Give over thine own willing, give over thine own running, give over thine own desiring to know or be anything, and sink down into the Seed which God sows in thy heart, and let that be in thee, and grow in thee, and breathe in thee, and thou shalt find by sweet experience that the Lord knows that and loves and owns that, and will lead it to the inheritance of life, which is his portion… – Isaac Pennington
In the Quaker community, we talk a lot about releasing our own personal desires and allowing God’s unexpected will to be done through us. Because of this emphasis, we may sometimes harbor a certain amount of skepticism towards those who are actively working for a particular goal – especially a goal that makes us uncomfortable. We may wonder: Is this project the result of a leading from God, or an ego trip?
It’s a fair question. Often, especially in the early stages of a leading, it can be hard to tell the difference between God’s leading and temporary emotional states. When faced with an uncomfortable leading, it may often seem safer to wait, delaying action and seeking greater clarity. And, sometimes, watching and waiting is exactly what is called for.
Unfortunately, in a community that values listening spirituality as much as our does, we are often tempted to allow numbed passivity to masquerade as discernment. There are times when, if we are truly hearing the word, we must act on what God has spoken. Our failure to act can be just as damaging as our refusal to wait.
For me, as someone who has been steeped in the practice of silent waiting, this is an important realization. While it is crucial that I wait on God, refraining from action until I have been shown the way, this is not an invitation to chronic spiritual constipation! If I find myself endlessly waiting on a word from God but never changing the way that I live, it may be that the word has already been spoken to me. Having heard this word, I am being called to live it with boldness.
In many cases, we know very well what God is asking of us. We wait and wait for further confirmation because we are terrified of what it would mean to act on the revelation we have already received. We are like children, putting our toes into the pool to test the temperature of the water. We would do better if we simply mustered the courage to jump in!
There is a time for listening in passive stillness, but a time also comes for a hearing that results in risky action – action that may look crazy to those around us. If we’re really walking with Jesus, we’ll know it soon enough: We’re going to get into trouble, just like he, the early church and the early Quakers did.
A true listening spirituality consists not only of breathing in, but also breathing out. Many of us have been breathing in for so long that we are about to explode. Are we ready to step out of the silence and into the real-life struggles of our world? I, for one, have tested the waters for long enough. It’s time to dive in, yelling cannon ball!