Getting to Know God Meditations: 26. God of Communication (5)
Prov 1:5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance
Mt 10:14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen (hear & accept) to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
Jas 1:22: Do not merely listen (hear words) to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
Jas 4:13 Now listen (& pay attention), you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
Differences: There is a distinct difference between hearing and listening. We live fairly near the flight path of a relatively small airport. It deals with short-haul carriers especially going to holiday destinations. From 6.30am each morning, depending which direction they are taking off, we may have half a dozen noisy flights taking off in the next half hour – but we hardly hear them, we frequently don’t even notice them. (In fact this morning I was only aware of one flight when in fact Departures tell me there have been seven going over us!) Friends who come to stay are troubled by the sound of the outgoing flights; they are not used to the sound. People who live near busy railway lines tend to experience the same thing – they just don’t notice the passing trains. What we get used to, what becomes so familiar to us, fades into the background. That is the problem with ‘hearing’.
When we put on a piece of music, perhaps on the radio, it is easy for it to fade into the background and it just becomes enjoyable audible wallpaper, something there in the background we hardly notice. But then comes on a programme with contentious discussed material and suddenly we are caught by certain words and our attention is grabbed and suddenly we are listening. Listening involves purpose or intent. The danger for the Christian, whether it is reading the written word, the Bible, or hearing it preached, is that repetition can so easily change listening into hearing and the import and impact is lost.
When it comes to the Bible, again and again we need to pray with the psalmist, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” (Psa 119:18) What he means is show me the reality of what is here before me, let it come alive, speak to me through it, let me hear your voice through it. With that attitude we change hearing into listening. In an earlier study we noted how God ‘speaks’ through Creation, through the Bible and through Jesus, and what we have just been saying applies equally to each of those: we can be so familiar with each of them we don’t listen and indeed ‘hearing’ simply fades into the background and loses its import and impact.
A Facet of Wisdom: In our starter verses above I have inserted the heart of the word in three of them to draw our attention to what it is saying. Solomon, writing the Proverbs, comes as a teacher, a term he used when he wrote Ecclesiastes, another book he wrote with the intent of teaching us about life. So in our first verse we find him exhorting us, “let the wise listen and add to their learning.” (Prov 1:5) That is interesting because he is addressing ‘the wise’. A wise person is usually considered to be someone who has experience and out of that has grown knowledge and understanding and good judgment. A wise person has learnt and so he says ‘listen’ and you will add to your learning. This is why Jesus taught, “Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mt 13:12) A wise person never stops learning, they always have a teachable heart, they have an openness to taking in more – they are listening, hearing with purpose and intent. It starts of course with knowing God, which is why, I believe, this series is so important: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” (Prov 1:7) and, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Psa 11:10)
An Expression of Acceptance: Jesus, when sending out his disciples, instructed them, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.“ (Mt 10:14). It is clear that he means if people hear what you say but refuse to accept it, then just leave them. We sometimes hear someone say, “They just wouldn’t listen to a word I said!” What they are meaning is that that person heard what they were saying but refused to accept it. And here is another of those problems with the God who communicates: many people hear – through observing Creation, observing the Bible, observing Jesus – but refuse to listen, refuse to accept what is before them, God seeking to communicate with them. I have often said that I believe that God speaks to every single person on the planet. It may not be through the Bible or through Jesus (if they don’t have the Bible or have not heard of Jesus) but they hear through Creation and through their conscience. I suspect He also prompts and prods people in their minds to think about the big issues of life. (You will find the apostle Paul talking about this in Romans 2).
An expression of a good heart: Obedience to God is part of wisdom. There is an aspect of hearing and indeed listening that can reveal folly. I once had a five hour discussion with someone about God, the Bible, Jesus, Christianity and faith and at the end of five hours they said, “I have heard all you said, I think I understand all you said and I can go along with it, but the truth is I like being a sinner and so I cannot accept it,” and with that they got up and left. This is a true story. At least that person was being honest, although the truth is that they did not comprehend three things: first, how wonderful God is and how wonderful it is to have a living relationship with Him and, second, they did not comprehend the true state of their own life and the ongoing consequences of continuing down the path they were following, and so, third, they did not understand the awfulness of a life and an eternity without God.
However, as we said, at least they were seeking to be honest, but can the same be said for the person who simply intellectualizes the truth but never lets it impact and change them, the person who hears the word but doesn’t apply it. James wrote, “Do not merely listen (hear words) to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” It is a warning that Jesus brought when he told the parable of the two house builders and he said, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like…..” (Mt 7:24) and went on to talk about a man who built his house on rock that would withstand the storms of life. He contrasted it with a man who built on sand, whose life could not withstand the storms of life (see Mt 7:24-27). Hearing here means hearing the words, taking them, and responding to them with obedience.
Listening as a need: In the final quote, James again brought a further warning as an example of the need to listen. When a wise person is speaking, the wise listen. “Now listen you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” (Jas 4:13) He was chiding the wisdom of the fool who speaks unwisely. The Message paraphrase version expresses it, “ And now I have a word for you who brashly announce, “Today—at the latest, tomorrow—we’re off to such and such a city for the year. We’re going to start a business and make a lot of money.” You don’t know the first thing about tomorrow. You’re nothing but a wisp of fog, catching a brief bit of sun before disappearing. Instead, make it a habit to say, “If the Master wills it and we’re still alive, we’ll do this or that.” (Jas 4:13-15) The exhortation is to a specific group of people who think and speak unwisely. We leave that group when we start ‘listening’, paying attention to what God says, learning from it, and obeying it.
And So? It is all very well to think about and study aspects of the God who communicates, but He always communicates with a purpose. Familiarity with some of these things for some of us who have been Christians a long while, may mean that hearing has been dulled and we are no longer listening attentively to our Lord. The peak of folly that I have experienced, I believe, came with a not very clever man who said to me one day, “I don’t think you can teach me anything. I have learnt it all.” And he meant it!!!! And he left. When God speaks it is the fool who does not listen. May that not be you and me.