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Listening to God

by Tim O'Hearn

Over the past ten or so years one of the watchwords in the field of management has been "communication." And one of the things emphasized in communication is two way communication. The essence of two way communication is the art of listening. If both parties are not listening to each other, you have one way communication (or possibly, no-way communication).

As the man born blind says, based on the scriptures, "We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will." (John 9:31) To make the circle complete, then, we must be willing to listen to God. Over the years we see that the most successful people in Godís view were those that listened to Him.

Thatís not to say that they always listened to God.

For example, Moses didnít want to listen to Him when he argued with the voice from the burning bush. (Exodus 3, 4). Moses was more concerned about himself than listening to God. In fact, because Moses wouldnít listen, God became angry with him (Ex 4:14) What was God trying to tell him? "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt," God said. Then he told Moses: I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. (Ex 3:7-8) He has told Moses that He (God) will do the work. What is Moses first response? "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (v. 11) He had not listened to God. God says "I will deliver." Moses says, "I canít deliver." God answers: "I will be with you."

Next Moses says, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ĎThe God of your ancestors has sent me to you,í and they ask me, ĎWhat is his name?í what shall I say to them?" God says essentially the same thing again. "I AM WHO I AM. Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ĎI AM has sent me to you.í" He again repeats what he originally said about seeing the plight of Israel, and that He will deliver them. "But they wonít believe you appeared to me," is Mosesí next response at the start of chapter 4. He is still not listening to God, but thinking in terms of himself. God provides him with three signs of power; things which Moses could not do by his own abilities. He is still telling Moses that it is by His power, and not that of Moses, that Israel will be saved. Moses is still not listening.

Moses tries again to argue with God. In Exodus 4:10 he says, "I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue." Note the emphasis is still on the "I." God responds, "I made your mouth," as if to say that He knows what Moses can or can not do.

When Moses finally says, "Send whom you will send," (in the New Revised Standard Version it is paraphrased "Send someone else") God finally gets angry. Why is God angry? Simply put, itís because Moses has not been listening to Him. Every time Moses asked what he could do to deliver his people, God told him he wasnít the deliverer, God was. You almost feel like slapping Moses upside the head and saying, "Listen to God. For once, just listen to God."

Moses finally listened.

What happened when he did? He became the first great prophet of Israel. How do we know he listened? Scripture tells us so. The phrase, "Did as the Lord commanded Moses" appears thirty times in Exodus, and 42 times in the Pentateuch. Moses, of course, is not the only example in scripture of one who listened. One could mention Abraham, David, and Samuel. In the New Testament we see Peter, Paul, and the Ethiopian. All achieved greatness because they listened to God.

On the other hand, Jesus said, "Whoever is from God hears the words of God. The reason you do not hear them is that you are not from God." (John 8:47) The word "hear" in this context includes not just the physical act of hearing, but also listening and acting upon what is heard. Many "hear" the word of God, but do not listen. Paulís companions on the road to Damascus heard something, but they did not hear in this sense.

God is very clear about what will happen to those who will not listen to him—and it is not pleasant! While most of the Old Testament scriptures speak of the nation of Israel as a whole, they apply equally to individuals. Before Godís people were taken into captivity, God had this to say through Isaiah: "I will destine you to the sword, and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter; because, when I called, you did not answer, when I spoke, you did not listen, but you did what was evil in my sight, and chose what I did not delight in." (Isa 65:12) Years later, after the return from captivity, Nehemiah acknowledges the reason for their punishment. "Many years you were patient with them, and warned them by your spirit through your prophets; yet they would not listen. Therefore you handed them over to the peoples of the lands." (Neh 9:30) The prophets were very clear that the reason for the captivity of the nation was that the people would not listen to God.

The psalmist of Psalm 81:11-12 also blamed the error of Israel on not listening. "But my people did not listen to my voice; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, to follow their own counsels." This sounds a lot like Paulís words in Rom 1:28-32:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know Godís decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die--yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

In a similar vein, Jesus and Paul both quoted Isaiah, saying, "And he said, "Go and say to this people: ĎKeep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.í Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed." (Isa 6:9-10, quoted in Matt 13:15 and Acts 28:27-28) All it takes to be healed of sin is to look, listen, comprehend, and obey.

Do we want to achieve greatness?

Few would answer "no." When he started listening, Moses became great in Godís eyes. If we start to listen to God, we can be as great as Moses. We may never achieve his stature in manís way of thinking. But to God we will be just as great, because we will have done no less than Moses--no less than God demands of each of us. "To draw near to listen is better than the sacrifice offered by fools; for they do not know how to keep from doing evil." (Eccl 5:1)