“Call to me, and I will answer you; I will tell you great things beyond the reach of your knowledge.” Jer. 33:3. This fourth essay on the gifts of the Holy Spirit will explore Understanding. Understanding and Counsel (written about in Essay 5) are closely related and one necessitates the other. If we do not have understanding, we cannot provide counsel. As a mental health therapist, I can have a bag of counsel to offer, but if I have not first understood, my counsel will be useless and even confusing. If we are to accurately understand the needs of others as well as understand God’s plan in our lives, we first need to be good listeners. In order to grow in Understanding, we must first be learners of listening.
So how can we become better listeners? The wisdom books are replete with lessons on how to live and mottos to adopt. Proverbs 18:11, “Whoever answers before listening, theirs is folly and shame.” We cannot listen if we are talking. So often I have people telling me that they wish they could support their loved ones better, but they don’t because they say that they do not have the words to say. We so often fall into the trap of words. But so often, the support that people need is silent companionship. In other words, mouth closed, ears open. Being with is often so much more powerful than words could ever be. Listening before speaking. If we are listening, we can better understand what the person needs. If after listening there are no words to say, then stay silent. If you must say something, say that you hear he or she is in pain and that you will stay with him or her.
Listening also means listening to the voice of the Holy Spirit. And since this, after all, is a gift of the Holy Spirit, we should be avid listeners. God has plans for our lives. He wants us to know and understand what those plans are. But if we do not listen, then we will not have understanding. When we act out of our own desires, we have fallen into the trap of being a poor listener. How often do I find my own self grumbling and complaining about the things that I have to do in life, how God is being unfair, and how I would rather be doing any number of things other than what I am doing. God’s plans for our lives do not always involve niceties, days at the beach, and a good night’s rest. God’s plans for us involve trials, suffering, and compliance with God’s will, which is not always ours. But once we understand that when we are acting from our own will, rather than God’s then our understanding leads us to compliance.
It can be hard to understand God’s will for us from our earthly perspectives. But if money, fame, material possession, or earthly comforts are our motivation and how we are judging our understanding of God’s will, then we have not listened closely enough. In other words, if we find ourselves saying “this situation is stressful and terrible, this cannot be God’s will” we have judged from our earthly perspectives. When we are feeling good we can feel so confident that we are following God’s will, but then when the stress mounts, and tragedy strikes, we panic and fear that we have go astray or that God has forgotten about us. But what if we understood that God’s will for us was to pray for the neighbor who was shot, what if it was to assist the immigrant upstairs when she sprains her ankle, what if it was to put on a smile despite the pain because that is what someone else needed that day? What if we understood that God’s will in our life will involve trial, but that this trial is for our eternal benefit and that God is with us even when it feels like all has been lost.
We grow in this gift of Understanding when we let go of what we think is best for us in our lives. The words of Jesus in Luke 9:23 perfectly captures understanding, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” We must deny ourselves the thought of earthly comforts and plans where everything always goes right. When we see God’s plan for our lives through this lens, then we are growing in understanding. It is then that we become listeners of the Holy Spirit. And it is from this standpoint that we can then hope, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, to grow the next gift of the Holy Spirit, Counsel.