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.
I felt like I was underwater, sounds muffled and muted by a cold and allergies. For weeks I struggled to hear clearly. My condition made me realize how much I take my hearing for granted.
Young Samuel in the temple must have wondered what he was hearing as he struggled out of sleep at the summons of his name (1 Sam. 3:4). Three times he presented himself before Eli, the High Priest. Only the third time did Eli realize it was the Lord speaking to Samuel. The word of the Lord had been rare at that time (v. 1), and the people were not in tune with His voice. But Eli instructed Samuel how to respond (v. 9).
The Lord speaks much more now than in the days of Samuel. The letter to the Hebrews tells us, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets … but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (1:1-2). And in Acts 2 we read of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (vv. 1-4), who guides us in the things Christ taught us (John 16:13). But we need to learn to hear His voice and respond in obedience. Like me with my cold, we may hear as if underwater. We need to test what we think is the Lord’s guidance with the Bible and with other mature Christians. As God’s beloved children, we do hear His voice. He loves to speak life into us.
Because it is so difficult in parts of the world to find clean drinking water, an organization called Water Is Life developed a wonderful resource called “The Drinkable Book.” The paper in the book is coated in silver nanoparticles that filter out almost 99.9 percent of harmful bacteria! Each tear-out page can be used and reused to filter up to 100 liters of water at the cost of only four pennies per page.
The Bible is also an unusually “drinkable” Book. In John 4, we read of a particular kind of thirst and a special kind of water. The woman at the well needed much more than a clean, clear liquid to quench her physical thirst. She was desperate to know the source of “living water.” She needed the grace and forgiveness that comes from God alone.
God’s Word is the ultimate “drinkable” Book that points to God’s Son as the sole source of “living water.” And those who accept the water that Jesus gives will experience “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14).
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.
When the sun came up on the first day of the seventh month in 444 bc, Ezra started reading the law of Moses (what we know as the first five books of the Bible). Standing on a platform in front of the people in Jerusalem, he read it straight through for the next six hours.
Men, women, and children had gathered at the entrance to the city known as the Water Gate to observe the Festival of Trumpets—one of the feasts prescribed for them by God. As they listened, four reactions stand out.
They stood up in reverence for the Book of the Law (Neh. 8:5). They praised God by lifting their hands and saying “Amen.” They bowed down in humble worship (v. 6). Then they listened carefully as the Scriptures were both read and explained to them (v. 8). What an amazing day as the book that “the Lord had commanded for Israel” (v. 1) was read aloud inside Jerusalem’s newly rebuilt walls!
Ezra’s marathon reading session can remind us that God’s words to us are still meant to be a source of praise, worship, and learning. When we open the Bible and learn more about Christ, let’s praise God, worship Him, and seek to discover what He is saying to us now.
Around our home, the words “some assembly required” have been the cause of great frustration (mine) and great humor (my family). When my wife and I first married, I attempted to make simple home repairs—with disastrous results. A repaired shower handle worked perfectly—if the plan was for the water to run between the walls. My fiascoes continued after we had children, when I assured my wife, Cheryl, I “don’t need instructions” to put these “simple” toys together. Wrong!
Gradually, I learned my lesson and began to pay strict attention to the instructions and things went together as they should. Unfortunately, the longer things went well, the more confident I became, and soon I was again ignoring instructions with predictably disastrous results.
The ancient Israelites struggled with a similar tendency: they would forget God, ignoring His instructions to avoid following after Baal and the other gods of the region (Judg. 2:12). This produced disastrous results, until God, in His mercy, raised up judges to rescue them and bring them back to Himself (2:18).
God has reasons for all of the instructions He’s given us to keep our affections on Him. Only by a daily awareness of His loving presence can we resist the temptation to “construct” our lives our own way. What great gifts He has given us in His Word and His presence!