Sunday, May 22, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Listening Life
#3—Listening to Scripture

Introduction and offering:

Would you like to hear God’s voice more clearly? What if I could give you a simple practice that would guarantee that you would hear from God? Would you do it? Here it is:

The Big Idea: Scripture is God’s inspired Word. Listen to Scripture and you’ll hear from God!

Simple! But honestly, some of us don’t feel that way. We read the Bible and come away scratching our heads. I want to teach you how to listen to the Bible so that you can hear God’s voice. And I thought it would be good if we practiced together. So you’ll notice that your outline looks different—more about that in a minute.

This is week 3 of our series, The Listening Life, which is inspired and informed by Adam McHugh’s excellent book, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction. If you want to dig deeper, get the book. I’m borrowing some ideas from it, and adding some of my own—but all of it is based on Scripture.

This series is about whole-life listening: listening to God (who listens to us), listening to Scripture, to creation, to other people and to our own lives. And really, all these other “listenings” are all potentially listening to God, because He speaks in many ways. The Listening Life is whole-life listening to God who is speaking all around us. The universe crackles with the sound of God’s voice! I want to learn to Him better—don’t you?

Last Sunday, I asked you to pray this prayer from 1 Samuel 3 every day: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” When you pray that prayer, you are making space to hear from God. We’re going to pray it right now. Speak Lord, for your servant is listening. I believe that God will speak to you today.

Your outline looks different. Instead of fill-in-the-blank points, there are three short passages of Scripture: one from a New Testament letter, one from the Old Testament law, and one from the Gospel of Luke. Each of these passages speaks to our subject—listening to Scripture. We are going to practice listening to Scripture together. Here’s how it will work.

  • I will read each passage slowly, twice.
  • The first time we read for observation: What does it say? And we read for interpretation: What does it mean?
  • The second time we read for application: What will I do?

So I’m not going to just tell you how to listen to Scripture; I’m going to do it with you and hopefully show you how to do it.

If you brought a paper Bible with you (and I encourage you to do that each week), open it to 2 Timothy 3. I love digital Bibles and use them; but if you are new to the Bible, it’s helpful to start with a paper Bible. It helps you to see the Big Picture, see where you are in the story. For example, my Bible is open to 2 Timothy. You can see that it is toward the end of the book (95%). The Bible is laid out in roughly chronological order. It starts in Genesis with God creating the universe and ends in Revelation with the second coming of Christ and the restoration of all things. So right away, I can see where 2 Timothy falls in the story—it’s toward the end. You can’t see that on your phone screen. As I read, please underline or mark words or phrases that strike you. You can do this in your Bible or on the outline.

 

We’ll start with a passage from 2 Timothy. This is a letter written from the apostle Paul late in his life to Timothy, a younger pastor whom Paul has mentored. The letter is filled with wise practical advice from an older pastor to a younger one.

2 Timothy 3:14–17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Observation: What does it say?

Here, Paul gives Timothy a command or charge: continue in what you have learned. Here’s what you have learned: stick with it; don’t leave it. It’s possible to wander away from what you’ve learned. Paul says, “Don’t do it. Park right here. Continue on in what you’ve learned.”

He tells him why he should continue: because you know those from whom you’ve learned it. You learned from reliable sources. Who taught Timothy what he knew? First, his mother and grandmother.

2 Timothy 1:5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

Timothy first learned his faith from his mom and grandma: Eunice and Lois. And he learned it from his mentor, the apostle Paul, with whom he traveled and planted churches.

Paul tells him what to do (continue in what you’ve learned), why he should do it (he learned from reliable sources) and what he learned: “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures.” This is what he is to continue in: the Holy Scriptures. When Paul wrote this, the Holy Scriptures were the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament. Later, the New Testament was added to the Scriptures to form what we call the Bible. The word “scripture” means “writings”. The word Bible means “book or scroll”. The Scriptures or Bible tell God’s Big Story: Creation, Fall, Redemption and Restoration. Our personal stories are part of God’s Big Story, so when we read the Bible, we begin to make sense of the universe and our place in it.

