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Part 1 - Hearing God

Loving God – hearing God

 

It’s easy for us to say, ‘I love God.’

Maybe you paused a moment

when we took time in worship

for confession of sin,

and I read the words from our catechism

that say what makes our lives miserable

is that we have not loved God as we said.

It shocked you to hear the words:

‘. . .  I have a natural tendency

to hate God and my neighbor.’

 

Yet we are given life, created,

and redeemed in Jesus,

to love God and our neighbor.

Do you love God?

I don’t mean do you love

being blessed or being assured of forgiveness,

but that you love God with all that you are:

heart, soul, mind and strength,

living in deep joy and humility

because Jesus loves me, this I know.

For the next few Sundays

we’re going to focus on loving God.

Receiving God’s love,

living as those chosen for God’s love,

loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength . . . what helps us?

Today we’re going to start by exploring

‘hearing God.’

Those who live in God’s love listen to God.

 

‘God told me to . . .’

When was the last time

you started a conversation that way?

It’s not too often we use language that says,

‘I heard God saying to me . . .’

Yet the Bible considers this a real

and regular part of the relationship

between the Triune God and God’s people .

Not a physical, audible hearing with our ears

a voice,

but a real understanding of God’s word spoken to us.

For day in and day out the Lord has something to say to us.

We sang:

He walks with me and he talks with me

and he tells me I am his own . . .

Our hearts sang:

I heard the voice of Jesus say

come unto me and rest

We prayed in song:

Speak, O Lord, as we come to you . . .

 

We sing it, do we believe it?

I think we want to.

We desire to hear the voice of our Good Shepherd.

Love yearns for words and speech

and the voice of the beloved.

There are those times when

we feel we can go no further

until the Lord speaks and directs us.

The good news is the scripture says

we are meant to practice this

listening to, hearing and living by

every word that proceeds

from the mouth of the Lord.

 

Listening to God is a discipline.

We get the sense from Psalm 77

that meditating on the Lord and his works

took a great deal of effort,

the psalmist was stretching those faith muscles:

meditating,

listening for God,

straining to hear the Lord

in the middle of deep, painful, trying struggles:

‘I cried to the Lord for help’

‘I stretched out untiring hands’

‘I groaned, my spirit grew faint . . .’

and the psalmist questions God.

Three times in Psalm 77

the psalm writer shares meditating

while dealing with troubles and questions

in order to draw near to the Lord

and hear from God.

When Jesus taught he told us,

‘Whoever has ears to hear, listen . . .’

He’s implying hearing God isn’t automatic;

it takes devotion.

Later in John 10 he says as our Good Shepherd:

‘his sheep follow him because they know his voice.’

So how are we at listening to God?

What does it mean to meditate in the Lord

and on God’s works and commands?

 

First, we have to accept the grace and truth

that God does speak to us.

Since we are redeemed

in the love of Christ to love God,

that faith-relationship means

just as God will hear us in our prayers,

so we are made to hear the Lord.

Do you know how noisy this room is right now?

This room is filled

with all kinds of signals and sound waves.

But we don’t hear them

because we aren’t tuned to them.

See, if I take out my phone here,

I can connect to the internet

and through that to radio stations and . . .

[connect and play something

through phone into speaker]

See? All kinds of sounds and messages.

God is speaking to us all the time also.

Through the law of God.

Through the works of his hands in creation and redemption.

Through Jesus Christ, the living Word.

Through Scripture.

Through the shared witness of God’s people.

Faith tunes into the Triune God.

 

Okay, what do we tune in to?

What does Psalm 77 teach?

The psalmist makes the effort to

remember God’s holiness and divinity

and the Lord’s deeds of deliverance.

In verse 3:

I remembered you, God . . .

The Psalmist focuses on who God is:

Father, Creator, Deliverer, faithful,

holy, righteous, full of grace and truth.

The word from the psalm that defines this

for us is the word, ‘sought’:

vs 2: when I was in distress I sought the Lord.

Instead, so often, we choose to stay stuck

in our troubles, in our distress.

We are in conflict because in those trials

the Spirit is exposing in us

that we don’t love God as much as we love

our lifestyles or our own control . . .

our desire is more for ourselves than

delighting in God’s gracious kingdom.

And it’s hard to hear God

if we’re full of our own selfish thoughts.

To meditate on the Lord is to focus

on who God is . . .

holy, faithful, righteous, just and true,

merciful, gracious, always with us . . .

and then what God has done in his grace:

In verse 11-12:

I will remember the deeds of the Lord . . .

I will consider all your works

and meditate on your mighty deeds.

And the rest of the psalm is a meditation

on God leading Israel thru the sea

to exodus and freedom in the Lord.

This leads us to remember our Father in heaven’s

greatest act of deliverance,

the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross

to redeem you form your sin.

 

When I focus this way I encounter

the living word of God to me:

the Lord speaks to my listening ears and heart.

In Michael D O’Brien’s novel

‘Father Elijah: An Apocalypse –

A Christian debates with an atheist

and the atheist says he won’t believe:

because there only silence from heaven.

“Heaven is not silent,” says the Christian.

“I will never accept that,” says the atheist.

The Christian counters:

“Where were you when

pulpits proclaimed the truth and grace of God?

Did you heed the passages of Scripture

that speak of our times?”

And, “What could be louder than

the fact that his own Son

died in agony beneath a silent sky?”

 

Indeed, Jesus is our model and our assurance

that those who love God will hear God.

While Jesus shared our humanity

he spoke with and heard From the Father often.

A few times that conversation thundered

from heaven with a voice the crowds could hear.

