Day 24

How to Listen to God

Wisdom Proverbs 3:1-10
New Testament Matthew 16:21-17:13
Old Testament Genesis 47:13-48:22

Introduction

Suppose I go to the doctor and say, ‘Doctor, I have a lot of problems: I twisted my knee... my eyes itch... my finger is swollen... I have backache...’ Then, having got through my list of complaints, I look at my watch and say, ‘Goodness me, time is getting on. I must be off.’ The doctor might say, ‘Hang on, do you not want to hear what I have to say?’

If we only speak to God and never take time to listen, we make the same mistake. We do all the talking and we don’t actually listen to him. But our relationship with God is meant to be a two-way conversation. When I’m praying, I find it helpful to write down thoughts that come into my mind that may come from the Spirit of God.

In a media-saturated age we have many voices that come to us on TV, radio, the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email and text message. We have the voices of family, friends and colleagues. And sometimes we have the voice of Satan tempting us to disbelieve God’s word and to doubt that God has our best interests at heart.

How do you hear the voice of God in the midst of the noise and distractions of life?

Wisdom

Proverbs 3:1-10

Wisdom Bestows Well-Being

3My son, do not forget my teaching,
  but keep my commands in your heart,
2 for they will prolong your life many years
  and bring you peace and prosperity.

3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you;
  bind them around your neck,
  write them on the tablet of your heart.
4 Then you will win favor and a good name
  in the sight of God and man.

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart
  and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
  and he will make your paths straight.

7 Do not be wise in your own eyes;
  fear the Lord and shun evil.
8 This will bring health to your body
  and nourishment to your bones.

9 Honor the Lord with your wealth,
  with the firstfruits of all your crops;
10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
  and your vats will brim over with new wine.

Commentary

Listen to God’s voice in the Scriptures

The main way in which God speaks to us is through what he has already spoken in the Scriptures – his ‘teaching’ and ‘commands’ (v.1). As you read the Bible, pray that God will speak to you and that you will hear his voice.

‘Don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track’ (vv.5–6, MSG).

Learning verses in the Bible is one of the ways you can write God’s word on the ‘tablet of your heart’ (v.3). Pippa and I learnt these verses on our honeymoon and have tried to live by them.

  1. Be guided by ‘Love and Loyalty’

    These should be our guiding principles in every decision we take. ‘Love and Loyalty’ (v.3, MSG) should be deeply embedded in our hearts. Loyalty means, for example, speaking about others as if they were present. We establish trust in those who are present by our loyalty to those who are not present. If you live like this, God promises you a good reputation ‘in God’s eyes and the eyes of the people’ (v.4, MSG).

  2. Run to God! Run from evil!

    We are to trust in God rather than becoming arrogant and thinking that we are clever. Fear of God, in the sense of healthy respect for him, should lead us to ‘Run to God! Run from evil!’ (v.7, MSG). God promises that ‘this will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones’ (v.8). In other words, there is a connection between the spiritual and the physical.

  3. Become a generous giver

    It really matters what you do with your money. Give God ‘the first and the best’ (v.9, MSG) (that is, the first part of your income not the last). I have found this to be an extraordinary principle; that if you get your giving right, you discover the truth of the promise that God will supply all your needs: ‘your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine’ (v.10).

Prayer

Lord, help me not just to read your words, but to learn them, live by them and to bring honour to your name.

New Testament

Matthew 16:21-17:13

Jesus Predicts His Death

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

The Transfiguration

17After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

10 The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12 But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

Commentary

Listen to God through the words of Jesus

The words of Jesus are the words of God. God says, ‘Listen to him’ (17:5). When you read Jesus’ words and take them to heart, you are listening to God.

Jesus warns his disciples to expect attack. We are never going to avoid criticism (16:21). Twice in this passage Jesus talks to his disciples about the suffering he is going to experience – explaining to them about the cross and resurrection (16:21; 17:9–12).

