The gift of ears

“I will hear what the Lord God speaks within me”

Thus begins Book III of The Imitation of Christ (Book IV in some editions). The words are actually a paraphrase of Psalm 85:8 – restated by the author in the pure gold of personal inner experience. The Bible verse is more general:

“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,

for he will speak peace to his people,

to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts.”

In my opinion, Book III of The Imitation is the spiritual heart of the whole work. It contains writing so high and unusually bold that it is easy to imagine that it was purposely placed after the admonitions and warnings in Books I and II – so that potential readers might be ‘screened’ for humility.

“Blessed is the soul that hears the Lord speaking within her, and receives from his mouth the word of consolation.  Blessed the ears that catch the pulse of the divine whisper, and take no notice of the whisperings of this world.” (Bk III, Chap 2)

I want to suggest that ‘the gift of ears’ ought to be among the spiritual gifts listed by Paul – which of course it is not. But I think the New Testament does much to suggest the importance of inspired hearing.

What is most important to understand is that the “divine whisper” is never given for group prophecy – they are never a means by which a listener may lord it over neighbor or church. Always are they to be received as personal admonition and enlightenment.

For example, a prayer like this one, which the author makes, clearly evokes a level of responsibility which everyone must choose for himself. It cannot be forced upon members of the group who are not prepared:

Let not Moses, nor any of the prophets, speak to me;

Speak Thou, rather, O Lord God, the inspirer and enlightener of all the prophets;

For Thou alone, without them, can perfectly instruct me; but they, without Thee, will avail me nothing…

They give the letter, but Thou dost disclose the spirit.

They announce mysteries, but Thou dost unlock their secret meaning.

They declare the commandments, but Thou dost enable us to fulfil them.

They point out the way, but Thou givest strength to walk in it.

They work outwardly only, but Thou dost instruct and enlighten the heart.

They water without, but Thou givest the increase. (Book III, Chap 2)


I think the ‘gift of ears’ – rightly used – is a likely candidate for an expanded list of spiritual gifts – I would go so far as to say it is the master-key to all gifts of the Spirit:

Do Thou speak, O Lord my God, the eternal Truth,

lest I die and prove fruitless,

if I be admonished outwardly only, and not enkindled within;

lest I be condemned at the Judgment

because the word was heard and not fulfilled,

known and not loved,

believed and not observed. 

(Book III, Chap 2)


3 thoughts on “The gift of ears

  1. “Blessed is the soul that hears the Lord speaking within her, and receives from his mouth the word of consolation. Blessed the ears that catch the pulse of the divine whisper, and take no notice of the whisperings of this world.”

    Oh that is beautiful and stirring. If only there were enough hours in the day. So much wisdom and truth; so little time to read.

    Talking to God, and hearing from Him, is what it all comes down to for me. My theology grows and changes (hopefully matures) and my practices/rituals change too, but the quiet place is and always will be what really matters. I just wish I heard from him more often and more clearly. But every now and then something connects and I hold onto those precious moments with all my strength. They sustain me when all else is lost.

    • I hear you Michelle. For me the ‘dry times’ of quiet prayer make up a large part of the discipline of contemplation. But there is overall a peace passing understanding which gives me a conviction that patient listening is a very important instrument in the ‘tool shed’ of Christian prayer.

      I didn’t have room in the post to publish the first ‘response’ of the Lord which aKempis gives in Book III:

      “My son, hear my words, words most sweet, excelling all the learning of philosophers and the wise men of this world. My words are spirit and life, and are not to be weighed by human standards.”

      So begins a dialogue which goes on back and forth for 59 chapters – with the author careful always to put words of scripture in the mouth of the Lord, but with a fresh spin and a spiritual sense.

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