Proverbs 19:20-21: “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise. Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Cats can hear everything! Maya, our pet, can determine by the sound of the engine who is coming home. In comparison, human ears are not as well-equipped. While cats hear sounds about as low as humans, they can hear much higher pitches than we can, and their range goes even above that of dogs.

Even if we had catlike ears, the question is, would we take advantage of our enhanced hearing? Here is another question for you: How easy is it to listen? The talkers among us will probably say it’s easier to talk than to listen. But what about the people who don’t like to talk? Do introverts have an advantage over extroverts when it comes to listening? Perhaps – but keeping silent doesn’t necessarily mean that a person keeps listening. Our thought life has a profound impact on our listening skills, maybe more than we want to admit.

I googled synonyms for the word “listen”, and here goes:

Give one’s attention to a sound, pay attention to, take heed of, heed, take notice of, take note of, mindmark, bear in mind, take into consideration, take into account, tune into

We can drown out God’s voice with our own – the voices in our head and our busy mouth; but we are missing out if we do. There is a world of knowledge and wisdom available to us if we are curious enough to take the time to stop and soak it up. 

The art of silence that takes the things of God into account has a profound impact on our lives. And who would have guessed – honing our listening skills with God also upgrades our people skills. We take the time to listen we find that we have a better understanding of the person next to us.

In a world that’s deeply divided with angry voices competing for our attention, paradoxically, listeners who don’t join the angry choir but lend an unbiased ear have a far better reception. Listeners make things better. Their wisdom contributes to solving the trickiest problems. Listeners promote peace.

Let’s take a mouth break, shall we? Let’s take time to listen today.

Romans 12:10: “Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other.”

In Queen’s rendition of the Bohemian Rhapsody we are presented with a murder case. The song powerfully expresses the contradictory feelings of a man who had just killed a person. Following is a brief excerpt of the lyrics penned by the late Freddie Mercury:

“Mama, just killed a man
Put a gun against his head
Pulled my trigger, now he’s dead
Mama, life had just begun
But now I’ve gone and thrown it all away”

We sometimes forget that by proceeding down the slippery slope of anger and hate we’re all prone to kill someone. The best way to prevent this disaster from happening is to pursue the opposite direction: Investing genuine interest in other people and loving generously is the way to go. The trick is not to differentiate between people because God doesn’t. God loves humans indiscriminately, always has, and always will. We’re supposed to follow His example once we jump on His bandwagon. Of course we have our reservations when it comes to loving everybody. Jesus had a conversation about this very topic with a teacher of the law.

Discussing the specifics of loving God and particularly our neighbors, a teacher of the law spoke up and asked Jesus: “Who’s my neighbor?” In an attempt to narrow down on the amount of people to be loved he asked Jesus this very loaded question. “Who is my neighbor?” really leaves a lot of room for individual interpretation, if you think about it. Basically, we pick and choose whom to love and whom to pass by. In other words, we categorize people, apply tags, and consider some of them not worthy of our love.

Well, Jesus’s answer is a classic. He told the story of an unnamed person who got mugged and left on the road to die. After having been conveniently ignored first by a priest and then by a Levite, a despised Samaritan finally came to his rescue.

At the end of the story Jesus answered the law expert’s question with a question of His own (Luke 10:36-37):

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

God has created no sub humans. Our job is to love everybody. How that works, I don’t know. I would say it’s humanly impossible. But we can start with the people right next door. And as we walk with Jesus, the Master in Human Relations, we can learn from Him. No doubt, loving people is a wild ride and it will break our hearts more than anything, but according to our Creator, it’s all worth it. Love doesn’t kill, which immediately cuts down on murder cases; love honors and respects people regardless of status, gender and tribe; love brings life, literally – thanks to love we have families; love rules, and most definitely: love makes this world a better place.

Romans 15:1: “Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’”

Strength has a purpose. When it comes to purposeful use of strength we can learn a lot from the horses.

In 2004, Claudia Feh raised a herd of Przewalski horses in France and reintroduced some of them to their natural habitat, the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Niobe Thompson, a Canadian anthropologist and documentary film maker, interviewed her. The following paragraph is an excerpt of the PBS show “Equus ‘Story of the Horse’-Episode 1: Origins”:

“Horses in the wild are constantly negotiating for a rung in the ladder. Each horse has its place. Hierarchy gives the herds strength and ensures only the fittest stallions get to mate. But surprisingly, it isn’t just the toughest stallions who rise to the top. [Claudia Feh, an expert on social behavior of free-living horses, observed]: ‘The dominance [of a leading horse] is not based on size, it’s not based on physical strength; it’s mental strength; it’s personality. This translates to the horse/human relationship because obviously horses are about 5 to 10 times heavier than its rider. How can we ride a horse? We are so much smaller, and yet we dominate the horse. It’s mental.’”

