Listening is an interesting thing. It’s actually an art to be developed. Listening to many doesn’t come easy. We confuse listening with hearing, but there is a subtle difference. Hearing is a physical receptor coming into our ears. Listening goes a step further and takes what we hear into our minds and hearts for consideration.
There is a story in I Samuel 3. Samuel was just a boy working for Eli the priest. One night as Samuel was sleeping he was awaken by a voice calling his name. His ears could hear the voice but his listening had not developed to recognize it. He thought the priest was calling him. Eli said it wasn’t him and to go back to sleep. This happened three times that night. Finally, Eli understood that it was God calling to Samuel. He then gave Samuel some wise instruction. He said to Samuel in I Samuel 3:8. “…Go and lie down again, and if someone calls you, say, ‘Speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Samuel was about to go from mere physical hearing, to mind and heart consideration.
Sure enough, as Samuel lay again in bed, the voice of God was heard calling his name. This time Samuel answered in just the manner Eli had instructed. God gave Samuel His message and Samuel, in obedience, considered and obeyed the message.
It’s easy in our busy worlds to merely hear without listening. For example, we know the importance of reading God’s Word daily. It is our spiritual food. Physical food is needed daily; spiritual food is needed daily, too, to have the strength we need to face any obstacle, to make decisions. Therefore, we quickly read some Scripture or a devotional. We have “heard” the written Word, but have we listened? Have we asked the Holy Spirit to shine His truth into our understanding? Have we asked the Holy Spirit to make the truth we read and hear to be applicable in our lives, to guide us in some direction we are seeking? Without the Holy Spirit we may hear but we aren’t really listening.
Listening takes practice. Samuel could not discern the voice. It took practice and instruction before He knew it was God. Through this practice, Samuel became one of the Old Testament’s great prophets. He not only heard words, but discerned when it was God. It’s the same with you and me. Holy listening is developed through practice. Ask the Holy Spirit to develop your listening hears. That’s a prayer He loves to answer in the affirmative. It’s an immeasurable joy to develop our listening ears, to know of a certainty when God Himself is saying to us, “This is the way, now walk in it.”
There is a verse found in Psalm 121:7 that can be cause for confusion. It tells us, “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.” Upon reading this we can immediately bring to our memory all sorts of life situations that indeed brought us harm. Some have been hurt by the death of a loved one. Others struggle with physical or emotional illness. Perhaps you’ve experienced the pain of divorce, the betrayal of a trusted friend, failure to be respected in your job, worry over your wayward children, financial difficulty. The list of painful experiences that comes to us is long. Why, therefore, does God tell us that He will keep us from all harm, when all of us have felt pain and sorrow?
The answer is in right perspective. Since we live in a physical world where our experiences are either seen, smelled, heard, or felt, be it emotional or physical; then often, we read Scripture with an interpretation from the physical point of view. In reality, we need to ask the Holy Spirit to interpret for us from the spiritual point of view. The Holy Spirit is our teacher who guides us into all truth.
So, what is the truth of Psalm 121:7 that categorically says God will keep us from all harm? It means something far greater than a physical protection; it means a spiritual preservation. It’s like strawberry preserves. Strawberries left in the open air will rot quickly. However, when boiled with sugar, vinegar, a pinch of salt, then put in sealed jars, it can last a very long time. It maintains its tastiness. It’s the same in our spiritual world. It means that no matter the rot of sorrow, pain, and unfairness the world can throw at us, by the Holy Spirit within, we have the treasures of God’s preservation. Our joy, inner peace, courage and strength remain intact. Those key ingredients to our spiritual well being keeps us from the harm of our arch enemy, Satan, who “seeks to steal, kill, and destroy.” (John 10:10)
While our enemy does everything he can to steal our joy, kill our peace, and destroy all hope of anything good happening to us, our Heavenly Father is there to be our everything to get us through anything. How do you and I acquire such preservation of constant joy and inner peace? It’s all to do with how we think and upon what we let our thoughts dwell. I love the verse in Philippians 4:8, “And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about these things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Upon what we choose to focus is key to understanding how, “The Lord keeps you from all harm and watches over your life.” He keeps us spiritually intact — just like strawberry preserves.
There is a familiar story in Matthew 14:22-36. It’s the story of Jesus walking on the water, but that’s not the main point of what was happening here. Previously to this event, Jesus fed thousands of people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. The people ate until they were full, at which time the disciples gathered the left-overs — 12 baskets — one for each disciple to carry. Do you think that was a faith building lesson for them? Even so, another coaching period was about to come.
