(This is the second part in a series. Go here for the first part.)
We fail to listen, and yet one of our deepest, intimate longings is to have someone listen to us. We all long to be heard…and therapy offices are filled with people who are not being listened to in their most important relationships. In fact David Augsburger, a pastoral counseling professor at Fuller Theological Seminary says, “that being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable”. I wonder how our relationships would change…how we might change….if we approached every situation…every relationship with the intention of listening first.
It’s not that we can’t hear----maybe it’s just that our ears are distracted by God-other voices. I heard a story once of two men walking down a busy street in New York City. In the midst of horns blaring, people bustling, and subways whirling, one of the men said, “Aren’t the birds signing beautifully today.” The other man exclaimed, “What birds! How can you hear anything in this chaos?” To that the first man replied, “You can hear what your ears are trained to hear.” And he reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. As he let them fall to the sidewalk, several people passing by turned their heads and paused to search the pavement.” Though seeking material things might not be my biggest distraction or yours, certainly some other earthly treasure blocks our listening.
I guess at least for me, I know I need to learn how to listen better, so I can learn how to love more. I want to be a story-hearer and not just a story-teller. I want to find an internal quiet and stillness that will open me up to being changed. I want to become a better God-listener, so I can become more like the image-bearer I was intended to be.
Several years ago as I was reading through Thessalonians, I wrote this thought in the margin of my Bible. It is God’s will for me to pray without ceasing. How am I supposed to that? (Thess. 5:16-18). I remember asking several of you what “praying without ceasing” looked like in your life, and wondered how that was possible with all of the disruptions we have in our everyday world. I read books on prayer, read great theologians who studied prayer, and finally took several classes at Moody. I came to the conclusion that praying without ceasing had a lot to do with listening.
Turning back to the Scriptures we hear Paul tell the Romans that “merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight. (Rom. 2:13). James tells us that followers of Christ should “prove themselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers” (James 1:22). One day on the Mount near the Sea of Galilee, Jesus tells His disciples how they should live, how they should treat others; how they should pray; and how to journey through this life—and at the end of this Sermon (Mathew 5-7) He tells them that if they failed to hear His Words and to do them, they would be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Matt. 7:26). Obviously, we see from these examples that hearing is not enough.
The NET Bible translates the idiom “listen to the voice” to mean “obey.” In fact, the English word we translate as obedience literally means “listening from below”. Obedience is a deep listening, a listening of the whole person, a hearing with our ears and with our heart that leads to action. Howard Hendricks, a great theologian explained that listening and obedience are so intimately linked that “Biblically speaking, to hear and not to do is not to hear at all.”