Horse and its rider is a wonderful example how strength is graciously put to service. Horses allow us to use their strength. Interacting with these beautiful and intelligent beasts and experience the funny quirks of their personalities, the ensuing bond that develops between horse and its rider is very special.

In stark contrast to strength put to good use, there is strength abuse. Using strength to overpower, dominate and hurt the weaker counterpart unfortunately is a common occurrence. In God’s world, however, strength is a gift made to benefit the world around us. We are given strengths, talents, and gifts with the purpose to serve.

Everybody is gifted in some way. The question remains how do we invest our strengths? I dare say, in many cases we’re not even aware of them. Each of our strengths has the potential to be a huge blessing if we’re willing to put them to work by serving a need. The genius about strengths is that they serve a weakness and thereby develop a partnership – because serving somebody never stops there! The ones we serve actually bless us. Service always reaps benefits, the richest benefit being: making new friends. Let’s keep that in mind as we go out and make it a great day.

Galatians 5:13: “It is to freedom that you have been called, my brothers. Only be careful that freedom does not become mere opportunity for your lower nature. You should be free to serve each other in love. For after all, the whole Law toward others is summed up by this one command, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’.”

Thanks to God there’s freedom. God is a freedom lover. In His realm every creature is free. So in order to explore what freedom is all about, it’s best to look to the source of freedom and go from there.

The first thing I notice, to be free does not necessarily mean we are lawless. Exploring the laws of nature we become aware that the whole universe is fine-tuned. The universe contains organized structures on all different scales, from small systems like the earth and our solar system, to galaxies that contain trillions of stars, and finally extremely large structures that contain billions of galaxies. Planets of any given solar system orbit the Sun. Thanks to the way our home planet Earth orbits the Sun, our terrestrial days fall into 24-hour sequences. Plants use the sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water to produce the lush green pigment chlorophyll generating oxygen as a byproduct, the very oxygen land mammals breathe in. And what do we breathe out? Carbon dioxide! The very carbon dioxide plants use to synthesize foods. What a genius idea to create a partnership like that between vegetation and land mammals! And this is just a little tidbit of the inner workings of nature to illustrate that there is an underlying law to everything we see. Without an underlying law there wouldn’t be a universe to begin with – and no life form to give freedom to.

The inner workings of freedom are based on the law of love. We’re never truly free unless we give love. A freedom lover is a lover of God and people. Just as the laws of nature promote life on Earth, the love law “Love your neighbor as yourself” promotes freedom. It’s a well-known secret: the more love you share, the more love you have. This is contrary to common experience: we spend money and our money dwindles. We spend love and our love increases. Go figure!

Needless to say that the more time we spend in trying to satisfy ourselves rather than to satisfy someone else’s needs, we won’t see the end of it. Catering to our own needs and urges is like a vortex that sucks us in. Our world gets smaller and smaller and we become enslaved to our own ever-growing demands. That’s the opposite to freedom, and it’s hell!

Once we realize how invigorating it is to give something to someone that only unique “you” is capable of giving, we won’t stop sharing. For me it’s the best thing in the world to sing for people with memory challenges. Music plays a key role in these short encounters. Within 60 minutes of playing and singing we are getting to know each other as we dwell in the world of music. What a precious moment in time! I leave there richer than when I came. That’s what happens to everyone who goes out and shares something.

Giving is freeing. Try it and you’ll be amazed!

1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.”

Have you ever pictured the Trinity as a hierarchy? I know I have. We tend to think in these lines since this is what we’re familiar with; and so we have trouble understanding how God operates. While God is everywhere and knows everything and potentially could run and rule every tiny little detail of His creation, He refrains from doing so. It’s very characteristic of God to delegate. A prominent example: His hands-off approach with planet Earth. He gave humans this planet as an assignment and made them chief administrators (Genesis 1:28):

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Members of God’s kingdom see themselves as caretakers of this planet, not owners – ruling out human greed, the seedbed of many wars and conflicts.

