to listen and be heard

I just returned from a short trip to Tallahassee, Florida where I had a chance to speak and sing for some inmates in a Florida prison. Those who know me know that I have a soft heart for those who are living behind bars, not because I excuse whatever crimes they have committed but because they are human beings just like me. All of us have sinned, and we serve a merciful God who can forgive sin and give us a new life…regardless of what side of the bars we live on.

I’m never afraid of prisoners, and I love to catch their eyes and just let them know they are noticed and valued by someone. Prison is a place where shame and disgrace run high, where a name becomes a number, and where second chances are few.

In this particular meeting I had a chance to share some music and my story, and then the platform was open for members of the audience to take the mic and share theirs. Well, when given the chance to speak, there were more responses than there was time to listen. Only three were able to share, and the stories were painful, powerful, and told of encounters with God these men had had when they were at their lowest. When no one cared if they lived or died….not even themselves….a God who saw them, heard them, and loved them revealed Himself and brought hope! Their stories touched my heart. One man had been abandoned and rejected by his own mother when he was a small child. Many had grown up without fathers. Most had been raised up in homes full of violence with no one who cared or listened. One of the men made the most profound statement. “When I was free, no one listened to me. In prison, no one listens to me,” he said. These offenders - some of them young, some old and having served decades behind bars - expressed one need above all else: the need to be heard.

God has made us creatures with voices and spirits that long to be understood. We may not understand our own pain, but somehow just expressing it brings healing. Just knowing someone cares enough to listen is enough. I believe that listening is one of the best ways we can love someone. We may not have answers or solutions, but the simple gesture of giving time and attention to share in someones suffering is healing balm. This is how God loves us - by listening to our little voices when we cry out to Him! One of my favorite scriptures is Psalm 116. Almost twenty years ago, I was lying on my bed n a deep, dark depression. I saw my Bible beside the bed and flipped it open. The pages opened to Psalm 116 where David said, “I love the Lord because He heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me therefore I will call on Him as long as I live. The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish. Then I called on the name of the Lord, 'O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!' ”

I read those words and claimed that prayer for myself. “O God deliver my soul. O God, help me.”

Well, God must have been listening because after that prayer a series of miracles happened that were completely supernatural. The Lord opened doors for me that no man could shut. He turned my life around and healed my heart. He gave me a new life and a purpose. Most of all, I would never doubt that when I call to Him, God is listening. There are many religions in the world and many idols we could serve but there is only one God, and He does the most unimaginable thing - He listens to the prayers of men and women who call to him! God listens.

Is that not all we need to know? Perhaps you are reading this and feeling overwhelmed with pain, confusion, fear, or loneliness The whole message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is this: God knows who you are, He knows where you are, He loves you just the way you are, and He hears you when you call to him. God is listening. Your friends and family may seem far away at the moment. You may feel completely alone. but God is listening to you!! All you have to do is call out to Him. You may not sense His presence right away when you pray. You may not hear an answer right away, but just know that in time, you will. Keep talking to him. Keep calling on him. Write your prayers down if you want, and believe that He is listening. In time you will hear His voice calling back to you, and you will see answers to your prayers.

While you are waiting for the Lord’s answers, show the love of God to someone who needs to be heard. Take time to listen to the one in front of you. Ask questions, look into their eyes, and let them know that you care. You don’t have to fix problems or offer solutions. All you have to do is listen. And through your listening God can bring the healing that is needed.

After the ministry at the prison was over, I was packing up my violin when an inmate approached me cautiously. He said he was trying to learn to play the violin but had no instruction and no help. Would I be willing to answer some questions? In response, I offered to not only give him a short violin lesson but handed him my own violin to play for a moment. He looked at me, stunned!! I would allow someone like him to play a valuable instrument? The answer was ‘yes’. He was of much more value than a piece of wood, and seeing the joy on his face was worth more than the instrument itself to me. A few moments of time and a listening ear told the man he was valuable. He was heard. I flew home to Michigan the next day having received more than I gave as is often the case.

Sometimes the Lord speaks to us in dreams and visions, and other times He speaks through the one in front of us.

Thank you, Lord, for the reminder that You are always listening to us. Thank you for the reminder that we are called to become listeners and in so doing show Your love to the world. Thank You for teaching us so often through the ones who have no voice. You can speak through animals, through small children, and through the least of these. Help us remember that You are always listening when it seems like no one else is. Help us share Your love by listening to someone who needs to be heard today. In Jesus name, Amen.