Sunday, May 8, 2016
Pastor Joe Wittwer
The Listening Life
#1—The God Who Listens
Introduction and offering:
Happy Mother’s Day! I love my mom! I admire her faith, optimism, joy, and spirit of adventure. She’s a remarkable woman! I love my mom and I’ll call her today and tell her so! If you can, please tell your momma that you love her today! At my house, we’re celebrating three generations of moms today: my mom, my wife (the mother of our five kids), and my four daughters/daughters-in-law who are all mommas. Happy Mother’s Day!
A few months ago, I found a new book called, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, by Adam McHugh. I read it with my mentor groups, and for the next few weeks, I want to share with you what I learned.
First, I’ve got to tell you why I was attracted to the book: it’s because I’m not a good listener. It’s not my fault: I’m a preacher—I talk—it’s what preachers do. So unfortunately, I find myself talking in many situations when I should be listening. Or even if I’m listening, I’m not really listening, I’m just waiting to talk, formulating my brilliant thoughts to share with you. I’m not a good listener—and there are lots of reasons, and I’ll share those with you as we move through this series. But for now, suffice it to say that I needed this book because I’m not a good listener, and I want to be.
How about you? How many of you are good listeners? Would you like to get better? I hope so, because for the next six weeks, we are going to learn how to listen: how to listen to God, to scripture, to creation, to each other, and to ourselves. To be a disciple of Jesus means that you are a learner—that’s what the word “disciple” means: learner. And you can’t learn without listening, so disciples or learners are also listeners. Today, we’ll start with some motivating ideas about listening and then see that listening starts with God.
The Big Idea: The pattern of human life is that we listen first, but with the Lord we are always heard before we hear. God listens to you!
- Listening is first.
Listening is first. Listening is first in life. You heard your parents’ voices in the womb long before you could see or touch them, and once you’re born, you listened for months before you ever spoke. And when we finally learn to speak, we’re taught to listen before we speak. Listen first.
Proverbs 18:13 To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.
How many of you have ever spoken first and felt like a fool?
ILL: When my oldest son Andy was a young adult, I heard about something he had done, and when I saw him, I lit into him without ever listening to his side of the story. When I heard it, I was embarrassed and ashamed—the “folly and shame”—because I had jumped to a wrong conclusion. Listen first.
This is the pattern of life: listen before you speak; learn before you teach. Listen first.
James 1:19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,
Be quick to listen and slow to speak. You have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion. Listen first.
Listening is not only first in life; listening is first in following Jesus. First we hear the call—we listen and then we follow. You can’t follow Jesus without listening.
Listening is first in importance. How important is listening? How would our relationships change if we approached every situation with the intention of listening first? What if we approached our relationship with God as listeners first? What if we approached our relationships with people with our ears first rather than our mouths? Learning to listen could change everything!
Listening is first. So what is listening?
- Listening is focused attention.
In the Bible, the words “hear” and “listen” are often used interchangeably. But in this series, we’ll make a distinction. Hearing is something that happens to you. Sound waves hit your ear and you hear. At any given moment, we may hear many things, and filter them out. We don’t pay attention to all the sounds around us. This is why when the service ends you can have a conversation with a friend even though the room is buzzing with activity. Hearing is an act of the senses; listening is an act of the will. Hearing happens to you, but listening is something you choose. You choose to focus your attention.
Webster defines listening as:
- To pay attention to sound (listen to music).
- To hear something with thoughtful attention (listen to a sermon).
- To be alert to catch an expected sound (listen for his step).
All the definitions include this idea of focused attention, and we’ll come back to this idea often in this series. We choose to listen, to focus and be attentive.
ILL: My wife called me in the middle of a very busy day this week. At one point during our conversation, I realized that I was hearing her voice, but wasn’t listening. I wasn’t paying attention; I was distracted by the work on my desk. When I asked what she was about to do, and her first words were, “I already told you…”, well, that’s never good.
Listening is focused attention. Be attentive!
ILL: On June 17, 1998, 81-year-old Robert Kupferschmid and his 52-
year-old pilot friend, Wesley Sickle, were flying from Indianapolis to Muncie, Indiana. During the flight, the pilot slumped over and died at the controls. The plane began to nose-dive and Kupferschmid grabbed the controls. He got on the radio and pleaded for help.
Nearby were two pilots who heard the call. The two pilots gave Kupferschmid a steady stream of instructions for climbing, steering—and the scariest part—landing. The two experienced pilots circled the runway three times before Kupferschmid was ready to attempt the landing.
