9 January 2022
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” Isaiah 43:2
Listening is one of the most forgotten attributes, especially when it comes to God. We like to talk to God, we like to make requests of God, and we get disappointed when we do not hear anything back. Are we actually doing everything that we can to listen, though? We live lives of service for God, praising God, praying to God, listening to God, and sharing God with others. We have talked about how important it is to praise God continually in all circumstances. Praising God renews our confidence and hope in God’s goodness and majesty. We have touched on coming to God in prayer, and noted that God wants to hear any prayer no matter how small it may seem to us. It is crucial that we all realize that we have access to God through prayer, and there is no such thing as a bad prayer. This week, we focus on listening to God.
In any relationship, you know that you have to give time to it to make it work. The extent to which you value your relationship to God is told in the amount of time that you spend seeking God. Do you spend time in your devotions? Do you spend time worshipping God? Do you spend time praying? Do you spend time listening?
Ibrahim was born into a devout Muslim family in Kenya. During World War II, he was drafted into the British army, which Britain could do because Kenya was one of its colonies. When he met Christians among the ranks, he began to study which source, the Bible, or the Qur’an, came first. The answer that he discovered was that the Bible indeed came first. He converted to Christianity and even refused a gift by his clan chief of “400 cows, 200 camels, large amounts of land and his daughter in marriage if only he would renounce Christ and return to Islam” (VOM 55.9). He went on to distribute Bibles and plant 23 churches within the country. The clan stole his wife from him because it was unfit for her to live under the same roof as a Christian. He was stoned by the people in his village, but he survived. Ibrahim listened to the call of God. Many were converted because he was converted. He was converted because someone else was willing to listen to God and actually share their faith in public. This is the boldness that God calls us to. This is how we grow the Christian community. We talk about God in public.
When someone reaches out to me for help, I feel that in answering I am listening to God. I believe that God has placed opportunities for me to serve, not only among members but among people of the community. I enjoy serving on the Pass it On board where I meet many individuals in the area who appreciate our help, both in giving and in receiving. I feel called to the private conversations that I have, whether it is related to counseling, brokenness, or simply encouragement or informational. I feel fulfilled when I am serving God. I know that others here do too. We celebrate today those who have volunteered to join and serve on our consistory. You feel the call to help and to serve the church that you belong to. You do it because you want to, not because you have to. You do it not because someone else guilted you into it, but because you are listening to God calling you. You give not only your treasure to church, but what is in many ways more valuable; your time and your talent. To the elders who are present for spiritual care, you live the scripture in Proverbs 27:17: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” To the deacons, who oversee financial aspects of the church, we reflect on the words of 1 Peter (5:2): “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve.” To the trustees, who maintain the property of the church, this verse from Haggai 1:8: “Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, that I may take pleasure in it and that I may be glorified.”
Today is the day that we recognize the baptism of Jesus. It is a day when many churches remind us of a renewal of our baptismal vows; that is, to reject the evil that comes from Satan and to affirm your belief in and commitment to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. As we renew our individual vows, we may ask of our churches the same question: Does the church reject all evil and affirm its belief in and commitment to the Trinity? Russell Moore knows that one of the issues of the church today is that many churches have not renewed this commitment in some time. He writes, “What if people don’t leave the church because they disapprove of Jesus, but because they’ve read the Bible and have come to the conclusion that the church itself would disapprove of Jesus? That’s a crisis” (Plough Quarterly, Autumn 2021, 107). That is, many people reject church because they believe that the church rejects Jesus. Hopefully we are not among those churches, but it would help to think about how we listen to God, and make sure that we are truly doing God’s will and service.
We certainly listen to God by doing. Hearing God and not doing the will of God is only hearing, not listening. You will not last forever if your wife tells you it’s your turn to comfort the baby, and you hear those words, but never do anything about it. It is the same way with God. We listen to God by carrying out our duties according to each one of our calls.
