentionally took time to listen to God and the Holy Spirit. He took time to be open and that helped him know what was God’s Spirit leading and what was not God’s spirit leading.
Time, more than money, might be our most precious commodity. I have done way too many memorial services in the last two months, and over and over again, families have said – we thought we had more time. We thought we had more time.
Time is precious, and time is in short supply so if we want to be grounded in God, connected to God, able to hear God, we need to make time for God.
As a Christian, I truly wish I could live my life like Jesus in this respect. Jesus regularly went apart from the crowds, stepped away from his disciples, withdrew to a quiet place to pray and be alone with God. Jesus made time to be with God; Jesus made time to hear God’s still speaking voice so he could be guided by God and not tossed about by the winds of people’s wants and needs.
I used to wish I was more disciplined in setting aside time for God. I used to wish my prayer life was more orderly – that I began my day with quiet contemplation or reflected on my day at night with God or had a regular time for reading a devotional.
I used to wish I was more disciplined in setting aside a particular time for God, but I’m not and mostly, I given up feeling guilty about that. Instead I focus on making time to hear God in lots of different ways and in lots of different places.
I turn off the radio sometimes in the car and drive quietly with God.
I write prayers in a prayer journal or I doodle pray them, writing someone’s name down and coloring around it.
With my hands together in prayer, with my hands connected to others in prayer, I thank God for my food, for my life, for my blessings. I pray for others.
I find myself being rushed someplace and upon arrival, discover that they are not ready yet. I take this as a time to breath deeply and be with God.
I read. I pause and reread. I sit for 30 seconds and ask God how God wants to shape my life with what I am reading.
I take three deep breaths of God’s spirit and remember that I am exactly where God wants me to be in this moment.
I run and take really deep breaths of God’s spirit, letting go of that which is stressing me out and keeping me from hearing God.
So often in life, we can feel blown about by the winds of change, the winds of others’ needs, demands, requests, anxieties and desires, so often in life, we can wish for the clear leading of God’s spirit, grounding us as it also gives us wings to soar.
If we want to be guided by God’s spirit, if we want to know how the Holy Spirit is leading us, it takes time.
Moment by moment, we can make that time to be open to God, to be intentional about our relationship with God. We can make time to listen and hear God. Maybe for you, it will be the same time every day. Maybe you will set aside 30 minutes to be with God, maybe it will be five minutes. Maybe you will find lots of small moments throughout your day to be in constant communication with God – asking ‘Is this the way, Lord?’ “Is this what you want me to do?”
All of the time we set aside to be intentionally open to God is a blessing. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth it.
Following Jesus’ example, Paul set aside time to be grounded in God, to intentionally listen so he could truly hear God, asking always to be led by God’s spirit as he lived his ministry of sharing the good news. And while there were often surprises, like the man from Macedonia that Paul was supposed to “save” turning out to be a woman who originally came from the area in Asia where Paul had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak, while Paul’s journey in ministry often had twists and turns, with each step, Paul knew he was right where he was supposed to be, connected to God and being guided by the Holy Spirit.