So Paul says, “Continue on in what you have learned from the Scriptures.” Then he says some very important things about the Scriptures.

First, he says the Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

Second, he says “all Scripture is God-breathed,” or inspired.

Third, he says that all Scripture “is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Interpretation: What does it mean? Let’s focus on this idea: what does it mean that the Scriptures are God-breathed or inspired? It means that God is the ultimate Author of Scripture. The Bible was written by human beings—in fact, it was written over 15 centuries by dozens of authors. But behind all these human authors stands a Divine Author, breathing His word into them. I don’t have time to discuss the scholarly debates about the nature of inspiration—how God did it. But somehow, God inspired these authors to write down what He wanted. He breathed His words into them and through them, so that when we read the Bible, we are reading God’s Word. God is speaking through the inspired Scriptures. So when we come to the Bible, we come to encounter God. We aren’t reading a dead book, but a living Word whose Author is speaking to us. The Bible is a place of encounter; we’re invited into a conversation with God. Listen to the Bible to encounter God!

Because the Bible is God’s inspired Word, it can “make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”

ILL: A couple months ago, I was in LA for meetings. On my way back to the airport with a friend, we had a conversation with our Uber driver. She asked what we did, and we said we were pastors, and asked about her faith. She had none and waxed eloquent about it. I asked if she had ever read the Bible. No. Are you curious, I asked her? Of course. I recommended she read the gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—the story of Jesus. “Just get acquainted with Jesus and see what you think,” I told her and left her my card. I haven’t heard from her, but I know that if she reads the Scriptures, the story of Jesus, she will know what she needs to be saved.

God’s inspired word can make you wise for salvation—it can lead you to Jesus.

It is also useful to teach, rebuke, correct and train in righteousness, so that we will be equipped for every good work. God’s Word can equip you for every good work! Have you been in a situation and not known what to do? God’s word can equip you for that situation—for every good work. It equips us for service, for our mission.

So what does it mean? It means that the Bible is God’s inspired Word and very powerful! Let’s read one more time—this time ask God to speak to you: what will you do?

2 Timothy 3:14–17 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Application: What will I do? Take a minute and tell someone!

Here are a couple things that speak to me as I listen to this Scripture.

First, I want to continue on in the Scriptures. I have been reading the Bible almost every day for close to 50 years. I don’t know how many times I’ve read through the whole thing, but it’s dozens of times. And I’m not about to stop. I’m going to keep reading every day because this makes me wise for salvation, and this equips me for every good work, and God speaks through this to teach me, rebuke me, correct me and train me. When I read God’s inspired Word, God speaks to me—and works in my life. I encounter God! Sometimes I learn new things; often I’m reminded of what I’ve learned and need to continue in. But God speaks every time. We never read the Bible alone; God meets us there; it is His Word and He is speaking to us. So I’m going to keep doing it! And I hope you will too.

We have a Bible reading plan; it takes about 15 minutes a day to do the reading, and it takes you through the OT once and the NT twice every year. We have a 5 minute version too. God can speak in 15 minutes or 5 minutes. Get started, then continue on. Keep going. Build a steady diet of Scripture into your life.

Second, I want to teach the Scriptures to my kids and grandkids. Paul told Timothy that, “from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures.” Timothy’s mom and grandma gave him a great gift. Are you giving that give to your kids and grandkids? We started with our kids when they were infants. They have been hearing the Scriptures from us since they were babies, through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. We’ve built it into their lives, and they’ve continued on. Find a way to read and talk about Scripture with your kids. Make it fun, practical, lively—don’t make the best news in the world boring! You want your kids to learn it, love it and live it!

 

Next passage: Deuteronomy 17. This is in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy is the fifth book in the Bible. It is toward the front of the story (16% in). The name “Deuteronomy” means “second law”. In it, Moses restates the law, God’s covenant with Israel, in the form of a long story. Here, Moses predicts that when they are settled in the Promised Land, they will want a king, so he gives them some rules for the king.

