Topical Scripture: Psalm 19
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that talking on the phone while driving is nearly as dangerous as driving drunk. The study found that using a cell phone increases the risk of an accident fourfold, the same as driving while intoxicated. It doesn’t seem to matter if the phone is hands-free or hand-held. I guess this gives the AT&T slogan, “Reach out and touch someone,” new meaning.
The study did report one safety benefit. Nearly 40% of those surveyed used their phones to call 911 after they crashed.
Wouldn’t it be great to call an even higher power? To call God, whenever you crash, with whatever you need? To ask him anything, and hear his response? To be able to listen to God?
The fact is, there’s nothing our souls need more. The best way to feed our spiritual lives is to listen to God. But that’s something Baptists are just not very good at. The fact is, in most of our churches, it’s not in the catalog. We don’t know much about caring for our souls.
So let’s see if we can learn to feed our souls by listening to God. If you and I will make four simple decisions today, we will hear from God this week.
Believe that God still speaks
First we must decide that God will speak to us. That we can hear his voice. That it’s really true–the God of the universe actually wants to talk to us.
He spoke clearly to Simon Peter (Acts 10).
Peter’s issue was whether Gentiles could become Christians. And so Peter sees “unclean” animals, meat forbidden to his Jewish diet, and hears God say, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” Just then, “unclean” Gentiles arrive, and “the Spirit said to him, ‘Simon, three men are looking for you. So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them” (vs. 19-20).
And so Peter obeys the Spirit’s voice. He preaches to Cornelius and the Gentiles, and they are saved. Gentiles are welcomed into God’s family. We still are.
In a very real sense, we Gentiles are in the church today because God spoke.
Over and over in the Bible, God asks his people to listen to him.
•Isaiah 55:2-3: “Listen, listen to me, 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.”
•Jeremiah 7:2: “Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.”
•All through Revelation God calls his people to listen to him. Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (2.7). He says it to every church he addresses (2:11; 2:17; 2:29; 3:6; 3:13; 3:22).
Well over 300 times in the Bible, God calls his people to hear his word. The Lord is a God who speaks.
Does he still speak to us today?
Have you ever prayed about a problem and had a clear sense of what you should do? Have you read the Bible and found exactly the answer you needed, as though it were written for you? Have you heard a sermon and said to yourself, “He preached that to me”? Have you taken a walk and felt especially close to God? Has a friend called at just the time you needed to hear from someone? Have you heard a song and it truly lifted your spirit?
Then God has spoken to your soul. Please believe that he still speaks. That he wants to speak to us, today.
Be silent before him
Then why don’t we hear him more often? For the simple reason that we don’t usually make the other three decisions. After I decide that God still speaks, next I must be silent before him.
Peter had to go up on the roof, away from the noise of the house. In that silence, he could hear the Spirit speak (v. 9). To hear God I, too, must be silent before him. And that’s not easy.
We don’t live quiet lives. Our work weeks are longer than ever before. I read this week that the supposedly workaholic Germans only work 37 hours a week and take five-week vacations. Not us.
And it takes precious time to be silent before God. Pour water into a bowl, and it splashes and swirls. Only when you set the bowl down and let it sit, does the water become still. So with our souls.
Our souls need a time and a place to be quiet with our Father. To do nothing except sit in his presence, as a child who crawls up into his father’s lap and just sits. Not to work, or read, or study. Just to sit with God.
Recently I read the simple story of an elderly peasant who had formed the habit of slipping into a certain church at a certain time every day. There, day by day, he would sit and, apparently, do nothing. The parish priest observed this regular, silent visitor. One day, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he asked the old man why he came to the church alone, day in, day out. Why waste his time in this way?
The old man looked at the priest and with a loving twinkle in his eye said, “I look at him. He looks at me. And we tell each other that we love each other.”
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” I’d say it this way: “Be still and you will know that I am God.”
How long has it been since you were still before God?
Choose to surrender
So I believe that God wants to speak to me, and I make time to listen to him. Now the third simple decision: I must move from silence to surrender.
Peter didn’t want to obey what he heard God say (vs. 14-15). Finally he did (vs. 20-21). Then came the result: “God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean” (v. 28). He had to surrender to what he heard.
If I am to listen to God, I must first decide to do what he says. His word and will are not negotiable for me. The God of the universe is not willing for his voice to be an option.