However, rather than listening to Jesus, Peter argues with him (16:22). Jesus’ rebuke to Peter is of profound importance. In every key decision we take, we must ask ourselves whether we have in mind the concerns of God or human concerns (v.23). What Jesus is saying to Peter is the heart of his mission and it has huge implications for all of his followers (vv.24–28).

We are not to seek a life of comfort and security. Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What kind of deal is it to get everything you want but lose yourself? What could you ever trade your soul for?’ (vv.24–26, MSG).

Following Jesus involves denying yourself, taking up your cross and following him (v.24). This is the way to find life in all its fullness.

Wealth, in one sense, is utterly pointless. Purpose in life is far more important than property or possessions. All the money in the world, all the success in the world, all the fame in the world, all the power in the world is nothing if you lose your soul (v.26) and miss out on what life is all about.

On the other hand, if you follow Jesus and surrender your life to him, you find the very purpose of life. The words of Jesus are extraordinarily powerful. There has never been a time when it is more important to ‘listen to him’ than now!

Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain. Jesus’ appearance changed right before their eyes. ‘Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realised that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him’ (17:1–3, MSG). They heard God say, ‘This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him’ (v.5, MSG).

As Moses and Elijah talked with Jesus, so you too can live a life ‘talking with Jesus’. Your experience may not be as visual or auditory as that of the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration, but you too can know the presence of Jesus in your life. Through reading his words and meditating on them, you can experience a conversation with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

You can, in a sense, look into his face, which shines ‘like the sun’ (v.2). You can fall down in worship (v.6). It can feel as if Jesus is actually touching you and saying to you ‘do not be afraid’ (v.7). And there are times when you may look up and see ‘no one except Jesus’ (v.8).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that when I lose my life for you, I find it. Help me to listen to your voice and to follow you, daily.

Old Testament

Genesis 47:13-48:22

Joseph and the Famine

13 There was no food, however, in the whole region because the famine was severe; both Egypt and Canaan wasted away because of the famine. 14 Joseph collected all the money that was to be found in Egypt and Canaan in payment for the grain they were buying, and he brought it to Pharaoh’s palace. 15 When the money of the people of Egypt and Canaan was gone, all Egypt came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? Our money is all gone.”

16 “Then bring your livestock, ” said Joseph. “I will sell you food in exchange for your livestock, since your money is gone. ” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and he gave them food in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys. And he brought them through that year with food in exchange for all their livestock.

18 When that year was over, they came to him the following year and said, “We cannot hide from our lord the fact that since our money is gone and our livestock belongs to you, there is nothing left for our lord except our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we perish before your eyes —we and our land as well? Buy us and our land in exchange for food, and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh. Give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.”

20 So Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh. The Egyptians, one and all, sold their fields, because the famine was too severe for them. The land became Pharaoh’s, 21 and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from the allotment Pharaoh gave them. That is why they did not sell their land.

23 Joseph said to the people, “Now that I have bought you and your land today for Pharaoh, here is seed for you so you can plant the ground. 24 But when the crop comes in, give a fifth of it to Pharaoh. The other four-fifths you may keep as seed for the fields and as food for yourselves and your households and your children.”

25 “You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.”

26 So Joseph established it as a law concerning land in Egypt—still in force today—that a fifth of the produce belongs to Pharaoh. It was only the land of the priests that did not become Pharaoh’s.

27 Now the Israelites settled in Egypt in the region of Goshen. They acquired property there and were fruitful and increased greatly in number.

28 Jacob lived in Egypt seventeen years, and the years of his life were a hundred and forty-seven. 29 When the time drew near for Israel to die, he called for his son Joseph and said to him, “If I have found favor in your eyes, put your hand under my thigh and promise that you will show me kindness and faithfulness. Do not bury me in Egypt, 30 but when I rest with my fathers, carry me out of Egypt and bury me where they are buried.”

“I will do as you say,” he said.