Emergency vehicles were called out and made ready. The plane’s nose nudged the center line and bounced a few times before the tail hit the ground. The plane ended up in a patch of soggy grass next to the runway. Amazingly, Kupferschmid was not injured.
I’m guessing that he listened as if his life depended on it! He paid attention!
That’s listening: focused attention. And your life may depend upon it.
- Listening is discipleship.
I’ve already said that a disciple is a learner, and you can’t learn without listening, so learners (disciples) are listeners. You can’t follow Jesus without listening, which is why Jesus often ended his teaching by saying, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear (listen).” Discipleship—being a Christian—starts with listening.
Mark 1:16–18 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Jesus called, they listened and responded. This pattern is true for all of us. At some point, Jesus calls and we listen and respond. We hear the gospel and believe. Discipleship starts with listening.
Romans 10:17 So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.
We hear the gospel—we listen—and we believe. Discipleship starts with listening—listening to Jesus’ call, listening to the gospel.
But of course, discipleship is not a single event—it is a lifestyle. We don’t listen to Jesus just once and we’re done; we listen every day. We often say, “You can’t follow Jesus and stay where you are.” The idea of following implies movement. There is always a next step to take, so we are always asking, “What is your next step in following Jesus?” To answer that question, you must listen. Disciples are walking listeners.
Listening makes us disciples. I can’t overemphasize this enough. If you want to follow Jesus, you must listen. If you want to make disciples, teach them to listen; our lives depend on it. That leads to the next important point:
- Listening is obedience.
In the ancient languages of the Bible—Hebrew and Greek—and later, in Latin, the words for “obedience” came from the words for “listening or hearing.” For example, the Latin word for obedience was oboedire which was a compound of ob (towards) and oedire (to hear; we get audio, audible from it). To obey was to “hear towards”—to listen was to obey.
The New Testament was written in Greek. The Greek word for obedience is hupakouo, which is a compound of hupo (under) and akouo (to hear). To obey was to “hear under”—to listen was to obey.
In ancient cultures, to listen was to obey. It’s still that way today. When you’re kids don’t obey you, what do you say? “You’re not listening!” In the Bible, God often says that to His disobedient people: “You’re not listening!” Obedience is deep listening, listening with your ears, your heart, and your hands and feet. Those who don’t act on what they hear have not actually listened. Seminary professor Howard Hendricks says, “Biblically speaking, to hear and not to do is not to hear at all.”
James 1:22–25 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.
Hear and do. Listening is obedience. To not obey is to not really listen. We listen with our ears, our hearts and our hands and feet.
- Listening is serving.
When James and John asked Jesus for the top spots in His kingdom, the other disciples were offended and angry.
Mark 10:42–45 So Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 43 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Do you want to be a leader? You must be a servant. Do you want to be first? You must be the slave of all. The call to servanthood is at the heart of the gospel. Followers of Jesus are servants. We give our lives away for others, just as Jesus did.
One of the ways we do this is by listening. The more power people have, the more they tend to speak and the less they tend to listen. But Jesus turns this upside down. Leaders are servants—leaders are listeners. Listening is one of the most practical ways we serve people. When you listen, you give others a great gift—the gift of your undivided attention.
A servant listener doesn’t dominate a conversation. Servants take the attention off of themselves and focus their attention on the needs and interests of others. Servant listening is an act of humility; we are acknowledging that no matter who we are listening to, we have come to learn.
If we want to imitate Jesus and be servants, we must learn to listen.
- Listening is hospitality.
Listening is an act of profound hospitality. In Revelation 3, in His letter to the church at Laodicea, Jesus makes a beautiful offer.
Revelation 3:20 Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.
Jesus pictures himself knocking on our door. If we hear his voice and open the door, He will come in and we’ll spend time as friends together. We listen and open the door to Jesus. When we listen, we open the door to a guest and invite them into our life, into our space. Listening welcomes others in. Listening is an act of profound hospitality.
When you listen, when you open the door to God or others, you are embracing an adventure. Listening opens us to surprise, to hearing the unexpected, to change. Listening is hospitality, and hospitality opens you to change!
Listening is first. Listening is focused attention. Listening is discipleship and obedience and serving and hospitality. It is all these things and more. It is worth our time and effort to learn to listen, to become better listeners. And our example is God Himself. Before I dive into the second half, we’re going to receive the special offering.
This special offering will be used to drill wells and provide clean water in Kenya, and to help kids in our community—send foster kids to summer camp and provide food for kids on the weekends through the Bite 2 Go program.
