I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. Psalm 40:8
Do you listen to God?
Most would emphatically say yes or at least think they do. For this article let's concentrate on Christian leaders, and the question, do we pay attention to God? Or do we just listen to ourselves or snoop out the faulty trends? Consider these questions, why do you study the Bible? Why do you pray? Why and how do you worship? Is it a two-way communication? Or is it just you dictating to God? Carefully pray over these questions and be honest! Now, consider one of the essential inductive questions that help us know and grow in the Word: what is in the way of my listening to God?
Listening is the quintessence of effective relationships between us and others and between us and God. Combined with love, kindness, and character, listening becomes the synergy to make us successful in relationships, work, and ministry, to be real and effectual, and to be better used by God. Listening people are the girders that connect and strengthen relationships. Relationships, as well as spiritual growth, are built on listening, both to God's Word and to one another. The mature Christian cannot grow in maturity unless he or she listens to God's Word.
Are your relationships becoming stagnant? What about your relationship with God? You need to look for the reason. Are you listening to the One who has something good to say? Until we listen, nothing productive will happen. Most people need to be heard; the one who listens earns the right to be heard and resolve the issue. Thus, if you are in any leadership position or a person of any influence where people know you are that guy or gal who has that "God thing" going on, then be the person who listens so you can be the person who influences and impacts; this starts by our listening to the One who saved and redeemed us! The lack of listening and a profusion of anger or pride or an entitlement mentality will create a very negative atmosphere for both the non-Christian and those in the Church who come into our world when we are not focusing on God and His precepts and/or Holy Spirit.
Years ago, I had the misfortune, as a youth pastor, to come under a senior pastor who did not believe in prayer. Now, this was in a conservative evangelical, well-known church then. He was neither a mainline or liberal guy; he just felt if God knows everything, why should I bother Him with my life and its details. He felt that even giving thanks and prayer was an insult to God and a waste of our time. Being young and presumptuous then, I challenged him on why he thought this way (I did not last long at this church), and what Scriptures would back up his hypothesis. He never gave me a good answer, but during the few months I was at this church, I saw a self-destructive, arrogant man in action who thought he was God's gift to preaching and who proceeded to run this church into the ground. He caused a split, which more than twenty years later has not healed. Additionally, he is no longer in ministry. I was told by mutual friends that he is divorced, his kids have nothing to do with him and he sells insurance and still thinks he was right. This church is just a block away from the church I serve at now.
This so-called pastor, who also taught preaching at a seminary, had a major "disconnect" with listening. Ironically, listening was his favorite subject, as he taught it from the pulpit and classroom. He taught the importance for ministers to be careful listeners of their congregations and peddled various books on the subject, but I do not recall him ever doing any listening himself. In fact, the main reason I was let go from this church was because he felt I did not listen. Perhaps he was right; I did not listen to him. Rather, I was listening to God and the people of that church. To this pastor, listening was doing as one is told (something that I was not very good at then) rather than hearing what one said. For him, listening was about command and control; the big irony was that he was not under God's command and control, but that of his own arrogance. This lesson and example has stuck with me for all these years. As I pass by this church several times a week, I want to make sure that neither I nor the pastors I help equip ever fall into the shallow pool of arrogance trap by refusing to listen and most importantly to never fail to listen to God!
What is listening to God?
The word, listen in Scripture simply means to focus and concentrate and to pay attention by opening our ears to hear. Listening is the more active form of the word that means to keep paying attention, to close our mouths and open our ears to hear God and others. It is also the act of applying God's Word into our lives! When we listen, we open our minds and hearts to the true Truth of our Lord. We will also hear what godly people are saying that will sharpen us and help us know when there is error. The person who listens exhibits good character and godliness. This takes us into the act of actually applying our Christianity and to being doers of the Word (Prov. 28:13-14; Mark 3:7-8; John 8:47; Rom. 12:15; Col. 3:12; James 1:2-27; 1 John 1:8-9).
Listening, in these contexts, is about our willingness (because we already have the ability) to place our focus on Christ and His Word. James 1: 19-20 is the classic passage about listening. We are told that all of us can and must do this; Let everyone means we all fall under this imperative; there are to be no slackers! We are all to prepare ourselves so we can learn and have no excuses. As we learn, we can respond to God's will (Matt. 13:9; Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18; Col. 1:10). It is about how we need to be evaluated by one another and to pay heed to one another. Additionally, it is about the necessity to pay heed to God so we know Him and His will and principles more so we can then grow our faith and spiritual development. And we are to do this swift, which refers to not wasting time-just to "do it!" No excuses, no buts, no coming up with reasons, no backtalk-just do it, as David and his men demonstrated (2 Sam. 23:13-17)!
God is saying to us so then or take note of this; it is a call to attention, a call to "listen up." It is an exhortation for us to hear God's call. Because of the previous passages, we can adhere to His call and put His precepts into practice. Remember, James is a book about the application of our faith, so we can apply our Christian conduct in how we treat others! And, how we treat and minister to others is distilled from how we relate and listen to God.
If we are reluctant to listen, then we are also reluctant to learn and grow. Listening is an extremely important tool necessary for life, faith, and trials. When we do not listen, we transition the distrust on to others and God, causing us to be filled with anger and/or pride, and then we will be unable to learn in life or grow through trials that are essential in the "ecology" (the science and art of the deepened development) of our faith and maturity development. When we listen, we open our minds and hearts to the Truth of our Lord. We can hear what others are saying to sharpen us and we will know when there is error. The person who listens is the one who is of good character and exhibits godliness. This truth transitions into the following verses in James that compel us to be doers of the Word (James 1:21-27).
Let them who have ears hear…
Jesus Himself tells us to listen-in fact, He commands it. If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. In Matthew 13: 1-23, Jesus gives us one of His profound teachings, the Parable of the Sower, where He starts a series of parables about the Kingdom of Heaven and how God works both in the Universe and in our hearts. This is one of my favorite parables as it explains how God is working in our lives, and, yet, how we try to keep Him out. In this parable, God is holding up a mirror to show us our real hearts. What is inside of you? He is looking for faith, for authenticity, for Fruit, for a soul who cries out to Him so He can grow His seed in us. God also desires to multiply His seed so He can be made known to others. He is looking to see where His Word has fallen on you. How is His Word being used?You can go to our Bible Studies page in Matthew and see more about this. For this article, I want to concentrate on one word in a key phrase that Jesus says fourteen times: "hear" ( Matt. 11:15; 13:9-16; 13:43; Mark 4:9, 23; 8:18; Luke 8:8; 14:35)!
One of the main points of this parable is that God scatters His Word by planting it in our hearts. As with any agricultural endeavor, the goals are to reap the harvest, take the fruit, and let it be used for commerce and consumption. But, this can't happen if we are not listening, as so much can stop the seeds from germinating; and, if they do germinate, their growth can easily be stifled by bad soil, weather, insufficient water and fertilizer, and negligence. The young plants can be trampled on and be pulled up, mistaken for weeds. Thus, when we are aware of what prevents a good harvest, we can work harder to remove the obstacles and be diligent to create a good harvest. It is the same with our spiritual growth; we must listen to God. By doing so, we will know what holds us back; we can strive to push forward in our maturity and sanctification. Is His Word on His path and in nutritious soil, or choked off by the weeds?
Thus, we can see why hearing what God has for us by His Word and Holy Spirit is so imperative. If you examine the text, He who has ears let him hear, refers to the frustrations of the Prophets who spoke to those who refused to listen, choosing instead to be deaf to God's Word, Wisdom, and call. Also in this passage, Jesus uses this to show us that listening is the quintessential way to learn. A good disciple will actively listen to his/her teacher, not interpret instructions just to affirm his/her own wants and desires (Isaiah 6:10; 43:8; 44:18; Ezek. 12:2).
