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Keeping in Step with the Spirit Part 7: Are You Listening?

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:25 (NIV)

So far, I have shared that to keep in step with the Spirit, you first have to make this a deliberate choice over trying to reform yourself to look like a Christian. Then you reset your focus on knowing God personally rather than as an ideal. So what’s next?

You must listen. In Revelation, as Jesus instructs each of the seven churches, he challenges them to listen to what the Spirit is saying. If you want to keep in step with the Spirit, you have to know where he is leading you. What does he want for you? What will you become? What do you need to avoid? What do you need to surrender?

Listening is not always about what we consider the big issues of life, such as where you should go to get your education or who to marry or what stance you should take on bitterly divisive cultural wars. Listening is often about the Spirit’s formation of your character and how you live out the faith daily. You can see this best in Paul’s fruit of the Spirit list just before this verse. When you listen, you experience deep change.

I frequently tell the story of the first thing I heard God tell me when I intentionally entered into my transformational journey. What He said was to stop criticizing my wife, Shirley. I was stunned and confused. I had plenty of other issues I thought should be number one on the list. But because He spoke and I heard, not only was I changed, our marriage was deeply changed.

But as you listen, you also come up against something you did not expect—grief. It may be the first time you realize how you have been wasting your life, how much you have thrown away just to live out your version of Christianity, how stupid you have been not to have listened as closely as you can.

What I have learned is that when you see your brokenness clearly, see your tendency to comfort yourself habitually with sin, see your useless defiance and self-protection, you find that you are ashamed. You mourn, as the second Beatitude says.

But this grief leads to hope. God’s love opens the way for you to grieve what has happened to you so that you can be comforted—so you can be set free from what has trapped you. Remember how Paul starts this chapter—it is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

I encourage you not to skip over this in learning how to keep in step with the Spirit. I meet a lot of believers who will not allow themselves to grieve over the historic wounds of their lives. Grieving seems to them to show weakness. “I have to be strong in the Lord,” they argue.

But tears and sorrow are part of God’s transformational process. Furthermore, grief is not just about what happened to you. It includes what you did to others due to your own unfinished business. You may already be grieving what you did to your children and how that has played out in their lives. Your spouse may be deeply wounded. You may have co-believers who avoid you like the plague. What your un-transformed self did to them requires you to listen to the Spirit so you can grieve, repent, then go and be reconciled, empowered to do so by him.

One of my friends had done a lot of damage to others when in the grip of his unfinished business. He insulted and bullied them mercilessly so he could prove he was right and they were wrong. Then he began to keep in step with the Spirit—and to listen to what the Spirit was saying to him. As a result, he saw the grief he had caused and it affected him so deeply that he went to every person he had wronged and reconciled with them.

This is why listening to what the Spirit is saying matters for you, and also beyond you, for the people who have been harmed by you. As you keep in step with the Spirit, the body of Christ you belong to is changed as well. 

So listen carefully.

-Steve Smith