The Scriptures tell us that it was evening when Jesus sent the disciples to their boat. He said he would send the people home and come to them later. During Bible times there was a reference of time called the night watches. These watches took place between 6:00pm and 6:00am. There were four watches in three hour increments. So, the first watch was at 6:00pm, the second at 9:00pm, the third at 12:00pm and the last watch was at 3:00am.
The Scriptures indicate that as Jesus, about 6:00pm was sending the people home, the disciples were in their boat, “far away from land and fighting heavy waves,” (vs.24-25). Now comes the really interesting part. Jesus came on the fourth watch. He came at 3:00am. What? The disciples had been battling a storm for nine hours before Jesus decides to show up? Then, what happens?
Instead of stopping the storm right then and there, He tells Peter to walk on the water towards Him — and Peter does that very thing. For several moments Peter is actually walking on the water! Then, instead of maintaining focus on Jesus, Peter glances around, sees the waves, feels the pelting of the rain on his skin and the whipping wind in his face, and he begins to sink in fear, but he does the exact right thing in his difficulty. He cries out to Jesus to save him. Jesus responds to his call by grabbing hold of Peter. Together they get back in the boat. Then Jesus asks that well known question, “You have so little faith, why did you doubt me?”
We argue in defense of Peter, saying, but he walked on water! He did display faith! Was Jesus being harsh here? Unfair? After all, Jesus waited nine hours before coming to their aid, in the first place. Why is it, that so often in our own lives, we meet turmoil and despair head on, and wonder, why isn’t Jesus here? Why isn’t He helping us?
In actuality, Jesus is showing great love in His delays. He designs our molding into His image, making us stronger, more courageous, filled with His own peace, the kind He had when the Scriptures tell us of another storm when Jesus calmly slept through the whole thing! Jesus knows that faith does not grow strong on the calm waters of life. It grows in the storm. Fatih strengthens when our eyes remain on Him no matter the winds of destress and waves of pain around us.
He is always there. He is always listening. He is always watching over. He is always teaching us, molding us. He is always right on time — even when it’s in the nick of time.
I was reading in the first chapter of James this week and was reminded of something most helpful. It’s about using tools available to us to make us stronger. It’s about looking in a mirror. A mirror tells us the truth. For example, I can look in a mirror and it can tell me that my hair is a mess. I then have two choices: to pick up my tool in the shape of a comb and remedy the problem, or walk away, pretending the problem isn’t there. The latter is never a good idea. The latter will never make my hair look any better. The latter will only make the problem worse as the disheveled hair continues to take on a bedraggled appearance.
It’s the same in our spiritual world. James 1:23-24 tells us, “If you hear the Word and don’t carry it out, it’s like seeing your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like.” We know that God’s Word is “a lamp unto my feet,” as we are told in Psalm 119:105. However, if we simply read God’s Word and don’t apply it to our lives, it’s like walking around with disheveled hair.
We need to use our tool. What is it? It’s the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us in John 14:16, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth…” The Greek word for Comforter is “parakletos” which also translates as Helper or Advocate. When we look into God’s Word for guidance, it is in using the tool of the Holy Spirit that He fills us with God’s comfort, that He helps us to understand the instructions, that when followed, are for our own joy and peace, and that He intercedes for us, pleading our case and our needs to our Father. What a wonderful tool that must not be ignored.
To simply read God’s Word without asking the Holy Spirit to reveal its truth so we may apply it our lives, is like — well — walking around with unkempt hair — not a pretty sight for anyone to behold.
Our arch enemy has one goal for every Christian: to make one ineffective in his or her walk with God and to fill that one with fear and dread. Satan does not want you to be happy — ever! The Holy Spirit, by stark contrast, seeks always to keep you on a path of inner peace, overflowing with great joy. The Holy Spirit longs for you to walk this path every moment of your life. It’s a battle of good and evil — everyday. Sounds exhausting, does’t it, but it needn’t be. It’s all about using the key and the shower.
You see, when you do something wrong, when you sin, even if you tell yourself it’s just a little transgression and doesn’t matter — know this — it always matters. Since God is holy all of the time, then our intimacy with Him is intact when we are also holy. Does that sound impossible to achieve? Success in this matter depends upon whom you listen to and whose advice you follow. The battle between good and evil is subtle. Therefore, being on guard everyday is a must.
For example, let’s say you sin “just a little.” Satan will whisper that it doesn’t’ matter, no one is perfect, no one knows, just hide it away and carry on. The loving Holy Spirit tells you something very different. He tells you that your gown of white has become soiled. The tiny blot on the white stands out big time. The Holy Spirit instructs you to have the spot washed out. He tells you to confess to Father immediately and holy washing will ensue. Delay, pretending it doesn’t matter, attempting to hide it away is all detrimental to a daily life of joy, peace, and hope. Remember, it is obedience to Him that brings blessing.