Bite 2 Go is a partnership between the schools, Second Harvest, and partners like us. Bite 2 Go food kits are given to students in need, discreetly placed in their backpacks before they go home for the weekend. Many of these students get many of their meals at school, and might otherwise face the weekend without food. Currently Life Center owners are sponsoring 83 food-at-risk students at Sheridan Elementary. We’d like to make sure every child in need at Sheridan is taken care of, and then tackle another school!
This summer, Life Center is launching Royal Family Kids Camp. This is a summer camp for foster kids. These kids who often get bounced around from home to home; we want to treat them like royalty and love them like family! Hence…Royal Family Kids Camp. Life Center is paying for, staffing and producing the camp—it will cost the kids and their foster families nothing. This offering is going to fund that effort.
We’ve been working on clean water projects in Kenya now for 7 years. When we started, there was no clean water source in Adiedo, Kenya. We have drilled two new wells, rehabilitated 7 other non-working wells, and installed four rain catchment systems at schools. In October, we are drilling four more new wells, and working with local leaders to create a regional water committee that will oversee clean water development in the whole region!
Your offering on Mother’s Day will go for these three worthy projects. Here’s the amazing thing: two very generous donors here have offered to match everything you give up to $75,000! Every dollar you give doubles!
- The God who listens.
Listening is first, and the first Listener is God Himself. The pattern of human life is that we listen first, but with the Lord we are always heard before we hear. God is listening to you long before you ever listen to Him.
- God inclines His ear to us.
All of the Psalms listed on your outline talk about God inclining His ear to us. Here’s my favorite of the bunch:
Psalm 116:1–2 (NIV)
1 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
The New Living Translation says, “Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath.” God turns His ear to me; He bends down to listen. Literally, it says that He “inclines His ear to me.”
ILL: Sometimes my grandkids speak so softly that I have to bend down to hear them. I lean in and incline my ear to them so I can hear them. Why do I do that? Because I’m old and hard of hearing! No; it’s because I want to hear them.
I love this picture! Every time you pray, God leans in to hear you. He wants to hear you! He is inclining His ear towards you. The psalmist isn’t suggesting that God is hard of hearing—“Heh? What’s that?” God leans in not because He can’t hear you, but because He wants to hear you!
Here’s the other thing that is remarkable about this. God is the King of universe. We should be the ones bowing down before Him; but here, God bends down to hear us. The King stoops low to hear our prayers. God lowers Himself to hear our concerns.
The ultimate example of this bending low, stooping down for us, is Jesus. Philippians 2 describes Jesus’ condescension, coming down from God to man to servant all the way to the cross. All the way down…for us. “Therefore God highly exalted Him that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” The Exalted One, the Lord came down for us. This God still inclines His ear to hear our prayers, still stoops low to listen to us.
Every prayer is based on the hope that God is a listener. We pray because we believe that He hears us.
1 John 5:14 And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him.
We are confident that He hears us. God is a listener. He is leaning in to hear your prayer.
But God didn’t start listening when we talked; He’s been listening forever. It’s who He is.
- Listening is part of God’s nature.
Christians believe in one God. This one God exists in three persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. We call this the Trinity—a word that is not found in the Bible, but that we use to describe this idea that God is three persons in one. God is a relationship. God is a community. There is not only a personality behind the universe, but a relationship. The universe is fundamentally relational because God is a relationship. Father, Son and Spirit love each other perfectly—always have, always will. They listen to each other. Here are three verses from the gospel of John; Jesus is the speaker in each. Notice who is listening to whom.
John 5:30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
Who is listening? Jesus. To whom is He listening? The Father.
John 11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
Who is listening? The Father. To whom is He listening? Jesus.
John 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come.
Who is listening? The Spirit. To whom is He listening? Jesus and the Father.
Father, Son and Spirit—all listening to one another. Listening is part of God’s nature. John tells us that God is love. Listening is an expression of love. God is a listener because God is love. Listening is part of God’s nature.
This God who is a Listener, listens to you. When you pray, He inclines His ear. It’s Who He is. God is a Listener. Perhaps we see this most clearly in Jesus, who is the ultimate revelation of God. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. So let’s finish there.
- Listen like Jesus.
We all know that Jesus was a speaker. His words are printed in red in many of our Bibles. But did you know that Jesus was a listener—a very good listener?
