Listen to Him!
February 7, 2021
CH (COL) Michael W. Malone
Do you know that God loves you and wants to communicate with you? Do you know that God communicates to people today as he spoke to people in ancient times? God has not changed. He still seeks to bless us and one of the finest ways he blesses us is by communicating with us. The prophet Isaiah writes God’s message for us: “Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good and your soul will delight in the richest fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me that your soul may live (Isaiah 55:2b-3).” Isaiah is not talking about food for the body. He speaks about soul food. God speaks words of life, not death. Those who listen to the Lord hear words of blessing and life.
Today I’m going to highlight a peculiar account of an event which happened as Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem and the Cross. The reading from Matthew tells the story of the day when Jesus led Peter, James and John up Mount Hermon, a 9232 foot mountain in Syria. Every time you read in Scripture about a mountain you must know that something big, something significant is going to happen. Mountains are places of revelation. During the Exodus, God spoke to Moses on a mountain. When you read that Jesus goes up a mountain with his inner core of disciples, you know something special is going to happen. On Mount Hermon, they had a powerful, holy experience of the divine Presence. Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothing became as white as light. The glory of God was all over Jesus. Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with him. The great lawgiver and the man God used to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt spoke with Jesus. Elijah, the greatest prophet, conversed with him. There was a holy powwow, and the disciples saw everything with their own eyes. They were absolutely amazed by what they saw. An event like that is unique and does not happen every day. Imagine the feeling of awe and reverence they had. Peter, not knowing what to do, speaks up when he ought to remain silent. He wants to commemorate the event with three booths or shelters. While Peter was speaking “a bright cloud enveloped them and a voice spoke from the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5) The Lord God spoke from the cloud telling everyone to listen to Jesus. God himself speaks words of affirmation and commands us to listen to Jesus.
Listening is not an easy thing to do, and listening to the Lord is something many find quite puzzling and trying. Someone once said that God gave us two ears and one mouth because listening is twice as difficult as speaking. Another wise person once said God gave us one mouth and two ears because he wants us to listen twice as much as we talk. How many times do we humans get in trouble by talking when we should be listening! We certainly like to talk, and one cannot listen when talking.
Listening is not an easy thing and it is not a passive process as one might think. Listening is an active process which engages every part of us. Once I was reading material that educator’s use to teach college students active listening. Educators know that if a student is not an active listener he or she will not excel. They recognize that active listening does not just happen but we must learn it. They noted certain behaviors which help one become an active listener. The first is simple: (1) Sit near the front of the classroom. If you want to hear and learn the best location is close to the speaker or teacher. On the other hand, if you are really not into listening or learning, sit in the back of the classroom. (2) The second quality or characteristic of active listening is to focus on the speaker. Look at the person speaking. This is simple—look at the person who is speaking. (3) Number three: get rid of distractions. Learning to focus on the speaker helps deal with internal or external distractions. (4) The fourth characteristic of active listening is to take notes. I learned long ago that taking notes helps me remove distractions and stay focused. When I take notes I am more engaged with the speaker. When I attend worship, I take my Bible and a small yellow legal pad to write on. (5) Good listeners lead with their faces. Listening involves more than just the ears. One does well to give the speaker attention not only of their ears and mind but of their bodies.
The final three qualities or characteristics of active listening deal with mental attitudes and one’s openness to hearing. (6) Number six: Active listeners do not judge or evaluate what they are hearing. They are in a receiving mode. Later comes time for reflection on the content of the message. (7) Seventh, active listeners focus on the content of the message, not the delivery. It’s nice to listen to a speaker who captivates an audience, but one can miss the message if one focuses on the delivery instead of the content of the message. The last (8) aspect of active listening is to avoid jumping to conclusions. Stay with the speaker. Listening to a speech or a sermon or a classroom lecture is not an easy process but active listeners are those who gain the most from the message.
