As I sat in the auditorium, I faced the pastor with my eyes fixed on him. My posture suggested I was absorbing everything he was saying. Suddenly I heard everybody laughing and clapping. Surprised, I looked about. The preacher had apparently said something humorous, but I had no clue what it might have been. From all appearances I had been listening carefully, but in reality my mind was far away.
It’s possible to hear what is being said but not listen, to watch but not see, to be present and yet absent. In such a condition, we may miss important messages meant for us.
As Ezra read God’s instructions to the people of Judah, “All the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law” (Neh. 8:3). Their attention to the explanation produced understanding (v. 8), which resulted in their repentance and revival. In another situation in Samaria, Philip, after persecution of the believers broke out in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), reached out to the Samaritan people. The crowd not only observed the miraculous signs he did, but they also “paid close attention to what he said” (v. 6). “So there was great joy in that city” (v. 8).
The mind can be like a wandering adventurer that misses a lot of excitement close by. Nothing deserves more attention than words that help us discover the joy and wonder of our Father in heaven.
Early in my days of working as an editor for Our Daily Bread, I selected the cover verse for each month’s devotional. After a while, I began to wonder if this duty made a difference.
Not long after that, a reader wrote and described how she had prayed for her son for more than twenty years, yet he wanted nothing to do with Jesus. Then one day he stopped by to visit her, and he read the verse on the cover of the booklet that sat on her table. The Spirit used those words to convict him, and he gave his life to Jesus at that very moment.
I don’t recall the verse or the woman’s name. But I’ll never forget the clarity of God’s message to me that day. He had chosen to answer a woman’s prayers through a verse selected nearly a year earlier. From a place beyond time, He brought the wonder of His presence to my work and His words.
John the disciple called Jesus “the Word of life” (1 John 1:1). He wanted everyone to know what that meant. “We proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us,” he wrote of Jesus (v. 2). “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us” (v. 3).
There is nothing magical in putting words on a page. But there is life-changing power in the words of Scripture because they point us to the Word of life—Jesus.
One difficult part of growing older is the fear of dementia and the loss of short-term memory. But Dr. Benjamin Mast, an expert on the topic of Alzheimer’s disease, offers some encouragement. He says that patients’ brains are often so “well worn” and “habitual” that they can hear an old hymn and sing along to every word. He suggests that spiritual disciplines such as reading Scripture, praying, and singing hymns cause truth to become “embedded” in our brains, ready to be accessed when prompted. In Psalm 119:11, we read how the power of hiding God’s words in our heart can keep us from sinning. It can strengthen us, teach us obedience, and direct our footsteps (vv. 28, 67, 133). This in turn gives us hope and understanding (vv. 49, 130). Even when we begin to notice memory slips in ourselves or in the life of a loved one, God’s Word, memorized years earlier, is still there, “stored up” or “treasured” in the heart (v. 11
Recently, my son-in-law was explaining to my granddaughter Maggie that we can talk with God and that He communicates with us. When Ewing told Maggie that God sometimes speaks to us through the Bible, she responded without hesitation: “Well, He’s never said anything to me. I’ve never heard God talk to me.”
Most of us would probably agree with Maggie, if hearing an audible voice telling us, “Sell your house, and go take care of orphans in a faraway land,” is what we mean by God communicating with us. But when we talk about hearing God “speak,” we usually mean something quite different.
We “hear” God through reading Scripture. The Bible tells us about Jesus and says that God “has spoken to us by his Son” who is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being” (Heb. 1:2-3). Scripture tells us how to find salvation in Jesus and how to live in ways that please Him (2 Tim. 3:14-17). In addition to Scripture itself, we have the Holy Spirit. First Corinthians 2:12 says that we are given the Spirit “so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
Has it been a while since you’ve heard from God? Talk to Him and listen to the Spirit, who reveals Jesus to us through His Word. Tune in to the wonderful things God has to say to you.
During a concert, singer-songwriter David Wilcox responded to a question from the audience about how he composes songs. He said there are three aspects to his process: a quiet room, an empty page, and the question, “Is there something I should know?” It struck me as a wonderful approach for followers of Jesus as we seek the Lord’s plan for our lives each day.
Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, He took time to be alone in prayer. After feeding 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish, He sent His disciples to cross the Sea of Galilee by boat while He dismissed the crowd (Matt. 14:22). “After [Jesus] had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night he was there alone” (v. 23).
If the Lord Jesus saw the need to be alone with His Father, how much more we need a daily time of solitude to pour out our hearts to God, ponder His Word, and prepare to follow His directions.
A quiet room—anywhere we can focus on the Lord without distractions.
An empty page—a receptive mind, a blank sheet of paper, a willingness to listen.
Is there something I should know? “Lord, speak to me by Your Spirit, Your written Word, and the assurance of Your direction.”
From that quiet hillside, Jesus descended into a violent storm, knowing exactly what His Father wanted Him to do (vv. 24-27).
Recently I came across an article describing what constitutes great literature. The author suggested that great literature “changes you. When you are done reading, you’re a different person.”
In that light, the Word of God will always be classified as great literature. Reading the Bible challenges us to be better. Stories of biblical heroes inspire us to be courageous and persevering. The wisdom and prophetic books warn of the danger of living by our fallen instincts. God spoke through various writers to pen life-changing psalms for our benefit. The teachings of Jesus shape our character to become more like Him. The writings of Paul orient our minds and lives to holy living. As the Holy Spirit brings these Scriptures to our minds, they become powerful agents for change in our lives.
The writer of Psalm 119 loved God’s Word for its transforming influence in his life. He recognized that the ancient Scriptures handed down from Moses made him wise and more understanding than his teachers (v. 99). It kept him from evil (v. 101). No wonder he exclaimed, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long,” and “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (vv. 97, 103).
Welcome to the joy of loving great literature, especially the life-changing power of God’s Word!
At the beginning of World War II, aerial bombings flattened much of Warsaw, Poland. Cement blocks, ruptured plumbing, and shards of glass lay strewn across the great city. In the downtown area, however, most of one damaged building still stubbornly stood. It was the Polish headquarters for the British and Foreign Bible Society. Still legible on a surviving wall were these words: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
Jesus made that statement to encourage His disciples when they asked Him about the “end of the age” (v. 3). But His words also give us courage in the midst of our embattled situation today. Standing in the rubble of our shattered dreams, we can still find confidence in God’s indestructible character, sovereignty, and promises.
The psalmist wrote: “Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Ps. 119:89). But it is more than the word of the Lord; it is His very character. That is why the psalmist could also say, “Your faithfulness continues through all generations” (v. 90).
As we face devastating experiences, we can define them either in terms of despair or of hope. Because God will not abandon us to our circumstances, we can confidently choose hope. His enduring Word assures us of His unfailing love.