Mark 9:2-9 – Listen to Jesus

“This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” 
 
            Today on the Christian Calendar is Transfiguration Sunday.  Each year it occurs the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.  This is significant because the season of Lent (the 40 days leading to Easter) more than any other season in the Year is meant to for us to listen well.
            Jesus took three of his disciples up a mountain, secluded from all else, and he revealed to them his glory.  Moses and Elijah showed up to join in the awe of the event, two of the most influential men of the Old Testament.  This was all designed to draw attention to Jesus.  Everything which was given in the past, what is happening in the present, and what will be in the future all focuses on the mid-point of history: Jesus, who is Lord and Savior.
            What’s more, Father God’s voice speaks into the glorious event.  His instruction was clear and succinct.  Listen to Jesus.   Listen to Jesus.  This is to be our assignment and our posture for the next six weeks.  You and I are to be intentional about breaking away from our life in the valley, ascend the mountain with Jesus in solitude, and get a glimpse of his glory.  Like a mother who puts her hands to her busy two-year old’s face to get his attention, God is speaking to us, if we will but listen.
            To be fully in the moment, having an open mind and heart to Jesus requires some solitude and silence. Having both a consistent time and place to ascend the mountain, meet with Jesus, and listen to him is most necessary for you and me.  Our minds are too distracted without the firm decision to guard a time and place to listen well to Jesus.  Where and when we meet with Jesus might have options, but, for the Christian, it is not an option whether we listen to Jesus, or not.
            Whatever it takes, yes, I’ll say it again, whatever it takes to meet with Jesus so that we can listen well to him is our spiritual occupation for the next 40 days.
            Where is the mountain? When will you ascend it? What posture will you take to listen well to Jesus? Will you be silent?
            Put some thought into those questions today and develop a plan.  Then, you’ll put yourself in a position to encounter Jesus.

 

Glorious Lord Jesus, the entire universe bends and bows to your will.  Help me, especially in these next weeks, to listen well to your words so that I may follow your ways in all I say and do; to your honor and glory.  Amen.

Judges 2:16-23

            Listening seems to be a lost art and a forgotten skill which needs careful development to be good at it.
            The Lord God Almighty is gracious, merciful, and kind.  He hears us when we call to Him, He listens when we incline our hearts to Him.  This is a characteristic of God – He always bends in a posture of listening to his creation.
            This is the reason why, as creatures in the image of God, we were meant from the very beginning of creation to listen.  But after humanity fell into disobedience, people have the tendency to talk more than they listen, to even refuse to hear what another is saying.  People even completely ignore God when He is speaking.
            The ancient Israelites were fickle in their attention to God.  When things were bad, they cried out to Him.  And because God listens, He heard and responded.  But when things were better, the people went about their business and forgot about Him.
            It was God who sent judges, rulers and leaders, to the people for their own welfare.  But we get this comment in the text of today’s Scripture:  they were quick to be unfaithful and to refuse even to listen these judges.
 
            Listening just wasn’t of value to the Israelites.  They talked and talked, and so could not hear what God or his appointed rulers were saying.
            We are to listen well, because God listens well.  We are to pay attention and hear because we are designed by our Creator to do so.  Perhaps our society would not be so perpetually upset and polarized if we would just take the time to listen well.
            Today, take a posture of listening.  Take just 10 minutes and don’t talk, don’t read, don’t check your phone, don’t do anything but just listen to the sounds around you.  What do you hear?  What do you think God is saying to you through those sounds?  How does He want you to respond?

 

            God of all creation, you have made me with two ears for listening.  Help me to so hear and distinguish you through creation and the voices of others so that I will follow you with confidence in my daily life through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Be a Doer, Not Just a Hearer

“Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22, ESV).
 
  “Obey God’s message!  Don’t fool yourselves by just listening to it” (CEV).
 
 
 
            The Word of God has not been truly received until it is put into practice.  This is a consistent theme in the New Testament.  Paul warned the church in Rome:  For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but those who obey the law who will be declared righteous (Romans 2:13).  Our Lord Jesus himself stated the same truth:  Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it (Luke 11:28). 
 