Deuteronomy 17:18–20 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

Observation: what does it say? As each king assumed the throne in Israel, they were to write their own copy of this law. That could refer to the entire book of Deuteronomy, or to the entire Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament).   This copy of God’s law—God’s inspired Word to Israel—was to be with the king, and he was to read it “all the days of his life”: every day! He was to do this for three important reasons.

First, so that he would learn to revere the Lord. Keep God first!

Second, so that he would learn to follow carefully all the words of this law. He was to learn to obey, and not “turn from the law to the right or left.”

Third, so that he would not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites. In other words, he was not above the law, but was under God’s law like everyone else. This was God’s word to him too.

Interpretation: what does it mean? Why did every new king have to write his own copy of the law? By writing his own copy of the law, it guaranteed that the king had read the law and was familiar with it. It also meant that the king was giving his assent to the law and covenant, acknowledging that he accepted the law and covenant. And he was acknowledging that his authority was derivative: God was Israel’s true King, and he ruled only under God’s authority.  

Israel’s leaders were to be led by God and submitted to God’s Word. They were to be people of the Book, who read God’s Word every day and did what it said. They were never to think that they were above the law. Reading God’s Word daily would keep them humble and obedient. And if they would do this, the kings and their descendants would rule a long time over Israel.

By the way, did Israel’s kings do this? Did they follow this teaching? No. They ignored God’s Word; they didn’t make their own copies, they didn’t read it every day, and they didn’t obey it. In fact, 2 Kings 22 tells the story of the king’s secretary finding a copy of the law in the temple. It was the 18th year of King Josiah’s reign, and he had never even seen a copy of the law, much less read it every day! The law had been lost for decades. This neglect of God’s word resulted in the eventual overthrow of the kingdom. Israel was taken into captivity and was no more because they ignored God’s word.

Let’s read one more time—this time ask God to speak to you: what will you do?

Deuteronomy 17:18–20 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

Application: what will I do? Take a moment and tell someone.

Here is what speaks to me as I listen to this Scripture.

Listen to God’s Word every day—all the days of your life. God is telling the king that he needs to do this; I think God is telling me the same thing. I need to listen to Scripture every day so that I revere the Lord and obey Him. The Scripture is a like a compass pointing me back to True North. Without it, I wander. So for me, it’s an every day deal. Each day, I listen to Scripture and recalibrate to True North, correct back to Jesus. Jesus said in John 5:39-40 that all Scripture testifies to Him—it all points us to Jesus. He is our True North. Make it an every day deal. Listen to God in Scripture and let him recalibrate you back to Jesus.

In the book, The Listening Life, Adam McHugh explains the ancient practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading. We use a modified version of that called PBJ: Prayer, Bible and Journal. This is a simple structure for a daily time with God—a time to connect with God and listen to God. I read the Bible (I use our Bible reading plan and it takes me about 15 minutes to read it). I ask God to speak to me. I pray that prayer, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” I expect God to speak to me through Scripture. To help me listen to God in Scripture, I use the SOAP method, which is explained in our journals.

  • Scripture. I read the Scripture.
  • Observation. I observe and interpret. I ask, “What does it say? And what does it mean?” It’s what we’ve been doing today.
  • Application. I look for the impact—what strikes me, what impresses me—and ask, “What will I do?” I ask God for one thing, and then I write that one thing down in my journal. “Give me one thing for today that I can do.” Listening to God’s Word will always lead to obedience. We aren’t just accumulating Bible knowledge; we are building a relationship with God and learning to obey. Remember, the king was to read every day so he could “learn to revere the Lord” (learn to love God) and “carefully follow all the words of this law” (learn to obey). If you listen and don’t do, you haven’t really listened. Eugene Peterson wrote: “The most important question we ask of the text is not, ‘What does this mean?’ but ‘What can I obey?’ A simple act of obedience will open our lives to this text far more quickly than any number of Bible studies and dictionaries and concordances.”
  • Prayer. I finish with prayer. I pray my one thing back to God and then pray about whatever else is on my mind. And I try to listen for God’s answers.