While human civilizations have been largely institutionalized, by contrast Heaven is not, which is why Church does not work very well as an institution. Church is best represented by believers focused on loving God and people. Throughout history, human institutions have repeatedly failed, especially in the area of unity. God’s concept of peace on the other hand took on flesh and blood with the arrival of the Prince of Peace, Jesus. He preached in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:9):

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Here is some exciting news: By pursuing peace God’s kingdom begins to form and establish wherever we go. That is why being a peacemaker is so powerful. For the same reasons, Paul wrote a letter to his Greek friends and asked them to avoid division; God knows, living by this code profoundly impacts the world we live in and ushers in the Kingdom to come!

Job 33:4: “For the Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.”

Everything physical is also spiritual because originally all of creation has sprung from God’s Spirit. There is a noticeable spiritual bond between God and His creation. So essentially, we’re all spiritual beings, and this commonality connects us. No man is an island; neither is plant life, nor the animal kingdom. We’re all interconnected.

The Spirit gives life, gives ability, translates Heaven into earthly reality, explains God’s thought process, revives us, encourages us, and the list goes on and on. The Spirit of God brings life – rich, reproducing, abundant life, the kind of life that swallows death – life that lasts eternally.

Take God’s Spirit out of the equation, and futility rules. Production without the Spirit of God inevitably leads to a dead end. On that note, Jesus observed (John 6:63):

“The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

God’s Spirit plays a crucial role in the process of reintroducing us to our family. God is our family; and Jesus came to overcome the apparent disconnect.

Interestingly, as I’m writing out these thoughts our internet connection went down. The worldwide web has revolutionized our culture and made information more readily available. Imagine today’s world without having this powerful tool. It’s safe to say, the interconnectedness provided by various computer devices has accelerated problem solving. The ratio of Human inventions went through the roof with the introduction of the personal computer, especially when the computer reduced in size and became a portable device. We now have information at our fingertips 24/7!

Similarly to the worldwide web, the Holy Spirit is poured out globally and accessible everywhere. When people pray, the Spirit of God listens. The Holy Spirit speaks every language there is. In His uncanny ability to translate back and forth between Heaven and Earth, the Spirit of God is our ever-present reminder that God is real.

Power outage and loss of connectivity, even if it is only for an hour, creates havoc in the modern world. However, the repercussions of being disconnected from the source of all beings are intrinsically more serious. To get reconnected with Heaven, all we have to do is ask. No sincere prayer goes unnoticed, and the Holy Spirit is more than happy to re-establish a lost connection. This is what Jesus was referring to in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:7):

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

Our connection with our Father in Heaven is only a prayer away.

Matthew 19:23-24: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”

According to Oxfam Finds 1% of the world population will have accumulated more than half of the world’s wealth in years to come. This deepening global inequality is increasing and unlike anything seen in recent years.

Jesus once told a rich man that it would be easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God. That’s a strong statement! Does that mean that God is partial to the poor and less accepting of rich people? I don’t think so. I believe the point He wants to get across is that we are creating a lonely society via self-sufficiency. Our desire to be independent and run a one-man-show gets all of us into trouble. Realizing we’re incomplete without God, a rich person may have a harder time recognizing this crucial piece of wisdom.

The rich young man Jesus encountered had one question weighing on him. Specifically, he asked Jesus what needed to be done to secure his place in the Kingdom of God. Jesus kept it general in His initial answer when He pointed out that we receive eternal life by keeping God’s commandments. Interestingly, the rich young man was dissatisfied with Jesus’ answer as he kept digging. “What else must I do?” he asked. Jesus’s reply to his follow-up question quickly ended the conversation (Matthew 19:21):

“Jesus told him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”

Matthew’s gospel records describe how the young man went away depressed knowing that he would not want to separate from his many possessions.

We don’t need to be rich to share in a rich man’s worldview. The question Jesus is asking is whether or not we are willing to share. If we use money just to make more money we are in the same boat with the rich young man. Driven by self-serving ambitions, our life’s direction will take us further and further away from God. Similar to the rich man who walked away from Jesus, we will be walking away from God depressed and sad. It’s no secret that riches and fame won’t make us happy.

If every person on this planet had the sharing mindset Jesus is talking about the world wouldn’t suffer with rising global inequality. Let’s not hold on too tight to what we’ve got. Dare to share! It makes a world of a difference.

“A man of riches may claim a crown of jewels; but the king of heaven can be told from the prince of fools.” (Song lyrics by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings)