Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Listen!

Douglas Frank Photo


Listen!
God speaks, are you listening? I have chosen “listening” as my Word of the Year for 2019 to add to my continuing list of spiritual character traits to bring into submission under God’s hand. James 1:19 has become my new annual verse, My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen (hear), slow to speak and slow to become angry.” This is difficult as I speak often too easily before listening, a very unrighteous thing. So I am studying the God who listens and hears all of our prayers without talking. He also will always answer our prayers if we are listening and have no un-confessed sin in our lives.

There is a profound truth about our God. He has been and continues to listen and speak through many means continually. The word “speak” occurs 450 times in Scripture, half the Lord and half people speaking. “Listen” occurs over 400 times as well, telling us that it is vitally important. The Lord spoke through Moses to the Israelites in the Exodus, but they did not listen. Solomon said, let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (Proverbs 1:5).

Mankind has not been listening to God since our creation and the Garden of Eden. We like to talk. But God does not hear us when we are disobedient and unrepentant in our lives. By the way, we don’t learn when we are talking. God has been speaking through creation since before time, but especially since His creative powers spoke everything into existence. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘“Let there be light,’” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:1-4 ESV). The remainder of Chapter 1 completes the creation story, including that of man in His image and likeness. He saw everything He had breathed into existence and “it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). 

God speaks through creation clearly, “The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above declares His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). The Apostle Paul begins Romans declaring about man knowing God, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because god has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. But although they knew God, they did not honor Him or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:19-20).  Well, this passage tells of God’s penultimate creation going from light to darkness by choice. But I will now continue talking about many other ways God speaks to His creation if we will only listen.

Throughout the Old Testament, God spoke audibly to His creation. Abraham was the benefactor of God’s “friendship” in a very personal and transformational relationship as the first patriarch or human leader of God’s chosen people. However, we must not miss the oldest written book of the Bible and God’s fearsome and ultimately kindly speaking relationship with Job, a godly man that God tried beyond most human’s perseverance. In fact God even spoke to His created, now fallen angel Satan about His servant Job. Yikes! This conversation always gives me pause that a loving and good God would put His favorite guy up against the hateful and destructive “Lucifer, the son of the morning” (Isaiah 14:12), not to be confused with Jesus, the “Bright and Morning Star” (Revelation 22:16). But God was still sovereign an in control. Job’s friends listened for seven days and then turned on Job in his lowly state and talked incessantly, blaming him almost to death. Job complained to God, and then His patience wore thin as He lectured Job concerning His powers and sovereign creation. Job finally listened. 

David cried out and spoke to God throughout the 150 psalms, listening and praising, beseeching, lamenting, and rejoicing in His responses. “Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning…O Lord in the morning you hear my voice” (Psalm 5:1,3). Solomon makes clear that it is the Lord from whom we must seek wisdom. 

The first prophet Samuel learned to listen to God as a youth saying, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:19). Then turning to the Major Prophets, Isaiah tells of the coming Teacher who will show the way if we obey:
Your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left. Then you will defile your carved idols overlaid with silver and your gold-plated metal images. You will scatter them as unclean things. You will say to them, “Be gone!” (Isaiah 30:20-22 ESV).
This Teachers Isaiah is prophesying are other prophets or God speakers. God the Father’s voice spoke on the Mount of Transfiguration saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him”(Matthew 17:5). To which the disciples appropriately responded by falling on their faces.  Jesus spoke to the disciples and many crowds throughout the region of Galilee and Jerusalem. The peasants and poor listened to healing words; the rich and religious rebuked and reviled Jesus to their own condemnation. Parables 18:13 has a wise word for this, “He who answers a matter before he hears it (listens to) is folly and shame to him.”  Add to that advice, “Do not speak to the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words…Apply your heart to instruction, and your ears to words of knowledge” (Proverbs 23:9,12). Perhaps a final word of Solomon’s wisdom from Proverbs 1:33 would be, “Whoever listens to me will dwell safety, and will be secure, without fear of evil.” 
When Jesus was preparing His disciples for His crucifixion and death, He told them that He would not leave them orphans, “If you love Me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper/Advocate, that He might abide with you forever-The Spirit of Truth…But the Helper/Counselor…will teach you all things”(John 14:15,26 NKJV). He will be a Counselor, Comforter and “Convictor.”
God speaks through His Word, the Bible primarily today. It is the Holy Spirit who clarifies and illuminates it for us. Yet, He still speaks audibly, having spoken life changing words from Isaiah 30:21 to me in a counselors office saying, “This is the way; Walk in it.” This was my launching into full-time ministry as I not only heard Him, but also followed, and continue to today. I utilize many spiritual disciplines to better listen and hear His voice through prayer, His Word, meditation and journaling as well as in praising, singing and writing His word and counsel. As Charles Swindoll wrote in his little but powerful book, Intimacy with The Almighty, this requires finding silence, solitude and a sacred place, as well as simplicity in our lives. Isaiah 55:8-11 exhorts us with God’s words saying: 
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it
without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,
 so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
God’s Word is the Sword of the Spirit and powerful cutting even to bone and marrow. God speaks through godly counselors and even circumstances. 
I end this essay with an awesome biblical story from 2 Chronicles 20 during the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah (873-849 BC), one of only five godly kings of Judah or Israel. The Lord said to him, ““you have prepared your heart to seek God’” (2 Chronicles 19:3). Jehoshaphat brought the people back to the Lord and he never backslid during his glowing reign. He said, “Behave courageously, and the Lord will be with the good” (2 Chronicles 19:11). Yet the people of Moab and the Ammonites came against them in battle. The king called a sacred assembly to seek the Lord: “So Judah gathered together to ask help from the Lord…Oh Lord, will you not be the judge of them? For we have no power against this great multitude…nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You” (20:5,12). Then the “Spirit of the Lord came uponJahaziel, the son of Zechariah…a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, ‘“Listen…Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of the great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:14,15). Jehoshaphat proclaimed, ‘“Believe in the Lord your God and you shall be established (standing firm, upheld, secure); believe in His prophets and you shall prosper (succeed, come out on top).”’ They praised the Lord singing, ‘“Praise the Lord, for His love endures forever” (20:21). They believed, stood firm and went out to meet the enemy. And when they looked out over the valley of wilderness, the Lord had already destroyed their enemy, “No one had escaped” (20:24b). They rejoiced and named the place the “Valley of Berachah (Blessing), for there they blessed the Lord” (20:26). 
Why such an old and long story? Because the Lord is faithful to those who seek Him, listen and hear His voice and promises of blessing, we should be faithful to Him too. 
Listen, Listen! Is the admonition for me in 2019, how about you? 



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