“Ever Hearing”

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who just pretended to listen? They nod or make a sympathetic face, but clearly they have no idea what you are saying. Maybe they nodded at the wrong time, or even interrupted you with some comment that was completely off-topic.

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God not only hears what we say to Him, He understands better than WE do!

That is not the case with us. We can be “Ever Hearing” but “Never Understanding,” just like the people of Israel during the ministry of the prophet Isaiah. (see Isaiah 6: 9-13) Isaiah brought warnings and prophetic judgments from God–calls for repentance and warnings of impending punishments. He spent years delivering the same message to hundreds of people. They heard his message, but they did not listen, understand, or repent. Jesus, in Mark 4:12 alludes to this passage in Isaiah– clearly, the people of his day were equally “deaf” to the truth, even though thousands came to hear Jesus speak

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Jesus’ brother James, in his epistle, rephrases the same idea– “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22 ESV) Just because we have believed the Good News does not make us immune to hearing without listening, understanding, and obeying.

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We have thousands of Bible study books, websites, videos, broadcasts and webcasts, blogs, and live meetings–and, for many of us, they are free and easy to access. There are billboards, memes, t-shirts, Christian radio stations, and more, sharing scripture, testimonies, cartoons, songs, prayers, and more, 24 hours a day in almost every corner of the world and in most of the world’s languages.

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But sometimes, the very prevalence of such material causes us to take it for granted; and our hearts and minds become numb to the glory of God’s wisdom and the urgency of His warnings. We hear that God is sovereign– and we say that we believe–but we act as though we know better than God how the world “should” be. We hear that God is gracious and merciful– and we sing praises for His mercy toward us– but we have no mercy for others who fall short of our expectations. We hear that God is close to the broken-hearted (Psalm 34:18), but we act as though God favors the proud and self-sufficient.

Why would God command Isaiah to continue preaching to those who refuse to listen and obey? And why would Jesus follow in Isaiah’s footsteps– relying on parables and teaching the masses who misunderstood His Gospel?

Scholars have different theories, but I think there are two main reasons:

  • We know from examples and from experience that the same message that falls on “deaf”ears over many years can suddenly “click.” God know this better than anyone. He is patient and humble. God’s message doesn’t change, but sometimes, it takes a while to “seep in” to the heart and mind. Someone who is “ever hearing” may be processing more of the message than we know. God’s spirit whispers, and His truth can be drowned out, but it cannot be silenced. It is important for us to continue to speak, to write, and to LIVE the truth– not just for others, but to make sure we are still listening, understanding, and obeying the truth.
  • God IS truth. And God may whisper, but He will not be silent. God is mysterious, but not absent, or cold, or withdrawn. In Romans 1: 18-32, Paul says that God has revealed all of His invisible qualities in all of nature throughout all of time. We cannot say that we NEVER saw the glory of a sunset, or heard the power of thunder, or felt the warm kiss of the sun, or in some other way experienced the loving and majestic reality of God. We CHOOSE to ignore or rebel against God’s ever-present, all-gracious love.
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What glories will we see, hear, and experience today? Will we be “ever hearing” but “never understanding” “how wide, and long and high and deep” (Ephesians 3:17-19) is the Love of Christ? I hope we will take every opportunity to listen, understand, and obey His call today!

Be Thou My Vision

One of my favorite old hymns is the ancient Irish tune, “Be Thou My Vision.”  I have heard it jokingly referred to as “the optometrist’s hymn.”  But there’s a lot more to unpack in the title than just a plug for good eye care.

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God’s word is full of references to sight, seeing, blindness, light, lamps, darkness, night, day, visions and dreams, foresight and prophecy, images and reflections, and much more.  God is both the source of our sight, and of our insight.  God sheds light on our deepest secrets of the past, and provides a lamp allowing us to see the obstacles ahead more clearly.  Jesus came to be the Light of the World, and bring sight to the blind, both physically blind and spiritually blind.

