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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Communication, Part 2: Listening to God

In my persistent pursuit of perfect irony, I have a lot to say about how much we talk vs how much we listen.  It is a topic (listening, speaking, words, actions) that is covered at great lengths in the Bible, which should tell us how important it is.  I have split everything I have into a series of three posts.  We have already covered Talking.  This week is Part 2: Listening to God.

Luke 10:38-40 - As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.  She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said.  But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made.  She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?  Tell her to help me!"

Is there anything wrong with Martha wanting to serve?  Especially since she was serving Jesus?  No...but by running all over the place, she missed the chance to listen and learn from Jesus.  There is a time to serve, there is a time to talk, but there is also a time to sit still and listen to the Lord.

I have a formula when I talk to God.  It's the same formula I've had my whole life: Admit my sins and ask for forgiveness, give praise and thanks, ask for stuff (personal needs and/or the needs of others), and closing ("In Jesus's name, Amen").  Sound familiar?  Now, I'm not saying that my way is right or wrong.  I'm not saying that it's right or wrong to have a routine.  The way I see it, I'm talking to God, and that's at least a big step.  However, notice the one important aspect that's missing...I'm doing all the talking.

We can't listen to God if we're constantly talking.

Why do we talk to God?  Simply put: Because it's an awesome gift He has given us.  Celebrities have agents that you have to pass through just to get a couple minutes of their time.  If someone wants to talk to me at work, they must first call the office.  The office then calls me to see if I'm available to talk.  Only then is the caller passed on to me.  With God, however, we have a direct line.  No waiting.  It doesn't matter what He's doing, He will listen as soon as we begin talking.  The creator of the universe gives you His attention as soon as you ask for it.  Isn't that amazing?

We talk to God because it draws us closer to Him.  We talk to God to praise Him for His gifts.  To ask forgiveness for our sins.  To ask for help and/or advice.  We talk to God because He lets us.

But do we listen?

Prayer is not a way of making use of God; prayer is a way of offering ourselves to God in order that He should be able to make use of us.  It may be that one of our great faults in prayer is that we talk too much and listen too little.  When prayer is at its highest, we wait in silence for God's voice to us. - William Barclay

Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.  What are we being told here?  God is explaining to us that when we come to Him, we should come to listen.  We shouldn't be so hasty to speak.  Why?  Because God's in Heaven and we're on earth.  Meaning: Think about Who you're talking to.  God knows everything.  We know nothing.  I like how Francis Chan puts it: "What are you going to do, inform Him of something?  What do you really have to say to Him?"

You have the opportunity to communicate with the Creator...are you so arrogant to think that what you have to say is more important than what He could say?  I would imagine that once we are standing face-to-face with God, we would be absolutely speechless.  We would just stand before Him (or kneel before Him) in total awe.  Let's begin to take this approach when we pray.

Read Proverbs 1:23-28.  Here are my Bible's notes for that passage: "God is more than willing to pour out His heart and make known His thoughts to us.  To receive His advice, we must be willing to listen, refusing to let pride stand in our way.  Pride is thinking more highly of our own wisdom and desires than God's."

The most honoring thing you can do is just stand quietly in His presence. - Francis Chan

From Bob Wells:  "Listening to God is probably the most important thing that will ever happen to a person.  In fact your entire eternal future is based on you hearing God speaking to you and whether or not you listen to him.  And this is because your spiritual life doesn't begin until God speaks to you and you finally decide to listen.

"It is for this reason that you need to not only talk to God constantly about everything, but you must also listen for God to speak to you.  And the best way to listen for God to speak to you is to look to your heart and your mind for his answer.  Most people expect God to answer them in some devine way or somehow speak to them verbally, right out of the heavens, but that isn't the way God operates.  God speaks to a person's heart.  To their mind."

I really like 1 Kings 19:11-13: The Lord said, "Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by."  Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire came a gentle whisper.  When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.  Then a voice said to him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"

See...God doesn't always come to us in miraculous ways or with some booming voice.  He can come to us in a mere whisper.  If your heart isn't open, or if you're too busy talking or waiting for something huge, you could miss Him.  Listening to God requires a heart committed to understanding His message.  Struggling to hear God?  Question your heart.  Are you truly open to what He has to say?  He will never ignore if you keep talking to Him, but feel that He never talks back, it's time to look deep within yourself, not question where He's at.

If your heart is open, and you set aside time in prayer to listen, how does God talk to us?  Opinions vary:
  1. Some believe that God speaks to us through the use of "signs."  I plan on discussing this at a later time.
  2. Some believe that God speaks to us in words.  Not spoken words that we can audibly hear, but something more like a typed sentence in Times New Roman, printed out clearly in our mind to read.
  3. Some believe that God uses other people to get through to us.
There is one undeniable way, however, that God does talk to us:  His Word.

John 1:1:  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (bold print is my addition)

Read your Bible.  God is there.  He's talking to you there.  Before you enter His Word, pray for clarity.  Pray for understanding.  Pray for an open heart and mind so that you can hear Him.  From Bob Wells:  "When our Lord sees that you are taking the time to read his word every single day then what he is going to do is begin to peel away the layers of cloudiness that are covering your eyes and that hide the truth.  Once he sees that you are serious about reading his word, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit will begin to open your eyes and mind, and allow you to begin to understand the Word of God and the incredible meaning that it has on every aspect of your life.  It won't be long before you realize that the Bible isn't difficult at all to read and understand, and to your amazement you will begin to also realize that you and Jesus have been drawn closer together.  Suddenly you will know that indeed he is communicating with you."

