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The Fine Art of Listening

Reading: Psalms 112-116

Scripture

I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. Psalm 116:1-3 (NIV)

Observations

“Because he turned his ear to me…” Two pictures come to mind as I consider the remarkable thought of God turning his ear to me. The first is of a man walking down a road who suddenly stops and kneels down with his ear to the ground to listen to an ant.

The second is of a person who, in the midst of a noisy crowded room, picks out the voice of one particular person and ignores all the other voices so as to focus on what this person has to say.

It is clear from the psalmist's words that God didn't just 'notice' him, but that he showed concern for him in his distress, responding with compassion and grace. And the psalmist's response? Devotion. “Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”

Application

This is yet another reminder of God's love not just for the human race, but for me! He loves me, and one of the ways he expresses that love is by listening to me. He values what I have to say, which means he values me!

Nothing is so big or so small that I can't talk with him about it. Paul tells me to “Pray continually.” (1Thess 5:17). In Philippians 4:6 he says, “Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.” (NLT)

But there is more here. Listening is a way that I too can express my love, both for God as I meditate on his Word and seek his voice in prayer, and for others as I take a genuine interest in what they have to say and how they feel about it.

Prayer

Thank you Lord that you not only welcome open communication with me but you seek it. I don't want to miss any opportunity to commune with you, but I need your help. Please open my ears to hear you more clearly, and teach me as I practice with you the fine art of listening.

See also When Your Words Come

When There’s a Fire in Your Bones

Reading: Jeremiah 17:19 – 23:8

Scripture

But if I say, “I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,” his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. Jeremiah 20:9-10 (NIV)

Observations

Poor Jeremiah. No doubt he's smiling now, but you really have to read “Jeremiah's Complaint” in Jeremiah 20:7-18 to appreciate how miserable he was. Yes, he was on fire, but everyone just wanted to put him out.

The people of God had lost their first love. “Yes yes, Lord,” they said, but their hearts were far away, worshiping other gods and letting justice fall by the wayside. And so it fell to Jeremiah to bring God's dire warnings to the people. They, however, appreciated neither the message nor the messenger, and had Jeremiah beaten and put in the stocks.

It's hardly surprising then that Jeremiah found himself feeling angry and depressed, and apparently reluctant at times to share what God gave him. Had the people listened and accepted God's message, it would have been a completely different story. How satisfying that would have been for Jeremiah, how rewarding to see the nation turning back to God. But instead, he was shunned, just as God was – the servant like his master.

Nevertheless, Jeremiah was no Jonah. He couldn't run away because he simply couldn't hold God's message in. It was like fire in his bones, and no matter how much he was mocked and ridiculed, no one could put the fire out, not even himself.

Application

It's reassuring to see that even some of God's “major prophets” struggled. As I get to know Jeremiah from his writings (Jeremiah and Lamentations), I find myself liking him very much. I would like to have been around to encourage him and stand with him. Even in the midst of loneliness and difficulty, his passion for God was unquenchable.

But in the midst of his anguish, I see that Jeremiah did two things: He committed his cause to God, and he took his complaints to God. I can do the same. There is simply no point in running away, or in seeking solace elsewhere. God is the only one worth running to, and the only one who can truly meet me at my point of need.

Prayer

Thank you Lord for Jeremiah. (I'd like to meet him one day!) As I walk this earth, please help me to never let go of you, and to always seek you first when I'm troubled. Hold me fast in that day so that like Jeremiah, I might finish the race, and finish it well.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:21-25 (NIV)

See also Thrown in the Deep End, and To Him Who Overcomes

 

Walking in Authority

Reading: Luke 2-4

Scripture

So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them.

When the sun was setting, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them. Moreover, demons came out of many people, shouting, “You are the Son of God!” Luke 4:39-41a (NIV)

Observations

Jesus was not just “empty talk”. He spoke with authority. He spoke with authority as he taught people, compelling some and threatening others. He spoke with authority over sickness and it left people. He spoke with authority to demons and they fled. He told people their sins were forgiven and they were. Because he carried authority, Jesus was able to bring real healing and transformation, both physically and spiritually, to all who came to him in faith.

Application

I long to be able to share the life-changing power of God with others, to see Jesus bring healing and wholeness to people physically and spiritually. Jesus gave his disciples authority to heal the sick and cast out demons, but he also gives authority to me as his ambassador to carry on the work that he started. He says, “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore, go…” (Matthew 8:18-19a).

Prayer

Lord Jesus, even as I write I feel the desire to pray for people welling up in me. Lord, let your kingdom come! May it truly be on earth as it is in heaven. Please release your Holy Spirit to heal and restore. I pray for miracles that set people free and provoke great outpourings of joy. Let us not be impotent in our faith but instead walk tall in the authority you have given us.

I pray Lord Jesus for wisdom and opportunity, and for the courage to obey all of the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit!

Whoa! Sometimes it feels like God puts his hand right inside my chest and gives my myocardium a squeeze! I've found using SOAP is really effective way to open myself up to God as I read the Bible. If you'd like to know more about this simple technique, you can find out here: What is SOAP?

 

I Can Trust God, for Everything

Reading: Psalm 103-105

Scripture

He spread out a cloud as a covering, and a fire to give light at night. They asked, and he brought them quail and satisfied them with the bread of heaven. He opened the rock, and water gushed out; like a river it flowed in the desert. Psalm 105:39-42 (NIV)

Observations

When God brought his people Israel out of Egypt and into the inhospitable harshness of the desert, the people had absolutely no idea that they were about to enjoy the faithful hospitality of their God. Rather, many of them feared they were about to die. The environment offered them nothing. There was no way they could provide for themselves – there was no food, no water and no protection from the elements. Unless God miraculously provided for them, they would surely die. But God did provide, and in a way that left no one in any doubt: God was looking after them.