SOAP: Scripture, Observation, Application, Prayer. That’s how I do my daily Bible reading and listen to Scripture. All this is explained in our Life Center journals.

Listen to God’s Word every day, all the days of your life.

 

The final passage is in Luke 10. You’ll notice in your Bible that it is in the New Testament, about 80% through the Bible. Luke is one of four gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—that tell the story of Jesus. Luke is the only gospel that includes this story of Jesus paying a visit to Mary and Martha. When you read a story like this in the Bible, try putting yourself into one of the character’s shoes and imagine the story from their perspective.

Luke 10:38–42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Observation: What does it say? Martha, who probably has the gift of hospitality, opened her home to Jesus and his 12 disciples. Imagine having 13 men drop over for lunch unexpected! Martha was busy—so busy that Luke says she was “distracted by all the preparations.” This is understandable: she had a large meal to prepare and she could have used some help. But her sister Mary, instead of helping, was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to what He said. Frustrated, Martha bursts in and interrupts Jesus and Mary, protesting that Mary has left her to do all the work by herself. “Tell her to help me,” she demands. How many of you have had a sibling fight like this in your home? We had them all the time growing up—fighting about doing the dishes or cleaning up. “Tell her to help me!”

You’d expect Jesus to send Mary into the kitchen to help—that would be fair. But that’s not what he does. Instead, he tells Martha that she’s worried and upset about many things, but few are needed, really only one! Mary has chosen what is better and it won’t be taken from her. What was the one thing that Mary had chosen? Listening to Jesus.

Interpretation: What does it mean? Did you notice that Martha was “distracted”? The word implies that she should have been focused on something and wasn’t. What should she have been focused on? Jesus! If Jesus showed up at your house what would you do? I hope you’d drop everything and pay attention to Him! Everything else is just a distraction compared to Jesus!

Only one thing is needed; what is that one thing? Listening to Jesus. Some scholars say that Mary was being a disciple, and that is the one thing: be a disciple, be a follower of Jesus. But how was she being a disciple? She was listening to Jesus. Listen to Jesus. What if the most important thing you did all day was to listen to Jesus?

Let’s read one more time, and listen for what God might say to you. Speak Lord, for your servants are listening.

Luke 10:38–42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Application: What will I do? Take a moment and tell someone.

Here is what speaks to me as I listen to this Scripture.

Only one thing is needed: listen to Jesus. The most important thing I do is to listen to Jesus, to pay attention to Jesus. I do that when I listen His Word in Scripture. I do that when I listen for the Spirit’s whisper during the day. I do that when I listen for the voice of God all during the day, knowing that He may speak to me through anyone or anything.

Listen to Jesus.

I hope you’ll make a habit of taking time to listen to Scripture each day. Sit at Jesus’ feet and let Him speak to you as you open God’s word.

 
Sermon Questions

  1. Do you wish you could hear God’s voice more clearly? What do you think is a relatively simple practice that could help you to do just that?
  2. Is it part of your daily practice to spend time in the Word? When you do spend time reading Scripture, do you think you are able to more clearly hear God? Give an example of a time you heard the Lord pointedly speaking into your life.
  3. Do you tend to read out of your paper bible, or use a digital version? In your opinion, what are the benefits and drawbacks to each?
  4. What does it mean that the Scriptures are God-breathed or inspired? Is this evident to you when you get into the Word, or do you still have some questions? If you feel comfortable doing so, please share about your experiences with reading the bible. Has it been easy or difficult? What could make it better or more understandable for you?

 

Application

Try to make it a daily habit to read and listen through Scripture each day. Sit at Jesus’ feet and let Him speak to you as you open God’s word. You might just hear Him more clearly than before!