“Guys! You aren’t listening! I just told you what we are doing and you ran it wrong again! Run the play again. Run it the right way!”…“Stop! No! Guys, what do you hear with?!” [crickets] “I’m asking you. What do you hear with??!” Thinking this had to be a trick question a few of us looked around at each other and finally mumbled, “Um…our ears?” “You hear with your ears, but what do you listen with? You listen with your eyes. If you aren’t focused on my face when I’m talking to you, you are hearing me, but you aren’t listening.”
Scientifically, this may or may not be true for everyone. But for most people, it’s safe to say that if you are looking at someone while they are speaking to you, chances are higher that what they are saying is more likely to be absorbed. Coach’s words spoken that day landed in a special place in my memory. I can still recall the cadence and delivery of this mid basketball practice lecture like it was yesterday. It resonated then, and it resonates now. I’ve even caught myself using it on my son a few times, especially during those times when I’m trying to have a teaching moment with him and I know he isn’t listening.
Recently, I’ve felt like Holy Spirit has been having this same conversation with me. I am always open to hearing, but am I taking time to listen? In much the same way as we try and have a face to face conversation with someone while staring at our phone, we do this to God, almost always without realizing it. It doesn’t work and it saddens the person standing right in front of you. Our undisciplined eyes lead to distracted hearing, not concerted listening.
It is so easy to go about an average day with only passing thoughts about God. Sometimes we just offer up token prayers during our ritualistic times like before a meal and before we fall asleep. Yet when we really need to hear His voice in pivotal moments we wonder why we can’t. I know in my own life this has been the case. Why is this? It’s because we are exhibiting signs of a lack of eye discipline.
Here’s the thing…God is always speaking, but we aren’t always listening. God speaks to us through His Word, in prayer, through our spouses, our children, in nature, during worship, etc. However, unless we are looking for Him, setting our face toward Him, we can totally miss it. Again, I know this because I have a load of first hand experiences at totally whiffing.
Scripture confirms in several places how important our eyes are to our relationship with God. It reminds us of where to fix our gaze, where to look. It’s eye discipline.
Here are a few that stood out to me referring to eye discipline:
Psalms 123:1-2 – “I lift my eyes to you O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master.”
Psalms 25:15 – “My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues me from the traps of my enemies.”
Proverbs 4:25 – “Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil.”
2 Corinthians 4:18 – “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now, rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”
Hebrews 12:1-2 – “…And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
If I could sum up the central theme of those scriptures into one sentence, I would say…Where we fix our eyes is where we place our trust. Our eyes can get us into trouble if our gaze is misdirected.
In the sports world, if you have a good coach, they know when to stop the practice to drop a teaching moment on you. They know how to get you to refocus. They remind you that they are the ones with the winning formula and not you. Then you remember that if you want the play to work correctly, you’re going to have to wipe the sweat from your brow and get your eyes on the coach and listen. You might be so exhausted from all that effort you are putting forth that you are just hearing what you can and surviving practice. The key and probably the hardest thing you can do in those moments is to realize you need to take a deep breath and get your eyes on the coach. You don’t want to keep practicing the wrong play.
To excel in games, it is important to practice well. Larry Bird is quoted as saying, “I’m a firm believer in that you play the way you practice.”
When the game gets intense, you are in the trenches, and you need to score a bucket, you want to be able to run the play the right way. The opposition is going to be bearing down on you and applying pressure. In those moments, having listened to the coach during practice is going to pay off.
Thankfully, we have THE Greatest Coach of all time and He is loving and gracious. He will always be instructing us on how to live our day to day lives the right way. The question is, where is our gaze directed? Maybe we messed up and we know we didn’t run the play right. It’s going to happen because we aren’t perfect. But as Christ followers, we have an Ever Present Coach waiting for us to look to Him. Once He knows we are listening He instructs us, then calmly says, “Run it again.”