I came of age in an era when all the truly devout and discerning were in search of “the dot.” Certain that there was one particular place, vocation, spouse, role, and educational path for me in the mind of God (“the dot”), I agonized, prayed, agonized some more, listened for a clear voice of direction, and then, in most cases, ended up simply heading in a direction that seemed to make sense. If things went well, I reasoned that I must have “guessed right,” but the problem of decision making and hearing God’s voice was, of course, just as murky as ever.
Leighton Ford has been listening all his life for the Voice. At times, it has come through on accents that were unfamiliar or unexpected, and he admits that there have been seasons in which he mistook his own voice for the One he had been listening for, but in A Life of Listening, one thing has become clear as a bell: as we persevere in listening for and discerning the voice of God (no matter how imperfectly), we find our own deepest identity.
Ford’s eighty-plus years of listening have shaped his career, first as an evangelist with Billy Graham’s team, then as chair of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, and ultimately as an author, mentor, and leader of his own independent outreach ministry. Finding that God was at work in shaping his life and ministry through all the many and varied voices he encountered along the way, he offers a memoir-style invitation to his readers to listen for “the sound of God at work in our lives, weaving all things together in a tapestry of divine artistry.” (15)
An Accumulation of Voices Filtered by the Word of Truth
My search for the perfect “dot” of God’s will was fueled by an image of God as rigid, dictatorial, and mostly hidden. It turns out that there’s a good reason why Jesus described himself to his disciples as a”friend,” and invested his ministry in walking alongside them in a demonstration of extravagant grace. As we begin to absorb the truth that our actions have neither a positive nor a negative impact on God’s love for us, we have begun to walk in the rhythms of grace and to hear his heart toward us. Ford’s mission statement has deep roots in grace:
If I am asked for my mission statement, I now say, ‘To be an artist of the soul. And a friend on the journey.'”
The voices we hear throughout our long years on this planet are folded by sovereign design into the many and varied ways in which God himself speaks to us. With the Word of Truth as our filter, the “accumulation of voices” (169) shapes our sense of direction as God the Holy Spirit makes sense of it all and directs us–not toward “a dot,” but rather toward a relationship with God that overflows in our calling, our vocation, a word related to “voice” in the gorgeous sense that as we find our voice in Christ, we learn to “know and sing the music of our soul.” (183)
Giving up the search for “the dot” and, instead, listening for the voice of Christ which “plays in ten thousand places,”** will redefine what it means to follow Christ, for his voice comes to us with vigor and spontaneity, and the glorious truth is that he is ten thousand times more devoted to the guidance of his much-loved children than we are to the hearing and the doing and the following of his Voice.
Many thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.
Ever Cultivating a Listening Life,
** The phrase “Christ plays in ten thousand places” is excerpted from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is also the title of a book by Eugene Peterson, which I reviewed here.
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