So, the question comes: to whom are you listening? Read what the Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5:16-17, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two factors are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.”
Just think, God Almighty loves you so deeply, that He craves daily conversation and interaction with you — but He is holy! Therefore, you must also be holy. (I Peter 1:16) Daily confession is vital! It’s key! There can be no close intimacy without it. Choose to make it a habit. Ask Father God to wash that little spot of sin away, and walk again in the pureness of His joy and peace. You know of a certainty, there is no happiness on earth to compare with a pure heart before God.
A daily shower is good for the body as it washes that dirt right down the plughole. A spiritual washing is just as needed for the heart, washing every wrong doing down the plughole of forgiveness. What refreshing peace and joy follows. Confession is the key that leads to the shower.
The enemy will say, ignore that little sin. The Holy Spirit says, confess and it will be washed away. One brings gloom while the other brings joy. I hope we all use that key of confession that brings on the holy shower.
On this Good Friday I want to share something with you that was brought to my attention this week. It concerns the name of God — Yahweh. In Exodus 3:13-15, when Moses asked God His name, God replied, “Yahweh,” meaning, “I Am.” Scholars explain that the name speaks of God’s self-sufficiency and self-existence. He is dependent upon no one. However, everything that has breath is dependent upon Him. In Hebrew there are no vowels in the name. It is YHWH. Language scholars added the vowels in their translation of Scripture to make it easier for us to speak it. In actuality, no one really knows how it is pronounced. This being said, I now share with you an excerpt from author, Sandra Thurman Caporale. I hope it blesses you as it did me.
“Scholars and Rabi’s have noted that the letters YHWH represent breathing sounds, or aspirated consonants. When pronounced without intervening vowels, it actually sounds like breathing. YH (inhale): WH (exhale).
So, a baby’s first cry, his first breath, speaks the name of God. A deep sigh calls His name – or a groan or gasp that is too heavy for mere words. Even an atheist would speak His name, unaware that their very breath is giving constant acknowledgment to God. Likewise, a person leaves this earth with their last breath when God’s name is no longer filing their lungs. So, when I can’t utter anything else, is my cry calling out His name? Being alive means I speak His name constantly. So, is it heard the loudest when I’m the quietest? In sadness, we breathe heavy sighs. In joy, our lungs feel almost like they will burst. In fear, we hold our breath and have to be told to breathe slowly to help us calm down. When we’re about to do something hard, we take a deep breath to find our courage. When I think about it, breathing is giving Him praise, even in the hardest moments! This is so beautiful and fills me with emotion every time I grasp the thought. God chose to give Himself a name that we can’t help but speak every moment we’re alive. All of us, always, everywhere are waking, sleeping, breathing, with the name of God on our lips.”
When God told Moses His name, He also said in that same Exodus passage, “This is my eternal name, my name to remember for all generations.” This weekend, as we celebrate Jesus’ victory over sin and death — may we be conscious of our every breath praising Him.
Many of you will have read the post of three weeks ago telling the story of the moorhens in our lake. Since then, the chicks have arrived; four of them. I have so enjoyed checking on them each day, watching their progress. Night before last I was very concerned as we had hard rain and strong winds with gusts of 20-40 mph. How would the moorhen family be affected in that weather?
Early yesterday morning, as I took Jack, our dog, out for his first walk of the day, I purposely went to the side of the lake where Mamma Moorhen is nesting with her chicks. My heart sank. There was no sign of any nest! Gone! Just a few reeds and bits of grass swirled in the water where the nest once stood. Panic rising within I looked around but saw no signs of the moorhens — but then — what? It was Papa Moorhen! I stood several minutes watching in wonder as he swam with great speed to the bank, plucked foliage and brought it to a clump of grass on the lake. Then he would dive and bring up a leaf. He kept up this procedure, never resting, a bird on a determined mission. He was building a new nest!
Hope soared as I reasoned, why would he build a nest unless somewhere, perhaps hidden among the reeds, was his family? Later in the afternoon I came again to look. Papa Moorhen had made great progress. The new nest was taking a good shape. He was still furtively swimming to shore and back, packing bits of straw and leaf into the nest. Hopping onto the nest he would stamp everything down with his feet.
Suddenly a movement caught my eye. Oh, what joy! There in the reeds was Mama Moorhen and all four chicks! The chicks were happily plucking at bits of grass. Mama Moorhen, in the warmth of the sun, kept her eyes on them. They were safe, and Papa Moorhen was non-stop in building his family a new home. I could feel my face form a great smile. I said out loud, “He’s a good father.” That’s when it hit me. God’s fingerprint in nature was evidencing itself once again.