Made in his image,

you and I are made to listen to this true God

who is called ‘the Word of God.’

Our meditation focuses on Jesus,

his sacrifice and his reign over us.

 

To the Christian God is not silent at all.

To say the Lord is silent says more about

human sin and inability to respond to God.

Scripture, pulpits, evidence in creation,

the cross of Jesus, all speak the word of God.

 

To hear the Lord

we must confess our own obstacles

to our listening:

busyness may be an obstacle:

not taking the time to be quiet,

to still our minds . . .

Are you too busy for God?

That’s your choice, you know.

Each of us has the same number of hours each day.

Each of us has a Sabbath day every week.

 

Sin is also an obstacle:

when we live disobediently

and don’t come to God in confession and repentance

we cannot hear God.

But hear this -

Too Deep for Words, by Thelma Hall:

It makes little difference

what treasure we may have clung to,

what seduction we may have succumbed to,

what resistance we may have energized in ourselves, to block our total surrender to the Lord.

There remains within us a love

that can be awakened by the sheer grace

of his love’s desire for us, if we fully accept it . . .

we find this incredibly difficult [this distance, this silence when it comes to God’s word and presence] . . . Most of us assume that union with Christ

is attained by laboriously ascending

a ladder of virtues,

which finally fashion our holiness

and make us fit for him.

In truth the reverse is far more accurate:

great saints are those who fully accept

God’s love for them.

It is this which makes everything else possible.

Will you accept the Lord’s love today?

Thank him for the cross he carried for you.

 

So second, in developing the discipline of meditating on God’s word and hearing the Lord

requires us to face the obstacles to our listening.

One consequence of our obstacles to hearing

is an assumption that

hearing God is random and automatic and quick.

But hearing God takes time.

God is not a God on demand.

Who are we to raise our fist to the heavens

and demand God to say or do something?

Who are we to go about our day

as if it were ours alone

and then expect God to speak to us

when it fits our schedule?

Hearing God comes by faith that is exercised.

It involves the word of God and prayer

and obedience and repentance,

tho these are not techniques

so much as the devotion of a humble heart.

Dallas Willard: Altho there are exceptions to the rule, God’s directive voice does not usually come to us

out of the blue . . .

when God speaks

and we recognize his voice as his voice,

we do so because our familiarity with that voice enables us to recognize it.

So to hear the words of the Lord

listen to scripture,

to the shared wisdom of the fellowship,

to sermons,

to the creeds and confessions,

through silence and solitude and community.

 

Do you know why we have a sermon each Sunday?

Sure, it is a thanksgiving to God for Jesus,

the living Word.

More, it is an exercise in faith, hope and love.

We expect the Lord to speak to us

and we expect to be listening for his grace.

IN sermons you and I begin to learn to hear the Lord

and take the first steps in meditating on his word.

As we learn to hear the Lord in worship

we are more likely to be ready to listen to the Lord

during the rest of the week.

Hearing God’s word to us is not a guessing game,

but happens in relationship with the Word, Jesus.

 

Notice that this Psalm doesn’t give us a step-by-step DIY on how to meditate.

No scripture does.

Because there isn’t one right way or process.

So receive this not as technique

but as an invitation to listening

for the word of the Lord.

 

Start with scripture – find a quiet place,

offer a brief prayer of expectation that the Lord

will speak his word to you.

Then read a few verses,

and read it a second time paying attention

to a word or phrase that grabs your attention.

Then focus on that word or phrase,

what does it say about who God is

and what God has done and is doing in Christ?

What is going on in your life

that yearns for a word from the Lord?

What is getting in the way of your love

for the Lord,

and is this verse or phrase speaking to that?

 

Then pray,

but first be silent,

don’t rush in prayer to request or intercession.

I think of it this way:

Who is in charge?

Who is in charge of the day?

Who is in charge of your life?

Who is in charge in your prayer?

So let the Lord lead the prayer, not your own agenda.

 

Then lastly rest in this word.

Can you remember this verse throughout your day?

Come back to it,

give thanks for this word?

 

Such a devotion

may lead you to hear God in creation,

in the events of the day,

as this scripture comes back to you

in a moment of thanks or trial.

We’re going to try this after the message in a moment.

But again,

don’t think of this as technique,

merely something like training wheels.

You may have other practices that

help you listen for the Lord.

 

one last thing:

God speaking to us is no guarantee

we will hear him correctly.

How do we know we are hearing God

and not just making it up in our minds

to hear what we want to hear?

We must test the spirits, says scripture.

Does this word lead us to follow Christ,

to repent, to rest assured in forgiveness?

Hebrews 1 - In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

So is this word I heard true to the Bible?

Then in more difficult moments

can you find one or two

trusted Christian friends with whom to share

and prayerfully find discernment?

And most importantly,

hearing God

should lead to obedience and trust.

God’s word should change us

should lead to faith, hope and love.

Scripture says:

Do not merely listen to the word,

and so deceive yourselves.

Do what it says.

 

The experience of not hearing God,

or being not sure,

or being met with silence

should not discourage us.

The point of listening

and submitting ourselves to hear the Lord

outweighs any success.

It’s not the experience that matters,

but the relationship of faith.

We listen and long to hear God

simply to be a child of the Father,

a sister or brother in the Lord.

Now we are ready to listen, to hear the Lord.

Jesus said:

9 “So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

Paraphrased by St John of the Cross:

Seek in reading the Bible,

and you will find in meditation on his Word;

knock in prayer

and it will be opened to you

in contemplation on his presence.

 

So let’s continue our worship by taking some time

to meditate on the word of the Lord . . .

 

Amens

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