One of the marks of good listeners is that they ask lots of questions, and Jesus was a master at asking questions. Often, he started conversations by asking a question. And when he was asked a question, he usually answered with another question. Tom Hughes, in his book Curious, writes:
“Throughout the four Gospels of Jesus, he is asked 183 questions. Of those 183 questions, how many do you think he answered directly? Four. He responds to the other 179 questions with a question, a parable, or a cryptic remark that leaves those gathered with even more questions.” Hughes, Tom (2015-09-17). Curious: The Unexpected Power of a Question-Led Life (Kindle Locations 223-225). NavPress.
Jesus asked lots of questions. And he listened. If you want to listen like Jesus, learn to ask questions.
“How are you doing?”
“Why just ok? What’s the story behind ‘ok’?”
It’s often the second or third question that opens another person up. Listen like Jesus; learn to ask questions.
Jesus listened widely. He listened to people on the margins, people who were ignored or silenced by the majority. One of the best stories about this is in Mark 10. Jesus is leaving Jerusalem when a blind beggar named Bartimaeus hears that it is Jesus who is passing by and begins to shout, “Jesus, over here! Help me! Have mercy on me!” People in the crowd tried to silence him. “Shut up, beggar.” Who did he think he was? Jesus was a VIP—maybe even the Messiah. This guy was a nobody, nothing but a blind beggar. But Bartimaeus wasn’t about to miss his chance. The more they shushed him, the louder he yelled. “Over here Jesus! Help me! Have mercy on me.” Then comes one of my favorite verses in the Bible.
Mark 10:49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”
Jesus stopped. He stopped because he heard the cry of a nobody. He stopped to listen to a nobody. It’s even more dramatic when you realize that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of the world. The most important person who ever lived was on his way to do the most important thing ever done—and He stopped to listen to a nobody. Jesus listened widely. Jesus inclined his ear.
“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. Another question—more listening. “Lord, I want to see.” And Jesus healed him.
Do you want to listen like Jesus? Then open your ears and pay attention to the people everyone else is ignoring. Listen to the “least of these”. When we think we are too important to listen to someone, we’re very different than Jesus.
I also think of the story in Mark 5. Jesus was on his way to Jairus’ home to heal his sick daughter. Jairus was the ruler of a local synagogue—he was a big deal. On the way to Jairus’ house, crowds were pressing Jesus, trying to touch him. Suddenly Jesus stopped and said, “Who touched me?” Peter looked at him like he had lost his marbles. “What do you mean, ‘Who touched me?’ Everyone is touching you! That’s the problem! We can’t go anywhere without everyone touching you, or you stopping to touch people! All this touchy stuff is driving me crazy!” Jesus said, “I felt power go out of me—someone touched me and got healed.” A woman came forward who had a bleeding problem for 12 years. She had spent all her money on doctors and only gotten worse. Her problem made her unclean—she wasn’t even supposed to be there in the crowd. But she had snuck in close to Jesus, thinking, “If I can just touch Him, I’ll be well.” She did, and she was. When Jesus asked, “Who touched me?” she came forward and told Jesus her whole story. And Jesus stood there and listened.
This had to be driving Jairus crazy! His daughter was dying, and now here’s this lady going on and on, telling her whole story to Jesus. Have you ever wondered how we know this lady’s story? It’s because she told it to Jesus…and He listened. He didn’t say, “I’d love to hear your story, but I’m on an emergency call for a VIP. Catch you on the flip side. Ciao!” Jesus stood there and listened—to the whole story.
Jesus was a listener. He gave His full attention to people. He wasn’t a one-ear listener. He was all in. He listened wide—to everyone. And He listened deep—He heard people’s stories.
Listen like Jesus.
It starts by knowing that Jesus is listening to you. So I want you to close your eyes, and imagine Jesus standing in front of you like He did with Bartimaeus. Jesus asks you, “What do you want me to do for you?” Tell him.
- Would you consider yourself a good listener? What makes you think you are…or aren’t? Would you like to get better?
- What’s your definition of listening? How important is listening to you? Have you ever spoken first and felt like a fool? If you can think of an example, please share.
- How would our relationships change if we approached every situation with the intention of listening first? What if we approached our relationship with God as listeners first?
- What do you think happens when you truly listen to other people? How do you feel when you know someone has really heard you? What kinds of changes do you need to make in your life to listen to God in this way?
Try closing your eyes and imagining Jesus standing in front of you, like He did for Bartimaeus. Talk to the Lord and tell Him what you would like Him to do for you. Then practice your listening skills and really try to hear what God is saying to you. Ask what you can do for Him.