Chapter 4

Listening to God

Until we take time to be quiet we’ll not hear God. God cannot be heard in noise and restlessness; only in silence. He will speak to us if we will give Him a chance, if we will listen, if we will be quiet. “Be still,” the psalmist wrote, “and know that I am God” (psalm 46:10).

Listen, listen to me,” God pleads, “and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live” (isaiah 55:2-3, emphasis added).

Listen to Him. There’s no other way to take Him in. “When your words came, I ate them,” said Jeremiah (jeremiah 15:16). Sit at His feet and let Him feed you.

The problem with many of us is that though we read God’s Word, we’re not feeding on God. We’re more intent on mastering the text—finding out its precise meaning, gathering theories and theologies—so we can talk more intelligently about God. The main purpose of reading the Bible, however, is not to accumulate data about Him, but to “come to Him,” to encounter Him as our living God.

Jesus said to the best-read Bible students of His day, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me” (john 5:39).

The scholars read the Bible, but they didn’t listen to God; they “never heard his voice” (john 5:37). We should do more than read words; we should seek the Word exposed in the words. We want to move beyond information to seeing God and being informed and shaped by His truth. There’s a passing exhilaration—the “joy of discovery”—in acquiring knowledge about the Bible, but there’s no life in it. The Bible is not an end in itself, but a stimulus to our interaction with God.

Start with a conscious desire to engage Him in a personal way. Select a portion of Scripture—a verse, a paragraph, a chapter—and read it over and over. Think of Him as present and speaking to you, disclosing His mind and emotions and will. God is articulate: He speaks to us through His Word. Meditate on His words until His thoughts begin to take shape in your mind.

Thoughts is exactly the right word because that’s precisely what the Bible is—“the mind of the Lord” (1 corinthians 2:16). When we read His Word, we are reading His mind—what He knows, what He feels, what He wants, what He enjoys, what He desires, what He loves, what He hates.

Take time to reflect on what He is saying. Think about each word. Give yourself time for prayerful contemplation until God’s heart is revealed and your heart is exposed.

Jean-Pierre de Caussade wrote: “Read quietly, slowly, word for word to enter into the subject more with the heart than with the mind. From time to time make short pauses to allow these truths time to flow through all the recesses of the soul.”

Listen carefully to the words that touch your emotions and meditate on His goodness. “Feed on His faithfulness” (psalm 37:3 nkjv). Think about His kindness and those glimpses of His unfailing love that motivate you to love Him more (psalm 48:9). Savor His words. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (psalm 34:8).

So much depends on our temperament, our family and job demands, the state of our health, our age and level of maturity. At first 10 or 15 minutes may be all we can manage. Then perhaps we will be ready for an hour every day. It’s not important how much time we spend at first. The important thing is to make a beginning. God’s Spirit will let us know where to go from there.

Our reading should be toward relishing God and delighting in Him—“to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord,” as David said (psalm 27:4). When we approach God in that way, it inclines us to want more of Him. “I have tasted Thee,” Augustine said, “and now I hunger for Thee.”

There’s no need to worry about texts that we don’t understand. Some meanings will escape us. Everything difficult indicates something more than our hearts can yet embrace. As Jesus said to His disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (john 16:12). There’s much that we will never know, but some of the hard questions will be answered when we’re ready for them.

God can never be understood through the intellect. Insight arises from purity of heart—from love, humility, and a desire to obey. It’s the “pure in heart” who “will see God,” Jesus said (matthew 5:8). The more of God’s truth we know and want to obey, the more we know. George MacDonald wrote: “The words of the Lord are seeds sown in our hearts by the sower. They have to fall into our hearts to grow. Meditation and prayer must water them and obedience keep them in the light. Thus they will bear fruit for the Lord’s gathering.”

We shouldn’t worry about our doubts either. How could God possibly reveal Himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt?

Madeleine L’Engle said: “Those who believe they believe in God . . . without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, not in God Himself.”

Uncertainty is the name of the game. The best thing is to take our questionings and doubts directly to God, as David often did. His psalms are filled with discomfort and disagreement with God’s ways. He fills page after page with confusion and disbelief. It’s good to do so. God can handle our hesitancy.

Sometimes we’re mentally dull or emotionally flat, weary, and tired. On such occasions it’s worthless to try to make ourselves think more deeply or respond more intensely. If the value of our times alone with God depends on our emotional state, we will always be troubled. We should never worry about how we feel. Even when our minds are confused or our hearts are cold we can learn from our solitude. Don’t try to make your heart love God. Just give it to Him.

If we’re having a hard time with God, if we don’t yet trust His heart, we should read the Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There we hear what Jesus said and did and what was said about Him. There we see Him making visible the invisible God. When Philip, Jesus’ disciple, asked to see God, Jesus replied: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (john 14:9).

One commentator wrote:

Philip’s request is the profound expression of deep hunger behind the whole religious quest, speaking for saints and mystics, thinkers, moralists, and men of faith of every age. “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father,” is Christ’s staggering response. That is what the doctrine of Christ’s divine Sonship really means and why it matters. In His words we hear God speaking; in His deeds we see God at work; in His reproach we glimpse God’s judgment; in His love we feel God’s heart beating. If this be not true, we know nothing of God at all. If it be true—and we know it is—then Jesus is God manifest in the flesh, the unique, incomparable, only begotten Son of the Living God.

The main use of the Gospels is to help us see the character of God made real, personal, and understandable in Jesus. What we see Jesus doing—caring, suffering, weeping, calling, seeking—is what God is doing and has been doing all along. If you can’t love God, try to see Him in Jesus. There He’s revealed as One who has no limits to His love; One to whom we can come with all our doubts, disappointments, and misjudgments; One “whom we can approach without fear and to whom we can submit ourselves without despair” (Blaise Pascal). In the Gospels we see that God is the only God worth having.

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