Hearing God

“He who has ears, let him hear!” Matthew 13:9

During a doctor visit a man happened to mention his concern for his wife’s hearing. The doctor suggested a simple test, and the man tried it when he returned home. Standing about 20 feet behind his wife he said in a quiet voice, “Honey, what time is dinner?” No reply. He stepped to 10 feet and repeated the question softly. Silence. He then moved directly behind his wife and quietly said, “Honey, what time is dinner?” She turned around and said, “For the third time, it’s at 6:00!”

You can hear quite a few complaints about the way God speaks, and most of us have joined in that chorus at some point. David, more than once in a deep crisis, questioned God’s apparent silence. “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever” (Psalm 13:1). Like you and me, David had questions and needs, and wasn’t hearing any answers.

Jesus often noted the disconnect between God’s voice and our hearing. The verse for this week’s GraceWaves is a common exhortation usually following a parable. We think of the parables, and Jesus’ teaching in general, as very accessible. He taught clearly, and we sometimes pat ourselves on the back for understanding something that eluded the disciples.

Still we have all been in the position of wondering if God is speaking. We have ears, and we even want to hear, but nothing is coming through clearly. Is God silent?

First, God is never silent. Let me repeat, He is never silent. We live in a world that echoes with His voice, His grace, His providence. Without question part of the problem might be that we are standing in the brass section trying to hear the cello. But don’t think for a moment God is not trying to get His message across to you in countless ways.

The foreground noise is, I am sure, one reason Jesus sought out “lonely places.” He needed to hear the Voice in the background. If you don’t pay regular attention to your need for a quiet place, then don’t complain about not hearing God. The problem is not on His end.

Second, we must acknowledge the substance of the gospel is both plain and mysterious. Some parts are harder to hear. The fact of God’s love is fairly obvious and evident. We sing plenty of songs and preach plenty of messages about God’s love. This is the “all about me” part of the gospel that we hear eagerly.

But part of the gospel also is the need to deny self, to be last of all, and servant of all. Ironically, the oft-heard complaint about irrelevant worship (e.g. “I’m just not being fed.”) comes from people who simply do not want to hear anything about denying self. They want their self satisfied and catered to. The complaint arises from the very area that needs to be addressed. The fact is, God is speaking to the need for all of us to set aside personal agendas for the sake of the gospel, but we are simply unwilling to hear.

Can we seriously blame God at this point? The stoniness of this kind of soil is no reflection on the effectiveness of the sower. Instead of constantly fretting about a twisted notion of “being all things to all people,” the church will do better to stick with the gospel and acknowledge that some people are simply not asking the right questions. We should not expend great energy chasing an audience that really is not all that interested in being caught.

Your task this week is to listen twice as much as you speak (our anatomy speaks for itself: one mouth, two ears). Open the Bible. God has a word for you. Listen to a friend’s struggles, and pray together. You can almost hear Jesus’ frustration, but let’s accept the challenge. You have ears! Use them!


Dr. Terry Ellis

November 7, 2011