The very nature of how Jesus was teaching then was through the parable. In the Greek, parabole means "to throw alongside;" it is where we get our word for ball. It is using everyday objects to teach eternal matters which most people could never grasp otherwise. Jesus used this literary devise not to hide the lesson, but rather to teach in such a way that it could be grasped better by those open to understand. It is the intangible wrapped in the tangible. It is beyond logic, metaphor, allegory, or abstract reasoning; it is meant to stimulate the person's interest to open his/her eyes and ears and engage his mind to seek truth, rather than self, as a means of grasping the lesson God has for him. Thus, we are enabled to get His aim as He directs us to a central point by warning what obstructs us from listening and learning, as He said, seeing they do not see. Thus, He enlightens the point to those who avail themselves of it and its truth. At the same time, the point is concealed from those who do not listen or believe or who refuse to see or hear (Matt. 13:52).
The warning for not listening here is it will be an instrument of judgment, because people who refuse to listen to God will be held to account for that! We are responsible to receive the seed, and if we throw it away, we lose in a big way-for eternity! Listening will bring clarity, but, also depth, that through careful study, even more insights will be produced. However, these seeds never teach what is not there. We are able to comprehend more as we listen, open our hearts, mature, and develop our relationship with God. Jesus reminds us that Isaiah's contemporaries refused to listen to the signs of the times, the Prophets, or to God and His Word. They did not recognize that their sins and willful disobedience to God would lead them, as well as the next two generations, into captivity. Even though every prophecy of Isaiah came true, they denounced his current prophecy, and refused to listen (Isaiah 6:9-10).
The warning is just as valid today if not even more so. Many today do the same with the Gospel-and many Christians do the same with the Word! We have to be disciples who are willing to hear and to bend our will down so He remains in control, and so we remain on His path. God gives us the ability to listen and to understand, as well as the ability to respond. Jesus tells them how lucky they are to hear Him in person, and how much the Old Testament saints, as well as those of today, would passionately love to have been there!I know I would!
Listening is a choice. We have the choice to do as we please with the Word when it reaches out to us! We have the choice, once we know Jesus, to keep hearing and applying His Word. The seed is given, His grace is given, our sins can be declared clean, we can have eternity, and all we need to do is accept it by faith. So easy, so simple; yet, so few will. The point we are not to miss? Do not be the one who chooses to harden your heart! Embrace His Word with passion, so you take His truth, understand its clarity, and believe with conviction, so it endures; in that way, you can also make it known to others in the same way. And, if you are a teacher of His Word, then you must also preach the Bible by the same means: with passion, conviction, clarity, and always in truth!
Listening to God means being fruitful!
Listening multiplies the seed given to you. This is faithfulness that makes fruitfulness. We are to make disciples through His Word. We are to point to Christ, never to ourselves! We make disciples for Christ, not for other people like ourselves! The Word to the non-Christian is the Gospel; for those who are in Christ, it is the Word of God. It is the Bible, prayer, discipleship, and our growth in Him. This is what we listen to, not to mere faulty trends and ideas of people, or what is popular or what we may want or feel we need. We are to listen and grasp Christ and His Word.
In Jesus' time, disciples were to become teachers and teach others so the message was multiplied many fold, just as Christianity had its start with One, then twelve, then 120, then several thousand to perhaps a billion over the last two thousand years. What keeps this cycle going-besides the Holy Spirit's empowerment, of course-is our ability to hear and receive the information and comprehend what has been imparted to us, and then make a commitment to that information so it transforms, renews, and guides us in our connection to God, self, and others. The other key component to this is our Faith. Our impacted and connected faith is what leads to our Obedience. These are the keys to providing nutrients to the soil of your life so His seed produces a hundredfold in you and then becomes the example and future for a hundredfold impact on others. What stops this process? Not listening that leads to competing with God as we replace Him with other things that He calls our Deceitfulness! We take tolls like money that is purely needed and meant as a gift and instrument from God. It is for us to use wisely, but by our pride and selfishness becomes our obsession and/or our trust! If it does, money will quickly lead us astray to be choked and scorched (Matt. 6:25-30).
