By Pastor Bryan Niebanck
She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.Luke 10:39
So far, we have focused on four aspects of prayer: hearing God in unexpected ways, equipping ourselves, breaking what is holding us back from God, and asking God to grant us wisdom and courage so that we might pray with confidence. Today, we will review a fifth aspect of our introduction to prayer. A fifth way that we can and should pray is by listening. It is not only listening for God, which is hearing (such as how we talked about hearing God in various ways). It is also taking what we hear and listening to God, which is showing our obedience to God and our trust in God.
What is listening to you? Maybe you have been in a conversation where you feel that the person you are talking to is not listening. Perhaps they are multitasking, trying to do something else at the same time. You ask, “Are you listening to me?” Often they will answer “Yes, of course.” Maybe they are hearing the words you say. But perhaps they are not hearing all the words you say. Maybe you ask them to do something, and they agree to it. “Can you hang the laundry out?” Or, “Can you put the washing in the dryer?” And one hour later… “Oh, you meant today?”
Maybe you have been on the other end of poor listening too. You have many things going on and you cannot stop work on this because there is a deadline. Someone calls you, and it may seem like an interruption. If you’ve ever thought that – if that has ever happened to you – I offer a perspective a seminary professor offered me: Interruptions are the reason we are here; that is our ministry. The other tasks that we fill our day with around the house, or at work, is to be able to keep ourselves healthy and support ourselves. If you see the conversations that you have as the most important part of your day, because that is your opportunity to make a positive impact on someone, perhaps you will see these opportunities more as opportunities and less as interruptions. Remember that prayer is our most important conversation because it connects us with God. Our day-to-day conversations with other people connect these other people with God.
In Luke 10:38-42 we hear about the time when Martha invited Jesus into her home. “She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?” (Luke 10:39-40). Who was the better listener here? Martha is the one who invited Jesus into her home. Yet Mary is the one who was sitting down with Jesus and listening to everything that he said while Martha hurried around trying to prepare something good for Jesus. Both are commendable. But I think Jesus would have been one of those houseguests who would say, “Don’t make too much of a fuss over me. I don’t need anything fancy. I more value being able to spend the time with you.” Martha was distracting herself with various tasks to make things nice for Jesus, and in doing so she was missing out on what Jesus was saying to Mary. Both had good intentions, but, as Jesus later said to Martha, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42).
Our lesson to take from this is not to be worried and distracted by so many tasks that need doing. The one true way is Christ. We are always distracted by the dishes needing done, the laundry in the baskets, the lawn needing mowed, bills needing paid. These are important, just as Martha preparing the house was important. They do need to be done. But we cannot let them cause us to forget what is right under our noses. They cannot take away from our attention to Jesus. Now, Martha was good; she welcomed Jesus into her home and was trying to be a good host, but the best host of Jesus is a good listener. Mary not only wanted to honor Jesus; she wanted to learn from Him. To host Jesus in our own lives, we also need to want to learn from Him. We want to be more like Him. We want to listen to Jesus so we can also be Jesus in listening to others.
Take a moment to think of three individuals who you talked to last week (your spouse, your parent, your child, the store clerk, a stranger, your cat, etc.). Once you have those three people in your mind, ask yourself this: “Was I Jesus to them?” It is not that we are going around to everyone we see pretending that we are Jesus – there are enough of those. But because Jesus lives within us, through our reliance on God, we can be a Jesus to another. For some, we might be the only Jesus that they see in the week. So take the opportunity to talk to someone and show them that someone cares and loves them. Try to refrain from showing anger or frustration, but be encouraging. Help another, just as you help yourself, to become a better person by constructively criticizing and motivationally encouraging. A follow-up to your question “Was I Jesus to them?” could be, “Did I listen well to what they were trying to talk to me about?” Or was I too concerned about my agenda in the conversation, or my getting on to the next thing, or whatever our next distraction would be?