The person who only hears is like a Mr. Potato Head that is only ears.  He can’t stand because he has no feet.  He cannot do anything because he has no hands.  Mr. Potato Head needs some feet so that he can follow Jesus wherever he goes.  And he needs hands so he can do God’s will.
 
Listening to the Word without obedience is just that – it is mere hearing.  Profession of faith in Jesus means nothing without a practice of that faith; learning the Bible is useless without living it; and acceptance of the Word is nothing more than a mental exercise without action to back it up.  Profession, knowledge, and acceptance alone does not satisfy God’s plan for our lives. 
 
The danger is that we have the potential to deceive ourselves into thinking we are okay just because we know the right things and believe the right things.  Christianity is a vital love relationship with Jesus, and, so, is not merely a matter of hearing and affirming orthodoxy; it also involves orthopraxy, that is, having right practice, the doing of truth.
 
True hearing leads to true response.  When my firstborn daughter was still in the womb, I constantly talked to her.  I was in seminary at the time, and I would come home and read her fairy tales in Hebrew.  I spoke to her when I got up in the morning and when I went to bed.  I told her all about how God was going to bless her and do great things through her.  I told her of Jesus and his love for her.  I practiced my sermons and Sunday School lessons on her – all before she was born.
 
When the day came that God graced us with her birth, the nurses took her and she cried and cried.  She cried so much and so hard that I finally said to them, “Let me hold her.”  The minute I held her, I began speaking to her, and what happened next got the attention of everyone in the room:  little baby Sarah immediately got quiet.  It was like that the entire time she was in the hospital.  The only time she was happy was when I was speaking to her.  It would be no surprise for you to know that Sarah has always been a Daddy’s girl.
 
We respond to God’s voice when we recognize it.  If we are not in the habit of responding to God’s Holy Word, it is likely that we do not know his voice.  Baby Sarah did not need a lesson on how to respond to me; she knew exactly who I was:  her father.  Do we know our heavenly Father?  Can we distinguish his voice?  The greatest need that we all have is to be servants of God who hear his voice and respond to it, and not soakers who just sit and hear without any response at all.
 
Whenever we refuse to love the unbelievers around us, we are not hearing God and doing his will.  When we listen to the gospel, but then have no intention of sharing that same gospel with others, we are being disobedient.  When we hear about how God forgives us in Jesus’ name, but then we insist on not forgiving another person, we are not being doers of the Word.  When we read the Holy Scriptures as an end in itself without the expressed intent of doing whatever we find in it, then we merely hearing.
 

 

            The Bible is only boring and irrelevant when we read it with no intention of doing what it says.  This is why whenever we read it we need to write out what action we are going to do after having read it.  This is also why the church needs to corporately and collectively covenant together to act on what they hear from God’s Word as they examine it together.  Without this, we are only a random collection of individuals listening to a talking-head preacher.  We go home and forget what we just heard.  Instead, let us act in unity and purpose to do what we find in Holy Scripture.  Can you imagine even just one church who devotes themselves to such a sacred task, and what impact it would have in the world?

Hurry Up and Listen

 
 
“My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or get angry.  If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done” (James 1:19-20).
 
            Rarely does anything go as planned in life.  Yet we all have certain desires and expectations about how things should go in our lives.  When things go sideways, tempers flare.  People do not listen well and are quick to blame and jump to conclusions.  Difficult life circumstances can lead to pointing fingers and giving heated opinions about problems.  Verbal jabs can take over in the church.
 
            Inside of all our heads we have higher brain functions, and lower brain functions.  We need both of them.  When there is danger, the lower brain immediately kicks in and puts us on a hyper-vigilant state to resist and deal with the threat.  This works great when a burglar is in your house, or you jump in to help someone in a car accident, or any number of things which threaten life.  Adrenaline is great for danger but not so great when there is simply things going on we don’t like.  The problem with the lower brain function is that it operates more on instinct and not on rational, logical, and reasonable thought.  When the lower brain is functioning the higher brain function is not so much.  If you have ever seen someone all worked-up about something and that person does not listen to any kind of reason, you are observing a person who is operating in the lower brain function.  Most of our contemporary problems are not solved through the lower brain’s activity of responding to fear and threats of danger.
 