What is our call in the Matthew 13 passage? Listen to God! (One) hears the word of the Lord and understand refers to trust and obedience. We can only serve God by being people of God. We can only bear fruit by the indwelling of His Spirit, having our faith and obedience working together. Ultimately, there are only two types of soil-good and bad; in one, the seed dies, and in the other, it multiplies. That pastor's soil was obviously shallow, rocky, and barren of any nutrients. Which kind of dirt are you in?God wants everyone to receive the light of His Word (Luke 8:16-18; Rom. 8:35), but He knows "free will" chooses to not listen and thus pushes it aside; He has to interject His Spirit into us before we will receive it. Yet, even then, it is never forced; we still have to receive it by faith-a choice we make, for an election He gives that is predestined. If we do not obey what He gives us, we cannot receive more. The small things matter to God much more then the big things matter to us.
The Kingdom of Heaven includes all Christians. It is not just the perfect, true Church; rather, it is all of the "elect" from humanity where God weaves His love and plan of redemption through us all. It is the real, authentic Christian and the reprobate, the good plants, ripe for harvest, and the weeds; it is the good and the evil. It is Christ, taking our sin and reworking us, as Romans, chapter 8 proclaims, for the perfection of eternity. We are not perfect now, but, one day, only those who are in Christ will be with the Perfect!God's Word has life and power! Make sure you have received it; keep receiving it, and listening so God can use you to reap a hundred fold harvest (Prov. 16:1, 4, John. 13:18; Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:2-14; 2 Thess. 2:13-15; 1 Pet. 1:1-3, 20)!
Active Listening with God
…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. Hebrews 1:2
Did you know that the phrases listen or hear the word of God occur dozens of times in Scripture? The phrase, hear the Word of the Lord occurs 24 times! Thus, we can surmise that this is important, yet so few do it, even those in Christian leadership! We have to acquiesce and listen to God! The key is to be active with our listening. When something from God's Word comes to us by reading or hearing or from a sermon or Bible study or even from a friend or an unexpected source, ask yourself, how does this apply to me? How does this work into my situation or to my future or help me cope with my past? Then, be attentive and purposeful in your approach to God. Be a learner not a whiner, resolve to be determined not apathetic, go to the source; do not just wait and do nothing with your faith. This is about our walk with God. As we walk, we lean on Him to learn from Him; we learn when we listen and we listen when we pay attention and focus by laying aside our worries, hurts, and frustrations and clinging to Him with trust and obedience.
In Hebrews 1:1-4, God shows us that He is at work and wants to speak to us. He is fully God, one with the Father, and He is greater than all! Jesus Christ is Excelsior par excellence LORD, the surpassing greatness of all that is or ever will be! And he is speaking to us; He is speaking to you! Are you listening? Who is Jesus to you? How does this hold up to who He is in reality as revealed in the Scriptures? Is Jesus the central figure in your life as He is the central figure in the entire universe? If so, then you are listening…right? You are gleaning from His Word and not reading in what you want to see/hear. Jesus is the Ultimate, He is God's Son, He is the Heir of all things, and He is Supreme! It is imperative we know who Jesus is in our last days, the time of our living and ministry, as He is the One, the Promise, and our Savior. Jesus created the world and holds all things together, whose imprint is in all things and radiates God's Glory, presence, and awe as He also speaks to us His call and precepts. He sits at God's right hand and controls the universe, giving us glimpses of His Being and Word. He is also the One spoken of by the prophets, who came to save and take away our sins. Jesus is Supreme and superior to any created thing, including angels-and He is speaking to you!