Application

I'm used to the idea of providing for myself. I work to earn money and provide for the needs of my family. I have insurance lest something be stolen or damaged. The government provides services to care for me should I become sick or needy. If I'm hungry, I just go to the pantry. I'm certainly grateful for all those things, but I really don't know what it's like to have nothing, to be absolutely dependant on God for everything as the Israelites were.

Yet everything I have comes from God. He is the source of everything I will ever need. If all I depend upon is taken away from me, he will still be my Provider. It's all because of God's wonderful grace. So what can be my response?

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name. Psalm 105:1

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NIV)

Prayer

Thank you Father that I can trust you. Please continue to provide everything I need. Thank you that I can trust you with my life, and with my family. Thank you for the opportunity to work and earn an income. Thank you for the good things you provide, and for all your blessings to me. I look to you, Lord. May nothing else have a hold on me except the desire to know you more, and enjoy your grace forever.

Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Psalm 105:4-5 (NIV)

See also: Jesus Wants Me to Ask!

 

Looking Into the Face of God

Reading: Psalm 102

Scripture

Do not hide your face from me when I am in distress. Turn your ear to me; when I call, answer me quickly. Psalm 102:2-3 (NIV)

Observations

Right at the beginning of Psalm 102, the writer pleads with God, “Do not hide your face from me…” What is it about a person's face that is so important? Of the five senses, touch is the only one that doesn't rely on the face. The face is where we see into a person, like a window into the person's thoughts and feelings. But a person's face is also a window through which they can look to see into us.

To hide your face from someone speaks of cutting off communication with them. But even if we can't see a person's face, we may still be able to hear their voice. And so we see that God draws us to himself even when we are far from him, calling us to turn from our sinfulness and come into his very Presence. The final verse of the psalm reveals once again, as all through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, what God's intention for us is: “The children of your servants will live in your presence…” (vs 28).

Application

When Jesus won victory over sin and death at the cross, he did something wonderful – he opened up a window between me and God. It's a window through which I can see God – his thoughts and his feelings, and his holiness – and through which God looks into me. Yes, “everything is open and laid bare” before his eyes (Heb 4:13), but before, his face was turned away from me because of my sin. Now my sin is gone. I have been made holy by the completed work of Jesus on the cross. Now, God's face is turned towards me.

I imagine myself walking up to a wide open window and talking with God as he leans on the smooth wooden sill, his face turned towards mine. The sun shines and a warm breeze gently blows. This is why I was made – to commune with my awesome and approachable Creator.

Prayer

Thank you Jesus that you have opened up for me this window of opportunity to come close to you, and see into your heart. May the window always remain open, and may the sill be worn smooth from time spent leaning on it and talking with you.

Ready or Not, I’m Stepping Out!

Reading: Mark 11

Scripture

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. Mark 11:22-24 (NIV)

Observations

Once again, I am unmasked by the astonishing words of Jesus. Despite what I want to believe, one of those five letter words at times weighs heavier than the other. Why is it that Doubt always wants to put the brakes on Faith? Only one of those two conditions is eternal: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13a. Doubt isn't on the list. So why would I want to hold onto it? One day, my doubts will all pass away, yet Jesus clearly wishes me to walk in faith NOW.

Application

My faith needs more exercise. Lounging about in doubt is such a waste of my time. I hate the idea of not truly living the life that Jesus has called me to simply because I didn't put one foot in front of the other to exercise faith. I am a child of God and an ambassador for Christ. “God did not give (me) a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 1Tim 1:7. And Jesus' encouragement to me is absolutely clear: “Have faith in God.”

Prayer

Thank you Jesus for making so very clear what you expect for me. I ask for opportunities to exercise my faith, and the gumption to ignore the voice of doubt that holds me back. I want so much to live fully as you intend, and not be held back by doubt, fear or lack of confidence. Take me by the hand, Lord Jesus, and lead me forward. Ready or not, I'm stepping out!

 

Jesus Wants Me to Ask!

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Reading: Mark 10:35-52

Scripture

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus. “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.” “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.Mark 10:49-52 (NIV)

Observation

“What do you want me to do for you?” This is Jesus' response to blind Bartimaeus' cries for mercy, and is exactly the same response as the one he makes to John and James in the story immediately before. But something about their attitude was different: Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”What they wanted was a position of importance, to be seated at the right and left of Jesus in glory. And yet despite their forwardness and the inappropriateness of their request, Jesus doesn't rebuke them for asking. He simply explains to them why he can't grant that request, and takes the opportunity to teach them about what it means to be great in the kingdom of God.

Application

Jesus expects me to ask him for things – things I need, and things I'd like him to do. In Matthew 7:7-8, he tells me, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”It's possible that at times I might ask for something inappropriately, but Jesus won't mind. It's an opportunity for him to teach me. On the other hand, to not ask at all – that would be a great shame. What blessing might I miss out on for lack of boldness in asking, or from simply not understanding that the God I serve delights to show his love and kindness to me.

Prayer

Thank you Lord for these two stories. I want to be an “asker”, and to enjoy the riches of your kindness to me. I don't want to miss out on anything you have for me because of my own lack of faith or understanding. Please give me faith, and open my eyes to see you as you really are, and to know your love which surpasses all understanding.

 

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