Yet in order to listen to God, we need to be able to hear God. We can certainly hear God by reading the Bible. We hear God say in Isaiah 43:1, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you.” Knowing that we have nothing to fear with God on our side is a good thought to carry forward into the new year. God is still God and that is all we need. In addition to reading the Bible, we can also hear God in prayer. I often encourage anyone who prays to God to allow some time for silence. Allow God time to respond. And if you do not hear God the first ten times in that silence, do not use it as a reason to quit. God sees patience as a virtue.
A third way that we can listen to God is by opening our eyes to God’s creation. In Psalm 29, we read about the voice of the Lord being over the waters, breaking the cedars, shaking the wilderness, and much, much more. The voice of God commanded all that we see to be: the beauty of the mountains, the stillness of the sea, and the quietness of the prairie. Understand that the voice of God is all around you, creating and sustaining all things. Hear God’s voice by paying attention to your surroundings.
The fourth way to truly listen to God is by humbling yourself and asking God to speak. God is the main character, not you. Ask as Samuel did: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
“The writer Robert Fulgham tells the story of one of his professors, a man named Alexander Papaderos, who once taught Fulgham a two-week course on Greek culture. Towards the end of the last session, his teacher opened the floor for questions. Fulgham boldly asked “Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?” After a few moments Papaderos pulled his wallet from his pocket, removed a tiny, quarter-sized mirror, and replied:
When I was a small child, during the war, we were very poor and lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken piece of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place.
I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece. This one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine-in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.
I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child’s game but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light or the source of light. But light-truth, understanding, knowledge-is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.
Introduction by Stuart Strachan, taken from Robert Fulgham, It was on Fire when I Lay it Down.”
~SUBSEQUENT PRAYER DEPENDING ON TIMING OF SERVICE (full or pieces of) ~
You say “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21). God, I don’t hear your voice but I want to, I desire to hear your voice, God. I want to be guided and led by you. I want to follow you and fearlessly obey your leadership. Teach me how to hear from you. How can I listen, hear, discern, and do what you say?
You say “Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.” (Jeremiah 7:23-24). Father, I want to hear your voice, obey your voice, and follow your voice. I want to walk forward, with you, not backward on my own. I want to be rooted in my faith and in your word. I want my roots to be so strong that no winds of life could ever take me down. I want to stand strong and be unshakable in my faith-roots, through Christ. I want to glorify you, God.
You say “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). I am your sheep. You are my shepherd. I want to hear your voice. Reveal yourself to me. Make your voice loud and clear, and I will follow. Show me the way, and I will walk with you.
You say “Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” (John 8:47). I am examining my heart and see that my genuine desire is to be yours, God. Am I of you and don’t hear your voice because of all worldly chatter in my life? Or am I not of you, and that’s why I don’t hear your voice, God?
You say “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12). God, I want to belong to you and only you. I think my heart is pure but if you discern that my heart isn’t truly pure and if you examine me and decide that I’m not yet yours, which is why I can’t hear your voice, make me yours, God, I want to be yours. Show me how to be yours. Speak to me. Lead me. Take me where I need to go. Help me walk in your purpose for my life.
You say “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.“(Jeremiah 33:3). I am calling to you, God, please answer, speak to me clearly and directly. My desire for your wisdom and will is burning, and I want to honor you with my life. I want to fulfill your purpose.
You say “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17). I spend time every day in the word. I am seeking your voice. Father, I want to grow and mature in my faith. My eyes are set on Jesus Christ, and my heart is desiring more of you. Help me hear your divine voice when I am in the word every day, God. And, through hearing, please increase my faith.
In the marvelous name of Jesus Christ I pray. Amen. ~Prayer written by Anna Szabo
43:1 But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
43:2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
43:3 For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
43:4 Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life.
43:5 Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you;
43:6 I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth–
43:7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”
29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
29:7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
29:9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
29:10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
29:11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
3:15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,
3:16 John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
3:17 His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened,
3:22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”