For obvious reasons, Satan does not want this kind of communication to happen.  When we pray, when we communicate (speak and listen) with God, we grow closer to Him...a fact that displeases the devil.  Due to that, he constantly tries to jam the signal between us and our Lord.  How?  Noise.

Silence is the first language of God; all else is poor translation. - Thomas Merton

We want to hear from God.  We want to hear God.  The problem is, we live in a world of noise.  Satan has polluted our world with noise.  You could even go so far as to say we're addicted to noise.  Think about it: How often do you have the TV on while you're working?  You're not actually watching, but "it's background noise."  What's the first thing you do when you start your car?  Turn on the radio.  We loathe silence in conversations.  What do we call it?  Awkward silence.  Why?  Can't two people just enjoy being near each other without speaking?  A proven police interrogation technique is simply silence.  They know that if they just stay quiet, the person in the room will keep talking just to cover up the silence.  The phones...our neighbors...traffic...our children...our pets...the weather...birds and/or insects just outside the window...the heater/air conditioner...the motor of the ceiling fan can all be distractions.

Let's add another layer: internal noise.  We can't shut our minds off either.  Did I remember to lock the front door?  Do I have my lesson plans ready to go for tomorrow?  What am I going to do about that co-worker that keeps giving me problems?  I hope it doesn't rain this weekend so I can mow.

Before we can obtain pure communication with God, we must train ourselves to block out the noise.  It won't be easy, but if you fully open your heart to the Lord, He will help muffle out everything else.

Now for the most important step in this process: How you respond when you do hear from God.

Luke 6:46-49: (Jesus is talking) "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?  I will show you what he is like who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice.  He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock.  When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.  But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation.  The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete."
Hebrews 2:1-3: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.  For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?  This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him.
James 1:22-25: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.  But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does.

Catch the message?  Coming to the Lord is one thing.  Listening to what He has to say is one thing.  Actually doing what has been instructed is something else entirely.  I love Luke 6:46Why do you call me, "Lord, Lord," and do not do what I say?  If God is truly your Lord, then you will not only listen to Him, but follow Him with action.  The parable of the two sons in Matthew 21:28-32 is a good example of this.  God knows your heart.  Just going through the motions isn't going to fool Him.  In fact, as shown here, it's dangerous to pretend to obey God when our hearts are far from Him because God knows our true intentions.  Our actions must match our words.

Exodus 14:15 is another example:  Then the Lord said to Moses, "Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on."  God was tired of Moses was time for them to move.  Sometimes we know what to do, but we pray for more guidance as an excuse to postpone doing it.  If we know what we should do, then it is time to get moving.

Okay.  I'm setting aside time in my prayer to listen to God.  I am blocking out all distracting noise.  I want to do what God instructs me to do, but how do I know if what I'm "hearing" comes from God, me, or Satan?  Bob Wells answers that question fairly.  He says that you must go through these seven steps:
  1. Is it consistent with the Word of God?  Does it fit with the principles taught in the Bible or violate what's written there?
  2. Is it a wise decision?  Is it the type of solution Jesus would agree with Himself?
  3. Are you confident in asking God to enable you to achieve this solution?
  4. Do you feel that it is a God-given solution?  Deep in your heart, does this feel like the will of God?
  5. Does this solution fit a child of God?  From all you know about God, does this solution or answer fit a person that truly believes, trusts, and loves God?
  6. Does this solution fit God's overall plan for your life?
  7. Does this solution honor God?  Does it bring glory and praise to Him?
"If you are unsure on some of these questions, then you need to have patience and wait for a clear answer from God (2 Thessalonians 1:4, 3:5...1 Timothy 6:11...2 Corinthians 6:4...Luke 21:19)."

I end this with a challenge from Francis Chan.  This came from the same sermon I quoted a couple weeks ago about talking.  He was stressing how much we talked and how better off we would be if we limited what we said and opened our hearts and our ears more.  Chan referred to Revelations 4:8, where we read that the angels in Heaven repeat the same sixteen words over and over again: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.

Chan's challenge is simple enough in its principle, but incredibly difficult upon further thought:  "If you could come before God and only speak sixteen words, what would you say?"

So that is my challenge to you.  If you could only speak sixteen words to God...not at one time...for all time...what would you say?  Give it some serious thought.  Don't rush into the first sixteen words you can string together.  These are the only words you can say to our Lord and Savior.  Make them count.  If you want to keep these words between you and God - awesome.  If you would like to share them here or on my Facebook page, I would be honored to read them.  I will share Chan's sixteen words as well as my own (here) on Friday.

Next week, Part 3: Listening to Each Other


  1. Francis Chan's sixteen words: "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God almighty. Your power, patience, mercy, and love overwhelm me."

  2. My sixteen words: "Praise to the Lord, Savior, and Father. Your glory, patience, and forgiveness fill me with love."