Thursday, March 17, 2016

The need for the Christian to listen to God

Isaiah 50:4 “The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples, that I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple.”


At the time of the writing of this post, my family and I were preparing to attend an evening service at the church God has us serving. Although God has called me to pastor a wonderful church – I functioned in the role of listener that evening. The Associate Pastor delivering the message. My goal was to go with an eagerness to hear what God was going to say through him. Listening to God is the chief occupation of the interior life of the Christian. As a preacher, the assumption is that time will be spent in active communication of God’s Word – as it should be (see 1 Timothy 4:13-16). However, unless I as a preacher do not practice the act and art of listening to God – then the effectiveness to speak God's word will be hampered.  

I am sure some readers recall as children hearing their parents tell them: “Did you hear what I said?” If an immediate response was not forth-coming, the follow-up would come in a raised tone: “Are you listening to me!” Although the terms “hearing” and “listening” may have similar meanings; they nonetheless carry very important distinctions. Hearing entails acknowledgement of sound entering into the ear and given the appropriate response; whereas listening involves a deeper level of following through with every word communicated in the message.

Distinguishing “hearing” and “listening”

Hearing God’s Word includes the Spirit-given ability to discern the author of the message, the contents and the appropriate response (see Romans 10:9-10). Listening involves taking what has been heard and resolving oneself to follow-through in commitment to God with the result being action (see John 14:21-23). Hearing is but the beginning of the process of responding to God; whereas listening demonstrates continued adherence and commitment to what has been heard. Author Richard Blackaby has noted that: "whatever a man does next after claiming to hear God will demonstrate what he believes about God.”

What it takes to “listen” to God

Isaiah communicates in Isaiah 50:4 that he had been given the ability to not only hear God’s voice as a prophet and preacher of the Word, but also that he practiced the need to listen to God. In looking briefly at the entirety of Isaiah 50, we can pick out four components of listening. As my family and I went that recent Sunday night to hear God’s Word, we went to not only hear the voice of God through the song service and preaching; but also to listen and apply what was heard. What elements are necessary in listening to God?

1). Hold (onto what I hear about God). Isaiah 50:1-3

Isaiah hearkens back to when God had redeemed the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt, as well as how He later on sent them away in exile as a result of their disobedience. Isaiah has before Him God’s love and justice. As he holds onto these two characteristics of God, it becomes clear that God desire to extend a second chance to an otherwise reluctant people. As God reaches out to us, He is ever more willing to know us than we are to know Him.

2). Hasten to obey what God is saying. Isaiah 50:4-10
As is often the case in Isaiah’s prophecies, we are under the impression that Isaiah is speaking of himself, only for the seamless transition to go from himself to the Lord as the speaker. The revelation of scripture entails the overseeing influence of the Holy Spirit carrying along Isaiah while all the while Isaiah is utilizing his language, culture, life-experience and ways of expression. The end result is God’s words draped in the garments of Isaiah’s human vocabulary – immune from error. The “Servant” who is speaking sounds like Isaiah, but it turns out that the “Servant of the Lord” is a figure representing and perhaps even being a pre-incarnate cameo introduction of the Divine Son in the Old Testament.

Matthew Henry, the great commentator, reminds us that Isaiah is “doing like David, he speaks of himself as a type of Christ, who is here prophesied and promised to be Savior”. When God is speaking – how willing and ready are you and I to do His bidding? The Divine Son expressed willingness to yield to the will of the Father in His Divine sharing with the Father and the Spirit in all eternity. New Testament passages such as Hebrews 10:4-5 express the Son’s words prior to his entry into history by the virgin’s womb as being: “I have come to do your will as it is written in the book”. When The Son incarnated in human flesh, He – ever remaining God – became flesh in the historic person of Jesus of Nazareth (see John 1:14; Matthew 1:23; 1 Timothy 3:15-16). Jesus was ever about doing His Father’s business and provided the example to all true followers of Him by faith of what is meant to heed God’s voice – no matter what.

3). Heed warnings concerning not listening to God. Isaiah 50:11
As the prophetic address seems to switch from the “Servant” to that of Isaiah once more, Isaiah rebukes those within the nation who derived their strength from idolatry or simple warming themselves by the light of man-made fire rather than the Divine fire of God’s glory. Natural man’s bent is to ignore God and trust in his five senses, opinions and un-illuminated human intellect – henceforth deeming the things of God as foolishness (see 1 Corinthians 2:14). The road of ignoring God is paved with regret and leads to disappointment, heartache and eternal condemnation. Whether as pastors or those in the pew, the people of God must never trust in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, His word and the power of the Holy Spirit (see Proverbs 3:5-6).

4). Have Christ as you focus to succeed in listening. Isaiah 50:6
So how can it be that we stay on track in listening to God. How is it that as Christians we can continue in cultivating the much needed skill of listening to the voice of Him who calls us to follow His lead (see Luke 9:23-24)? Christ must ever be before us. In Isaiah’s prophecy we find the Servant predicting what will be the moments leading up to and including His crucifixion. In history the crucifixion was seven centuries removed from Isaiah’s day; yet for the Servant (i.e the pre-incarnate Son in eternity), the events of Calvary were but around the corner.

Listening to God won’t be maintained by moralism and adherence to some man-made prescriptions, but rather the cross. Hebrews 12:3 reminds us to “consider Him who endured such contradiction by sinful men so that you won’t grow weary and lose heart.” As we make our business to hear God and then continue on in listening to what we heard; Christ Jesus and Him crucified, risen and ascended must ever be at the center and circumference of our faith walk.  

As I reflect back once more on the evening service attended by my family and me, we certainly heard the Lord speak through His word that evening. The Associate Pastor spoke from Acts 8:22-39 on how Phillip’s willingness to listen to God and to “get up and go” resulted in God saving the soul of the Ethiopian Eunuch. I was struck at how unknown to me, God had laid upon the heart of this precious man of God a message that aimed at equipping all in attendance on how to listen to God and do His bidding. The one statement our Associate Pastor made makes clear the necessity of listening to God: “wherever there is a willing Christian and a prepared heart; the result will be  spiritual miracles.” The need for the Christian to listen to God can only happen when the following occurs: hold onto whatever I heard God say; hasten to obedience; heed warnings of not listening and have Christ as the focus.

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