First, to be a good listener, we need to address why we allow things to distract us from pursuing an active relationship with Jesus. Then we need to sit down and spend some time with Jesus to learn more about him and what he wants to teach us. And second, once we put those distractions away, we show that we listened well by living Jesus for another person in our lives, whether we see that person once and never again, or a thousand times. When we are Jesus to someone else, God smiled because we listened well. If you are wondering how we listen well and learn these things, we can go back to our message from last week: We must feed our relationship with God not only through what others teach us about God, but through what we ourselves teach us about God. We read the Bible, we pray, we regularly talk to God or attempt to talk to God, and we read books about God and reflect on them. We actively seek out a relationship with God in everything that we do.
The Israelites may be a prime example of what not listening to God is like. They did not even listen to Moses. They created a golden calf. They strayed away to their own idols. Throughout the book of Amos, the prophet Amos condemns idol worship, persecution of God’s prophets, and cheating of the poor. He tells the people, through his words to Israel and now through his words to the king, that God is ready to send them into a new bondage because of their sin. He shares two major visions through the book. The first we heard last week: the vision of the plumb line illustrates that people are not living up to God’s standards. The second, which we hear this week, is a basket of ripe fruit, which illustrates that the nation is ripe for God’s judgement. Amos exclaims, “Prepare to meet thy God, O Israel!” (Amos 4:12). He also proclaims, “Let justice roll down as water, and righteousness as a mighty stream” (Amos 5:24). At times, the book of Amos seems far away. By that, I mean that we feel that this judgement – especially this severe kind of judgement – cannot apply to us. It was meant for the Israelites as a result of their sins and we are not nearly as bad as them. And perhaps this is the case. However, I do believe that the two passages we read from Amos these past two weeks teach us that we need to pay attention to God. We need to make sure that we are listening to God. We need to make sure that we are each establishing a deep personal connection and relationship with God.
In the movie, Do You Believe?, a man stops a car with a gun and asks the driver if he is ready to die. He was taken aback when the driver answered, “Yes,” and proceeded to explain that he was deeply connected to God, that he trusted God in all things, and felt he was ready because he lived each day for God. We should be prepared to meet our God every day. Our response to Amos’ plea, “Prepare to meet thy God!” can be, “I am already prepared! But I will pray to be sure that I am prepared enough!” How are you treating the people around you? In God’s eyes, that is an indicator of your true spiritual condition. When we treat them with love, we are listening to God’s command to us. We are being obedient to God’s call. Where you fall short, may you be moved to pray, “God, grant me listening ears, so that I might receive your spirit, and spread your kingdom, so that I and others are prepared to meet you at life’s end. May all glory and honor be to God! Thanks be to God! Amen.
8:1 This is what the Lord GOD showed me–a basket of summer fruit.
8:2 He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “A basket of summer fruit.” Then the LORD said to me, “The end has come upon my people Israel; I will never again pass them by.
8:3 The songs of the temple shall become wailings in that day,” says the Lord GOD; “the dead bodies shall be many, cast out in every place. Be silent!”
8:4 Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,
8:5 saying, “When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances,
8:6 buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.”
8:7 The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.
8:8 Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who lives in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt?
8:9 On that day, says the Lord GOD, I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.
8:10 I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on all loins, and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son, and the end of it like a bitter day.
8:11 The time is surely coming, says the Lord GOD, when I will send a famine on the land; not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.
8:12 They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.
52:1 Why do you boast, O mighty one, of mischief done against the godly? All day long
52:2 you are plotting destruction. Your tongue is like a sharp razor, you worker of treachery.
52:3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking the truth. Selah
52:4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue.
52:5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
52:6 The righteous will see, and fear, and will laugh at the evildoer, saying,
52:7 “See the one who would not take refuge in God, but trusted in abundant riches, and sought refuge in wealth!”
52:8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
52:9 I will thank you forever, because of what you have done. In the presence of the faithful I will proclaim your name, for it is good.
10:38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home.
10:39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.
10:40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.”
10:41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things;
10:42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”