In this third of our Advent reflections, we consider the importance of developing a listening ear, in order to grow our faith and vision for the challenges, opportunities and mission of our day.
When I served in the army as part of National Service in Singapore, we were taught one basic rule in order to get-by in the military: ‘All you have to do is make sure you’ve obeyed the last order!’
Easier heard than done though. Similarly, many Christians have trouble hearing or giving priority to God’s voice in their life, let alone obeying it. His still, small voice so easily loses out to the cacophony of voices and noises, including their own, vying for prerogative.
But God longs to find us waiting to meet with him, that we may hear his voice and commune with him daily. Jesus told us that His Father, incredibly, actively seeks those who will worship him in Spirit and in truth (John 4: 24).
Did you know that what God’s first recorded question in Scripture is – it was the searching call: ‘Where are you?’ (Gen 3:9). God apparently has a habit of walking in the garden with them in the cool of the day (verse 8). Adam and Eve, having sinned and hearing the sound of God’s approach, realized in their shame, they were not fit anymore to meet with him. They did what any sane sinner would: they took cover and hid – not ever asking how one plays ‘hide-and-seek’ with an all-seeing God.
But sin does more than keep us shamefully hiding in guilt from an omnipresent holy God. It also deadens our ability to hear his voice. The prophets God sent to Israel found God’s people both hard of hearing and heart.
Jesus often ended teaching moments with an enigmatic challenge: ‘To him who has ears to hear, let him hear.’ Clearly, he was addressing those who were longing to respond to the voice of God, not ignore, refute or question it. Above the din of religious legalism, imperial oppression and the struggle to survive, such followers were ready to hear and heed his word, recognizing them as having divine weight and authority. ‘You have the words of eternal life,’ said Peter in John 6:68.
And as they listened, faith took hold. For the listening ear is a door to a converted soul. ‘Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.’ (Romans 10:17). When the searching voice of God finds people willing and ready to listen, transactions of eternal value are affected.
The very Word that spoke creation into being, finding entrance in the dark chaotic voids within us, does the ever-novel work of creating light and life once more. In Christ, God speaks to us – through the words of Scripture and through the activity of the Spirit.
But these are days when many Christians struggle to hear God. We are so easily distracted by the booming sounds of our own plans, the haunting melodies of illegitimate desires, screaming ambitions and the sheer noise of the world around. Listening does not come easy to us who are at the beck and call of trivia on screens, blue-tooth ear-pieces and the ever-haunting social media.
But Jesus was not so easily distracted – he had ears only for God (see John 8:26, 28), And he expects that we too will learn first to hear his voice (see John 10:3-5).
Witness then the posture of the true listener – of Mary, who to her sister’s chagrin, took the lowly place at her master’s feet, hooked on Jesus’ every word (Luke 10:39). Or of three disciples who find themselves literally floored when, on that unique mountain-top experience with the transfigured Christ, they learn that God doesn’t need advisors or consultants, but servants at the ready – ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’ (Mark 9:7).
Ultimately, we must learn to listen to Jesus before we can speak or act for him. Listening is a critical precursor to obedience (Matthew 7:24-27, Luke 6:46, John 14:24, James 1:22, etc.).
This Advent season may God help us daily to make space to hear him – to turn off our phones and devices, to listen, reflect and obey his every word and the wonder of his first coming in history, in preparation for his future return.