            We need to hurry up and listen.  People caught in their lower brain function do not listen because all they can see is what upsets them.  There is a great need for listeners today.  Very little productive communication takes place because there are so many people in a hyper-vigilant state going on and on about their opinions and what’s wrong with everything and what we should be doing.  We just talk over and on top of each other because we already have our minds made-up about how things really are.  Nobody is listening.
 
            On top of all this, there are a number of things which distract us from any kind of ability to listen well:  our busy-ness; constant background noise of the TV, radio, tablet or computer.  And these often just appeal to the lower brain with no substantive thoughts.  This all has major implications when it comes to listening to God.
 
            Bible reading is the primary source for Christians to listen to God.  But reading the Bible is too difficult and dull for far too many believers.  Sitting quietly before God and slowly reading the words of Scripture, and giving focused attention to Him in prayer has been relegated to the super-spiritual among us, as if it is not normal to read the Bible and pray.
 
            I haven’t even said anything about preaching yet.  It is little wonder why so many preachers today think they need to be showmen with such little listening that actually occurs.  Then, there are always people who think they already know what needs to happen, so they check out during the sermon.  In order to hurry up and listen to God’s Word, it needs to be a priority in our lives.  We must say “no” to some things in order to make room to listen to God.  We must prepare for worship and listening through deliberate preparation.  Listening is not just going to happen.  It has to be looked at as a skill just like anything else in life, and purposefully cultivated.
 

 

            A teachable spirit which is attentive to the words and ways of Jesus is a listening spirit.  A place to begin is to allow some space for listening within the worship service.  Cramming the time with as much stuff as possible is not conducive to hearing from God.  But through slow and deliberate speech, times of silence and contemplation, and careful planning can spawn an atmosphere of listening to God and his Word.  Let the church model for parishioners how to listen well.  For straining out all others voices in order to hear God might be one of the best things we can do today.

Jeremiah 25:1-14

            An ancient rabbi once said that we have two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we talk.  That’s sage advice.  The ability to listen well is almost a lost art in Western society.  Slick marketing, political rants, and over-the-top speech all scream into the culture because there is such a dearth of listening.  It seems that many people are more concerned to make their opinions known than do any kind of deep listening to another in order to discover their true needs and thoughts.
 
            It is really quite tragic that we do not listen to one another.  It is downright terrible when we do not listen to God.  The Old Testament prophets existed because of a failure to listen.  Not only did the people for whom the prophets spoke not hear, but they refused to listen.  They put their fingers in their ears and just stood there saying “la-la-la-la-la.”  This was not just an inability to listen because they were overworked or too tired.  Here is the problem:  “For twenty-three years now, ever since the thirteenth year that Josiah was king, I have been telling you what the LORD has told me.  But you have not listened.  The LORD has sent prophets to you time after time, but you refused to listen.” 
 
            God wanted the people to change their evil ways, but they didn’t want to hear it.  So, after not only years but centuries of unfaithfulness, after God’s patience was drawn out to its limit, tragic consequences happened.  If there is no deep listening to God’s Word, there will be deep repercussions.  None of us can do the will of God if we don’t know what God wants.  It takes listening.  Without genuine listening with the intent to understand and alter actions accordingly, there will be no peace, no love, no grace, but only suspicion, fear, and continued rants with anger.  Instead, the beginning of wisdom and human flourishing begins with listening well.
 

 

            Holy God, your speech goes out into all the earth.  Your Word is there for us to hear, if we will only listen.  Lord Jesus, let your words and your teaching penetrate so deeply into my soul that your loving ways come out of me in all I say and do.  Amen.

Psalm 104:24-35

            All of creation depends on each part in a complex ecosystem which is alive and teeming with all kinds of creatures and exuberant nature.  And all of this creation depends completely on the hand of God that formed it.  Without God, there would be no living holistic creation working together to flourish over the earth.  Humanity, along with the rest of creation, is to sing and praise the God who has made life possible by means of his powerful Spirit.
 