31 “Swear to me,” he said. Then Joseph swore to him, and Israel worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

Manasseh and Ephraim

48Some time later Joseph was told, “Your father is ill.” So he took his two sons Manasseh and Ephraim along with him. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel rallied his strength and sat up on the bed.

3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and there he blessed me 4 and said to me, ‘I am going to make you fruitful and increase your numbers. I will make you a community of peoples, and I will give this land as an everlasting possession to your descendants after you.’

5 “Now then, your two sons born to you in Egypt before I came to you here will be reckoned as mine; Ephraim and Manasseh will be mine, just as Reuben and Simeon are mine. 6 Any children born to you after them will be yours; in the territory they inherit they will be reckoned under the names of their brothers. 7 As I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died in the land of Canaan while we were still on the way, a little distance from Ephrath. So I buried her there beside the road to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem).

8 When Israel saw the sons of Joseph, he asked, “Who are these?”

9 “They are the sons God has given me here,” Joseph said to his father.

Then Israel said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.”

10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of old age, and he could hardly see. So Joseph brought his sons close to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them.

11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, and now God has allowed me to see your children too.”

12 Then Joseph removed them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 And Joseph took both of them, Ephraim on his right toward Israel’s left hand and Manasseh on his left toward Israel’s right hand, and brought them close to him. 14 But Israel reached out his right hand and put it on Ephraim’s head, though he was the younger, and crossing his arms, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, even though Manasseh was the firstborn.

15 Then he blessed Joseph and said,

 “May the God before whom my fathers
  Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
 the God who has been my shepherd
  all my life to this day,
16 the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
  —may he bless these boys.
 May they be called by my name
  and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
 and may they increase greatly
  on the earth.”

17 When Joseph saw his father placing his right hand on Ephraim’s head he was displeased; so he took hold of his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to him, “No, my father, this one is the firstborn; put your right hand on his head.”

19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a people, and he too will become great. Nevertheless, his younger brother will be greater than he, and his descendants will become a group of nations. ” 20 He blessed them that day and said,

 “In your name will Israel pronounce this blessing:
  ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh. ’”

So he put Ephraim ahead of Manasseh.

21 Then Israel said to Joseph, “I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. 22 And to you I give one more ridge of land than to your brothers, the ridge I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow.”

Commentary

Listen to God throughout your life

As Jacob came to the end of his life and looked back at all God’s blessings (in spite of all the trials and difficulties), he ‘worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff’ (47:31). He recognised that God had led him throughout his life. It is an evocative picture of a person who has lived a life in close relationship with God, listening to him and his wisdom. He recalled how God spoke to him and gave him a vision for his life (48:3–4). He is able to say ‘God… has been my shepherd all my life’ (v.15).

Jacob also recognised that God had led his son Joseph in an extraordinary way. Because Joseph had learned to listen to God, he was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and, as a result, he saw great blessing. Not only did he save the lives of God’s people, he also saved the lives of all Egypt (47:25). As Jacob’s life draws to a close he blesses Joseph’s sons, expressing his trust in God’s promises and blessings for the future.

When the writer of Hebrews comments on Jacob’s life of faith, he focuses on this incident: ‘By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshipped as he leaned on the top of his staff’ (Hebrews 11:21). As he came to the end of his life, Jacob’s trust in God did not peter out. He ended with a flourish of faith.

Remain faithful in worship and listen to God throughout your life. Trust God to lead and guide the next generation – that they too will listen to the voice of the Shepherd (see John 10:3–4).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you promise to lead me and speak to me. Help me to listen to you daily and throughout my life.

Pippa adds

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart… In all your ways submit to him’ (Proverbs 3:5–6). ‘All your heart… all your ways’ – that means wholehearted, total commitment to God. Are there things you are worried about in your life at the moment: successes, worries, fears that you might need to re-commit to God, to make sure they are, and remain, ‘totally’ committed to God?

Verse of the Day

Proverbs 3:5

‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart’
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References

The One Year® is a registered trademark of Tyndale House Publishers. Used by permission.

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.

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