You may think it is rather strange that we have chosen the theme of “Listening to God and following Him – the joy of hearing God’s voice”, when most members of Open Ears are deaf or hard of hearing, or have family members with a hearing loss.
However, I believe it is possible for everyone, whether deaf or hearing, to ascertain the Lord speaking into their souls, given a modicum of faith.
I would like to introduce a range of Bible characters from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, who heard the Lord speaking directly to them, as examples for us to consider this afternoon, such as Samuel, Zechariah and Mary. Still others sought guidance by inquiring of the Lord and waiting for His response, such as King David and King Hezekiah.
I have just learnt that the Hebrew word “Shema”, in Deuteronomy chapter 6 verses 4-5, stands for “Hear and obey”. The passage reads as follows: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”
However, the Greek New Testament dictionary only gives one word for hear or listen, and another word for obey, the same word as keep or guard. For example, Luke chapter 11 verse 28 reads, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!”
So instead of listening and following, we have hearing and obeying. I like the Old English word “hearken”, which to me sums up the act of hearing and obeying in one word. One needs to hear and obey what the Lord says to us, in our minds and hearts. This is a conscious decision we make.
So let us turn to our first Bible character, the boy Samuel ministering to the Lord in the Temple at Shiloh (1 Samuel chapter 3 verses 2-10). The Lord called Samuel by name three times during the night, before the aged priest Eli realised that the Lord was calling the boy. The boy was told to reply, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” He managed to remember every word of what the Lord said to him when Eli asked him the following morning. That must have called for an amazing feat of memory.
Samuel’s eagerness and attentiveness shines through this Bible passage. Are we as eager and attentive in listening to Him, through prayer or Bible reading or meditation or times of silence and reflection?
As well as listening to the Lord when he spoke directly to them, others sought guidance by inquiring of the Lord and waiting for his response. King David inquired of the Lord as to where he could settle with his wives and his men and their families, and the answer was “To Hebron”. David obediently went up to Hebron and settled there, and he was anointed king over the house of Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-4). King Hezekiah received an alarming letter from the messengers of King Sennacherib of Assyria and laid it in front of the Lord in the Temple and prayed there. The prophet Isaiah was then sent to speak the word of God to Hezekiah (2 Kings 19:14-37).
The attitude of the heart also matters when listening to the Lord. A very good example of this in the New Testament is the contrasting attitudes of the priest Zechariah and the virgin Mary in their responses to the Angel Gabriel’s messages, regarding the impending births of John the Baptist and Jesus respectively.
Outwardly, both their questions look very similar. Zechariah asks the angel, “How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years,” and Mary asks the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Perhaps Zechariah was doubting the angel’s message in his heart, while Mary was more submissive, as evidenced by her response at the end of the annunciation, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” (Luke chapter 1 verse 38). Meanwhile, Zechariah was struck dumb for many months until the birth of John the Baptist, because of his unbelief (Luke chapter 1 verse 20).
It is interesting that both the boy Samuel and the virgin Mary referred to themselves as “servants” during their encounters with the Lord and His angelic messengers. We too should cultivate servant hearts, waiting on our Master however long it takes, for He is never in a hurry. His divine purposes will be accomplished among people of faith, who take time to listen and follow, or hear and obey His word in their hearts.
And finally, to our joy, the last Scripture reading we heard this afternoon, from John chapter 15 verse 15, tells us that Jesus told his disciples they are no longer servants in the household of God, but His friends. This is a high calling indeed. Let us be worthy of it, if we but listen to God and follow Him in our daily lives. Amen.