            This same Spirit which worked in creation, animates all creatures, and has left the imprint of God’s likeness on humans, is the very same Spirit which came upon the little band of believers at Pentecost, as well as being the very same Spirit which is given to you and me as followers of Jesus.  Just as we are to listen to the voice of creation praise God; just as we are to listen to the ancient voices of Holy Scripture lift up the name of Jesus; we are to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit of God filling us, guiding us, and empowering us for love and service in the name of Jesus Christ.
 
            In our fast paced society of fast food, fast cars, fast service, and fast everything, there is something profoundly spiritual about slowing down in order to listen to God’s Spirit speaking.  Today when you eat your meals, take the time to chew slowly, thanking God in a rhythm of praise which is connected to the gratitude of each bite.  Carve out some time to walk the dog, and do it slowly, listening to the sounds of creation around you.  Hear it all giving praise and adoration to the God who is pleased to fill creation with his glory.  For, if we do not hear God speaking it is because we are not listening.
 

 

            Mighty God, I join with all creation to sing your praises and give adoration to the Name of Jesus, who loved me and gave himself for me through the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Listening to God

 
 
We are obsessed with hearing ourselves talk.  So much chatter happens about so many things that we rarely even remember much of what we said; and many of those words are uttered before we even think.  But, from a biblical perspective, the church and Christians must have the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be quiet.  When being quiet is required, it is to be for the purpose of listening.  Listening is a lost art and a forgotten ability in our day and age.  People can be so concerned to express their opinions and say what they want to say that the virtue of listening is not at all valued.  However, God puts a premium on taking the stance of listening.  There is a proverb that says, “Where words are many, sin is not absent; but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Proverbs 10:19).
 
            One of the reasons that listening is not well-practiced is that we esteem being busy and constant activity to the degree that taking the time for silence long enough to listen is not recognized as being of value to us.  But if the church is to hear the voice of God, we Christians must be still and silent long enough to listen to what he is trying to say to us.
 
            We might even be uncomfortable with silence, and seek to fill any quiet space with noise so as to not have to deal with what is really going on inside of us.  I have a friend (I’ll call him Elmer) who recently spent eighteen hours in complete silence without any talking whatsoever in order to listen to God.  You maybe believe that Elmer must be a monkish sort of introvert who likes that kind of thing.  No, he is actually an extrovert who lives in the inner city and comes from a large family.  Elmer simply came to the point of understanding that he was so busy moving from one thing to another, and constantly talking to the point that he was drowning-out the voice of the Lord.  Here is what Elmer said about his time of silence:  “Those eighteen hours of silence were the loudest hours I have ever experienced.  My mind was so noisy and so filled with stuff that it nearly drove me nuts.  But after many hours passed, as the noise started to fade away, I could begin to hear the still small voice of God.”  Elmer discovered that he was a person who kept pushing his agenda on God.  After his fast from talking, he determined to start grafting times of solitude and silence into his everyday life, even if for only ten minutes, so he could listen to what God wants rather than tell God what to do.
 
            If we want to hear God speak to us, we must take the same approach as the boy Samuel and say, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:16).  And, then, we must be quiet and listen.  Any fool can babble on about his/her gripes and opinions.  But in the Bible human speech is generally viewed as being overrated.  Instead, silence and solitude, listening and learning are the virtues practiced by Jesus; the kingdom of God cannot operate without them.
 
            Therefore, we must take up the shield of faith with which to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one who wants to keep us trapped in either a cycle of constant chatter without listening, or continual silence without acting upon what we hear from God.  We must be quiet for the purpose of listening to God.  Then, when we hear him speak, we must act in faith to say and do what he calls us to.
 

 

            Church ministry that does not practice silence and solitude is not worth much because it is running programs based upon human ingenuity and ideas without distilling them through the slow and steady process of silent prayerful meditation upon God’s Word.  There is no substitute.