Joyce Huggett, whose book The Joy of Listening to God has helped me greatly, says, “The secret of true prayer is to place oneself utterly and completely at the disposal of God’s Spirit.”
And she quotes Thomas Merton, one of the best-known monks of this century: “The deepest prayer at its nub is a perpetual surrender to God.”
To hear God speak, I must surrender not only my will but also my sin. The more time I spend with God, the more I see my sins for what they are, and the more I must confess them to him.
A man walking to church at night was splashed with mud by a passing bus. In the dark he said, “It’s not too bad.” He came closer to a streetlight and said, “I need to brush this off.” He stood under the streetlight and said, “I must go home and change clothes.”
So do we all.
Chuck Swindoll has a helpful book entitled Intimacy with the Almighty. In it he quotes a Puritan prayer which captures our struggle.
When you would guide me I control myself.
When you would be sovereign I rule myself.
When you would take care of me I suffice myself.
When I should depend on your providings I supply myself.
When I should submit to your providence I follow my will.
When I should study, honour, trust you, I serve myself;
I fault and correct your laws to suit myself.
Lord, it is my chief design to bring my heart back to You.
And so it must be, if I would hear the Spirit of God.
Listen to his Spirit
So I believe that God will speak to me; I am silent before him; and I surrender myself to him. Now, last, I must choose to listen to his Spirit. Whatever he wants to say, however he wishes to say it. I choose to listen.
How does God’s Spirit speak to those who choose to listen?
He speaks to us, of course, in his word. But listening to God’s word is not the same thing as studying it or preaching from it. When I listen to God’s word, I seek only God’s meaning for me. Not for you, or for anyone else–only for me. When God speaks through his word to a listening heart, he speaks specifically to that heart and none other.
Perhaps the best way to listen to God’s word is to take a short passage, five to ten verses, and spend time with them in God’s presence. Seek to live in this text. If it’s an event, join it. Identify with the people in the story. In our case, seek to become Cornelius, or Peter, or perhaps one of these servants. See the story through their eyes, feel it with their emotions.
Pay special attention to words or phrases which speak to you personally. In our text, for instance, this phrase caught my eye: the Spirit said to Peter, “Do not hesitate.” When God speaks I am not to hesitate but respond, immediately. That speaks to me regarding some decisions I must make this week.
When something in God’s word especially strikes you, stop there. Write it down. Listen to his word, feel his presence, for you are with Jesus. He is speaking from his word to your heart, feeding your soul.
This is one way God speaks to those who will listen.
He speaks to us through his world as well. “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps. 19:1). When you’re alone with God, look around. See his nature, his creation. See the artist in his painting, the poet in his words. Meet with God in his creation and ask him to speak through his world to your soul. And he will.
And God speaks to us through our worship. If you and I would enter God’s presence expecting to hear from him today, in silence and surrender, we would hear his Spirit. He wants to speak through the words of our hymns and choruses, through the prayers we hear and pray, through the music sung and played, through my words as they carry his word.
Worship is not only our time to speak to God. Here God would speak, powerfully, to us.
So imagine Jesus present to you, wherever you are. Imagine him in the pew or chair beside you. It may help you to sit at a table and imagine Jesus in the chair across from you. Imagine him beside you, because he is.
I often tell at funerals the story of the invalid who struggled with prayer, so his pastor told him to put an empty chair beside his bed and pray to Jesus as though he were in the chair. The night he died, his daughter found him, with his hand in the chair.
When will be the next time you pull up a chair for God? When will you get silent before him, surrender to him, and listen to him? Listen for his help with a problem? For his will? For his comfort, or forgiveness, or hope?
Before you leave this morning, make that appointment. For the sake of your soul.
Imagine holding a leaf in your hand, its web of life-giving veins clearly visible. In like manner, the poet invites God to course through his life:
I sense your drive
To flow through me
Into the smallest blood vessels
Because you want to be my heartblood
In all the passages of my life
And you want to become visible in the leaves
And the fruit that I bear.
Spread out in me
Press forward, penetrate, pierce and flow
Even if, at times,
I want to repeal this invitation
Being afraid of your ways in me.
Circulate in me
Change and renew
Because I know
That only your Spirit
Brings real life and fruit.
I echo that prayer. Spread out in me, Lord Jesus, until I see you face to face. Amen.