What does all this classroom stuff have to do with listening to Jesus? To hear Jesus, we have to be active listeners too. You will not be blessed in hearing if you are passive when it comes to hearing the Lord. Jesus’ words are life so it’s important to listen to him. We need the strength, encouragement and blessing that comes from the heart of God. We hear enough bad news. We need to hear the Good News, the Glad Tidings of God in Christ Jesus. We hear his Good News so that we can repent of everything that gets in the way of our relationship with him. Sometimes the Good News is hard to hear, but God always gives us the opportunity for forgiveness and repentance. Jesus has important things to say to us. He once said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand (John 10:27-28).” When you listen to Jesus, when you know his voice and follow him, you receive the gift of eternal life. You will not perish. You are in the firm hands of Jesus. He speaks life to us, even eternal life. Why listen to the Lord? Your entire future is based on hearing God. James writes: “Draw close to God and he will draw close to you (James 4:8).” God wants you to draw near to him.
There are many ways the Lord speaks to us. The first and foremost way God speaks to us is through the Bible, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. The Bible is the foundation document for our faith. It is God’s revelation of himself to us. The Bible tells us of the nature and intentions of God. It reveals God’s will for us. Want to know about Jesus? Read the Bible. Want to know the will of God? Read the Bible. Sometimes God speaks through the Bible by having a Scripture verse jump off the page to us. We can be reading along when all of a sudden the words of Scripture become personal words for us from the living Lord. The Bible is the key in understanding God and listening to him. We evaluate all other messages from God by the Bible. If something we sense is contrary to the Bible then we know it is not from God. If you want to hear from God you need to become a serious reader of the Bible.
Sometimes God speaks through other people. Numerous times God has put people in my path who have a message from him for me. Over the decades God has put some powerful people in my life. God puts people into all of our lives to help us learn how to listen to him. God presses us to a higher level of faith by putting people of faith into our lives. Look for those who God is putting in your life who will help you grow deeper in your relationship with him. Seek out wise counsel and pray that God will speak to you through them. Remember to judge all advice and counsel by the Bible.
Sometimes God works in the circumstances in our lives. During difficult times, we can sometimes experience God’s presence in special ways. There are those who describe good fortune as “luck.” However, people of faith see the hand of God in their good fortunes. There’s really no such thing as luck. Even secular researchers discovered that so called lucky people have created their own good fortune. Believers see the hand of God all over the circumstances of their lives. Look for ways God speaks to you in the circumstances of your life.
Did you ever have an impression or hunch? Sometimes God speaks through such experiences. We move through a day and sense something or get an impression of something. Once I worked with an amazing senior pastor. He would go calling on people but before he left he asked God to direct him to those who needed a visit. Then he would respond to the impressions that God gave him. Over and over again, he would visit someone when they were in need. But it is wise to test one’s impressions and hunches. What does the Bible say about one’s hunch? Is it from God or is it from someone else?
God speaks through visions and dreams. The Bible is filled with accounts of people having visions from God. The prophet Ezekiel saw many powerful visions. John had visions he wrote down and come to us in the Book of Revelation. God spoke several times to Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Tune into your dreams. God may be speaking to you through them. Pray for dreams and visions and God will give them to you. The Bible is clear that the Holy Spirit came on God’s people so that the old men will dream dreams and the young men will have visions and everyone will prophesy. Yet, don’t accept every dream as coming from God. Test them through Scripture.
God sometimes speaks in an audible voice. But more often he speaks in what the Bible calls “the still quiet voice.” This is the voice which speaks to our hearts. Sometimes his voice is not so still and quiet. One of the pivotal experiences of my life came when God spoke to me and asked me a simple question. I shudder to think what my life would be like had I not listened to him. God does speak to us. Sometimes it is dramatic and spectacular as the time when the disciples saw Jesus transfigured and heard the audible voice of God. Other times God’s voice is rather quiet. Regardless, you will be blessed if you hear what God is saying to you and do what God is calling you to do.
When it comes to listening to God there are three kinds of listeners. There are the passive listeners who tune God out. They don’t come to church to hear what God has to say to them. They really don’t want to hear from God. Then there are the selective listeners. They only listen to what they want to hear. They pick and choose. When it comes to listening to God, one cannot simply pick and choose. Then there are the aggressive listeners who come seeking to hear what God has to say. They want to hear from God regardless of how it might make them feel. They seek to do his will and be obedient to him. They want God to influence their lives. They want to do his will and be obedient to him. They want God to change them so they will become more and more like Jesus.
God is not silent. The Lord seeks to be in a close relationship with you. Relationship means listing to the Lord. The Lord God spoke to the disciples and he speaks to us today: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”