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Many times, we pray for answers– we want a quick solution to our circumstances, or a definitive direction for our next step.  But God sometimes wants to show us a bigger picture.  Sometimes, he wants to show us more intricate details.  Instead of asking for what we want God to give us, we need to ask for God to give us the vision HE has for our future.  He may not reveal every detail– or he may only reveal the next detailed step.  But God’s vision is clearer and bigger, and more glorious than we will ever know if we aren’t willing to look with His eyes to see.

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We also need to ask God to BE our vision– that we would see him more clearly for Who He Is!  Whatever is in our focus will appear bigger and clearer than things in the periphery.  When we allow Him to be our vision, we start to see things from His perspective, which makes all the difference.  What we see on our own is often an optical illusion– problems look bigger than they really are, hurts and grievances grow larger,  and people become distorted by the lenses or mirrors we use to view them.  And we lose sight of God’s glory, wisdom, majesty, power, and everlasting love.  But God restores our focus and our perspective, so that we see problems in the light of His power to overcome; we see people who are made in His likeness and image– people who are loved by God, even if they are in rebellion against Him.  We see the glory of God’s creation as it was meant to be, even as we see the wreckage of pollution, corruption, disease and disaster.  We see God’s mercy as lives are transformed and families are mended and justice is finally achieved.  And we see the rays of hope in God’s promises fulfilled and those yet to be fulfilled.

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Three Things I Pray…

In the Broadway musical, Godspell, there is a simple ballad, “Day By Day,” in which the singer(s) express a desire to be closer to Jesus. Day By Day/YouTube  There are three “prayers”– 1) to see thee more clearly; 2) Love thee more dearly, and 3) follow thee more nearly.  I have heard various opinions and critiques of the musical, from the use of clown makeup and vaudeville tunes, to the marginal grammar of this song.  But I’d like to spend some time digging in to the three simple prayers.

Today, I want to look at (literally) the first prayer– “to see thee more clearly”.  There is one prayer, but I think it can be broken down into two parts.

First, I want to SEE God.  God is Spirit–an invisible essence– and yet he manifests himself in a million different ways all around us.  God is in the inky, endless blackness of a moonless night, and in the vibrant colors of spring blossoms; in the glaring reflection of the sun off the lake, or the gray and palpable mist over the meadow.  He is in the wrinkled face of my neighbor, and the exuberant smile of a toddler, and the beauty of a horse running or an eagle soaring.  But I can see all of this and more and still not see God.  I can focus on the creation and miss the creator.  I can focus on the beauty and learn nothing of the artist.  I can see the amazing variety of people in the world– skin tones and eye shapes, facial expressions, and body language, dimples and hairstyles and nose-wrinkling, and hand-wringing, and miss the Love of God for each one.

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Sadly, I can sing this prayer, pray for insight, and still miss seeing God.  I can trample His creation, dismiss His presence, and hate the people He loves enough to die for; people who bear the stamp of His image.

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And I want to see Him “more clearly”–I want to see him as he really is, and not as I imagine him to be.  We live in an age of glossy retouched photos of models and celebrities; we “see” their image, without knowing what they truly look like, and without knowing anything about who they really are inside.  In many ways, God is only slightly less invisible than the real people around us.  How many people do we ignore in a day’s time?  How many do we glance at, only to get stuck on a single detail (a hair on their sweater, or something caught in their teeth, or a receding hairline or blotchy face).   How many people surprise us by not being like the image they project?   I don’t want to see a Photoshop Jesus; a glossy, smiling image of someone who says only what I want to hear, and looks like nothing ever touches him.  I want to see the Jesus who wept over the death of his friend; the Jesus who laughed with delight as he talked with children; the Jesus whose eyes were full of compassion even as he was dying on the cross.  I want to see the Living Word of God.

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Jesus is close– closer than we think.  I want to spend today seeing him more clearly.

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