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Simplify: Not as simple as it sounds

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By David Whitlock

You've heard it before, but as we enter the New Year it's good to remember. Here it is: Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people. Now, of course, I have to ask the question, "Where does most of your discussion fall?"

My guess is, if you were determined to talk more about ideas, than events, and least and last of all, people, you would probably talk less ... period! Talking about ideas requires thinking, and let's admit it, that isn't easy.

Talking less, would, for most of us, probably be a good thing. So much of our time is spent filling up the air with meaningless small talk. If we thought more about ideas, we would have less time to talk about people. Most of our talking about people falls into that category of "gossip."

I learned something new when I went to Mr. Webster for a definition for gossip. One definition is "a close friend." I never knew the definition of "gossip" would be "a close friend." Then the second one is, "a person who chatters or repeats idle talk and rumors, especially about the private affairs of others."

Some folks fulfill both definitions at once and repeat rumors about their close friends. Of course if you are Baptist, like myself, you might define that "talk" as "prayer concerns." I suppose that's one of those situations where people can be victims of prayer concerns. Ouch! I can hear it already: "What happened to his reputation?" And the answer would be, "Oh, he got in a prayer group." Goodness, I hope that doesn't really happen!

This past October I spent a week at the Abbey of Gethsemani "where silence is the only language spoken." It's not easy for a Baptist preacher to speak that language. But by the end of the week, I was learning. And what's more, I was enjoying the "sounds of silence."

What it did for me was force me to try and listen more closely to God's voice. I'm not sure I was or am very good at it, but the move of my sprit was and is in the direction of God's presence. The less I think and talk about other people, the more I think about eternal things, God-things, ideas.

That brings me to my one resolution for 2008: SIMPLIFY. I think that just about covers it all for me. If I simplify in everything, I will get down to the really essential matters, and that would include THE matter of all matters: listening more to God. Talk less; listen more ... not only in personal conversations with family and friends, but most of all in that conversation of all conversations: the one that takes place between God and me.

This will require courage, and it will not be easy. It's much more natural for us humans to talk about nothing, live for nothing, be entertained with stories, as the Seinfeld series showed us, about nothing. Being still and listening to God, then acting on what I know to be true, requires tremendous discipline and courage. As Gethsemani Abbey's most famous monk, Thomas Merton, said, "Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to him, being attentive to him requires a lot of courage and know-how."

It has to start somewhere before it can go anywhere, this listening to God. And that requires pursuing oddities to our culture in disciplines like quiet, stillness and solitude. It is so basic it seems complex to our modern ears. "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

OK, I will seek to be still, talk less and know more ... more of and about him. How simply complex! How complexly simple! It's a project that's likely to require a lifetime, maybe even an eternity to master.

SIMPLIFY. Back to the basics. Listening to God. Doing his will. Will you join me on the journey?

- David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. is pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church in Lebanon, Ky. He also teaches in the School of Theology at Campbellsville University.