What happens when we do not listen to God?
Do you know people who are grumpy, stale, fruitless, and self-driven so all that comes from them is anger and bitterness? If they claim Christ as Lord, there is perhaps a "disconnect" between their faith, life, and hearing and the applying of God's voice, like in the life of that pastor. Because when God speaks to us, we have a responsibility to hear His Voice through His Word and apply what He says. His Son, Jesus, is our Lord and our example; His supremacy should remain in us as it does throughout time and the eternity of space. No matter who you are or what you go through, Jesus Christ is Lord and is speaking to you!
Look at some of the attributes of Christ in the Hebrews 1 passage. He is supreme to all, created all things, is incarnate, He made you, and He is the radiance of God's glory who sustains all things. Now, look what He has done for you: gave you redemption and purification from sin. What have you done with these things? Jesus must echo throughout our nature and being, so we are full of Him and not full of our selves or the ways of the world. This will greatly impact our lives, our church, and our temperament. The more we lean on and learn of and from Christ, the more we can listen to Him and the more we can grow in Him. But, it takes the surrender of our being to His Ultimate Being; we must hear him so His presence is practiced and applied to our daily journey in life. This is what grows our faith, takes us through the stress and torments of life, and encourages and inspires others around us. The problem comes when we tend to only have ears for our circumstances, experiences, desires, and plans, intentionally or unintentionally muting His voice and seeking to compromise our Lord's sovereignty over our personal lives. Remember; what He has for us is far greater and effectual than what we may have or have seen (Ezek. 1:28; 2:1; Gal. 2:20-21; Phil. 3:1-14).
What happens when we do listen to God?
In John 8:12-30, Jesus gives one of His most incredible and important proclamations and revelations about Himself (God), that He is the "Light of the World!" He declares that if you listen and follow me (Jesus Christ) you will not stumble in life or in religion; you will have eternal life and purpose here and now too. You will not be stumbling through the darkness and chaos of life, because you will have His illumination upon your path and personally know the Light that leads to true and eternal life. This greatly disturbed the Pharisees. They claimed you can't say that; you can't claim yourself as a witness to yourself. This may be true to the Scriptures, but they did not understand the True Triune nature of God. Yes, He can say that! Jesus responded; these claims are true; the Father is the other prime witness. Yes, I make claims about myself, because I know who I am and where I come from; you do not. Your understanding is limited by your pride and inadequate thinking. I am not judging, but if I did, it would be truthful. I stand here, but not alone. I have the Father who sent me; thus, as the law states, "when two or more witness make a statement, it is fact." What I am saying is fact; I am one witness and my Father is the other. The Pharisees wanted to know where His father was, but they did not know God, whom they claimed to follow, or what they were doing. They refused to listen because of pride and pretentiousness!
When we remain obedient and listen to God, we will refuse to be distracted from what is false and misleading, what seems to look good but will snare us. This will lead to our trustfulness and faithfulness, and we will then take seriously our call to be disciples and make disciples, He will show us. Just think of His blessings and the joy of being in Him. Most of the things that hold us back from growing in Christ are not just sins; rather, it is when we refuse to recognize His divine power that we shut down. We are ignorant of what He can do, and are afraid when we know we should follow (James 1:2-8).
Are you not listening? Dealing with anger? These are sure ways to keep people and care away from you and to run your church into the ground. What else can you do to make friends or to build a church? Listen! What can you do to control your anger? Listen! What can you do to help you grow spiritually? Listen! What can you do to help your church grow? Listen! The lack of listening and the abundance of anger, especially when it is out of control, will create a very negative atmosphere for the Christian and the Church (Prov. 27:9).
Make sure, if you consider yourself a child of God, that you listen to Him. Make sure if you are in Christian leadership that you are under the command and control of Christ and that there is no disconcert to what He has for you or that you are not blocked by your own arrogance or busyness.