Listen to God
Listen to God
In all our relationships, listening is very important. As the philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich put it, ‘The first duty of love is to listen’.
Some people are very good at listening. General George Marshall said, ‘Formula for handling people:
- Listen to the other person’s story.
- Listen to the other person’s full story.
- Listen to the other person’s full story first.’
Listening to God is one of the keys to your relationship with him. ‘To listen’, means to hear attentively, ‘to pay attention to’. Prayer means giving God your full attention first.
Listen to God speak to you through the PsalmsPsalm 81:8-16
We all experience physical hunger, which can only be satisfied by food. You also have a spiritual hunger, which can only be satisfied by listening to God. God says, ‘If you would but listen to me…’ (v.8b).
The words of God satisfy your spiritual hunger. God promises, ‘Open wide your mouth and I will fill it’ (v.10). If you listen to him he says, ‘You would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you’ (v.16).
On the one hand, he says, ‘Listen, dear ones’ (v.8a, MSG). God wants the best for you, and warns of the perils of ignoring him. He continues, ‘But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices’ (vv.11–12). The result of not listening to God is that he gives us over to the consequences of our own actions (see also, Romans 1:24,26).
On the other hand, he promises that if you do listen to him he will act on your behalf: ‘If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies’ (Psalm 81:13–14a).
Lord, thank you that each day I can listen to you and be satisfied as with ‘the finest of wheat’. Help me each day to pay attention to what you say, and then to trust you to act on my behalf.
Listen to God speak to you through the apostlesActs 26:24-27:12
The apostle Paul was God’s messenger. God spoke through him. Those who were listening to Paul in this passage had the opportunity to listen to God.
When Paul was sailing to Rome, the centurion, ‘instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship’ (27:11). His failure to listen to Paul was almost disastrous.
In the first part of the passage we see Paul in chains before Festus and Agrippa. He was telling the good news about Jesus, his death and resurrection. Festus said, ‘You are out of your mind… your great learning is driving you insane’ (26:24). He says, ‘Paul, you’re crazy!’ (v.24, MSG). Some people have always thought, and still do, that Christians are just ‘a little crazy’.
Paul’s response was, ‘I am not insane… What I am saying is true and reasonable’ (v.25). He did not reply, ‘Yes, it is all a bit crazy but I believe it.’ He refused to accept the suggestion that his beliefs were irrational.
Paul argued that there is a rational basis for faith. There are good reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Our faith is ‘true and reasonable’ (v.25). We should not be afraid to present logical and reasonable arguments. We need intelligent presentations of the gospel.
However, reason alone is not enough. Before I became a Christian, I had listened to the arguments and the reasons for faith. Not all of my questions had been answered. Nevertheless, I took a step of faith based on what I had heard about Jesus. The moment I took the step of faith it was as if my eyes had been opened and I understood much of what I had not seen before.
Reason will only take us so far. However, when we are trying to persuade people, as Paul was, to follow Jesus, it is important to explain that the message about Jesus is ‘true and reasonable’.
Agrippa’s response to Paul was, ‘“Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”’ (vv.28–29).
Paul did not mind whether people became Christians through a crisis (‘short time’) or through a process (‘long time’). But he did all in his power to persuade them to become Christians, as he had. Paul was not ashamed to pray that people would become what he was (Galatians 4:12).
Paul had done nothing deserving death or imprisonment (Acts 26:31), yet the civil authorities found a rather pathetic excuse for not setting him free (v.32). This was unjust and unreasonable. It must have been deeply frustrating for Paul.
Yet here we are, 2,000 years later, listening to the words that Paul spoke on that occasion, and through them having the opportunity to listen to God.
Lord, may we become like Paul in his faith and passion. As we tell the good news about Jesus may people have a sense that in listening to us they are listening to God.
Listen to God speak to you through the prophets2 Kings 16:1-17:41
God allowed Israel to be taken captive and led away into exile because they refused to listen to him.
The history of this period in the book of 2 Kings could be summed up in the words ‘not listen’: ‘They would not listen... They would not listen’ (17:14,40). As we saw yesterday, all the problems the kings and the people of God faced were the result of not listening to God.
God spoke to his people through his servants the prophets. ‘God had taken a stand against Israel and Judah, speaking clearly through countless holy prophets and seers time and time again... But they wouldn’t listen’ (vv.13–14, MSG).
This was the reason they went into exile: ‘The exile came about because of sin: The children of Israel sinned against God... They did all kinds of things on the sly, things offensive to their God’ (vv.7–9, MSG).
‘They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do.”’ (v.15). The result of not listening was that the people of Israel lost the presence of God and were sent into exile in Assyria: ‘he thrust them from his presence… the Lord removed them from his presence’ (vv.20,23).
Like us, so often, they had not been ruthless enough about sin in their lives: ‘They honoured and worshiped God, but not exclusively... They don’t really worship God – they don’t take seriously what he says regarding how to behave and what to believe’ (vv.32,34 MSG). ‘They didn’t pay any attention. They kept doing what they’d always done’ (v.40, MSG).
Do you sometimes find that your heart is divided between following God and following your own desires? Guard yourself against complacency or carelessness – allowing sin to creep in. Don’t let the enemy lead you into disobeying God.
The truth is that God’s desire is always to bless us. His commands and instruction are given so that you might flourish (see Deuteronomy 6:1–3).
We see this in the fortunes of the different kings of Israel and Judah. The writer of 1 and 2 Kings gives us a thumbnail assessment of whether each king did what was right in the eyes of the Lord. Every one of the kings of Israel is described as doing ‘evil in the eyes of the Lord’ (2 Kings 17:2), and it leads to the early destruction of the kingdom (v.8).
In contrast, around half of the kings of Judah are described in broadly positive terms, and around half in broadly negative terms. Under the ‘good’ kings Judah flourished, and its history is much longer and more positive than Israel’s. The reigns of the ‘good’ kings were generally longer than those of the ‘evil’ kings. The twelve evil kings reigned for a combined total of 130 years, whereas the ten good kings reigned for a total of 343 years. The ‘good’ kings still faced all kinds of difficulties and challenges, and following God is no guarantee of an easy life. Yet their example is a powerful reminder of the blessings and wisdom of listening to and following God.
Lord, help me to listen carefully to what you say. Deliver me from secret sins. May I be quick to ask for help – that I may never allow sin to creep into my life. Help me not simply to do what the people around me do. Rather, help me to listen to your voice, follow you and enjoy your presence with me.
2 Kings 17:41
‘Even while these people were worshipping the Lord, they were serving their idols.’
Sometimes when I’m worshipping in church, I start focusing on something else, like how nice someone’s shoes are or whether I should cook fish or chicken for lunch! My heart is rather divided too.
Verse of the Day
‘Listen…I’m God, your God…’ (Psalm 81:8–10 MSG).
General George Marshall, quoted in Alfred Montapert, Distilled Wisdom: An Encyclopedia of Wisdom in Condensed Form, (Prentice Hall, 1964), p.241.
Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible, (Faithwords, 2018) p.593.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.