There are times when you and I experience unwanted storms in our lives. Rains of disappointment drown our peace. Winds of sorrow tear away our joy as our very foundation of security seems to crumble beneath us — but wait — who do we see? It’s our Father! He knows what pain has come upon us. He comes swiftly to the rescue. He takes no rest as He begins to rebuild the peace and the joy torn away in the storm’s fury. Lovingly He builds a nest of hope and security in our hearts. He never tires of tending to our every need. He comforts. He speaks words of love. He sees that we are protected and made safe once again.
I just came inside from today’s morning walk. What did I see? Mama Moorhen proudly sitting on a brand new nest! Where was Papa Moorhen? Swimming from shore to nest giving Mama Moorhen something to feed the chicks. Oh, he’s a good father.
“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” II Chronicles 16:9
Most people are familiar with the story of David and Goliath. I read it again this week and saw a verse that I never paid much attention to before. Let me set the scene. There is a giant of a man threatening the army of Israel. This man is 9 feet 9 inches tall (just under 3 meters). To put that in perspective, a basketball hoop is 10 feet from the ground (three meters). The man is bulky and comes armed with a sword, a spear, and a javelin. Then we have David, a teenage boy with no military experience. He is a shepherd but has defended his flock of sheep from bears and lions. He is armed with a slingshot and five tiny stones. David alone has agreed to face the giant.
As we read the story in I Samuel 17, we see something interesting in verse 48, “As Goliath moved closer to attack, David quickly ran out to meet him.” What? The teenage kid ran to face his giant attacker? We know what happened. Before Goliath had a chance to throw his javelin or spear, David put a stone in his slingshot, slung it round, released it, hitting Goliath in the forehead. Killed instantly the giant fell down. How could young David display such courage? It’s because he knew he had more than a slingshot.
David knew and fully believed that God could do anything. He also knew that Goliath not only had no belief in God, but despised all thought of Him. God was fully on David’s side. God doesn’t change. Therefore, He is fully on the side of all who believe Him and receive His gift of salvation. When we become a part of the family of God, we instantly inherit access to the Holy Throne. Therefore, we have access to God’s own courage. We walk in a new dimension through all our days; a dimension where “old things are passed away and all things are become new.” (II Corinthians 5:17) It’s a dimension where “nothing is impossible with God.” (Luke 1:37) It’s a dimension that allows us, not only to face our fears and challenges head on, but to run out to meet them, believing that we are indeed conquerers in Christ.
As we are reminded in Romans 8:30-31 where we read of God in His desires for His children, “…He called them to come to Him. And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself. And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory. What shall we say then about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?”
Now that’s a reason to “run out to meet” our every difficulty. No challenge is insurmountable when we carry the slingshot of God’s promises and walk in His holy dimension where all things are possible.
Most people have heard about The Ten Commandments. They are often met with negative feelings as if they’re just a bunch of “Thou shalt and thou shalt nots.” We don’t like to be controlled. Aren’t they archaic?Are they really necessary in today’s world? In our subconscious we may also harbor the feeling that they can’t all be kept anyway so why try? What good is it to us?
The Ten Commandments are recorded in two places: Exodus 20:3-17 and Deuteronomy 5:7-21. However, it’s the verse that precedes those two passages that puts all those “thou shalt and thou shalt nots,” into proper perspective. Both Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6 reads as follows: “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.”
Do you see the vastness of God’s love here? He loved them so much that He not only rescued them from slavery, but He gave them instructions to keep them from going back into bondage again. Of course, He was talking about a far more serious act of enslavement than anything they experienced from the Egyptians. He was talking about spiritual slavery, the same captivity that threatens us today.
You see, when you and I accept God’s gift of eternal life with Him, and forgiveness of all our sins, He puts us on a new path of hope and joy where all things wonderful are possible. He sets us free from the daily drudgery this world keeps us in. He cleans up our hearts, gives us hope of better things to come, and places His own Holy Spirit within us. The Holy Spirit is our seal, guaranteeing that we belong to God. The Holy Spirit is our teacher and guide. However, we have the choice to ignore Him. What are the consequences if we do? Return to bondage.
When we accept the freedom of life in the joy and power of God, we are free indeed from the stranglehold of this world. If, in time, we turn from that freedom, allowing the allures of this world to choke out the joy, and flood the engine of our peace with a willful ignoring of His loving instructions, we will lose that power and that joy and that peace that only comes in full throttle from God Himself.
We can say we don’t like to be controlled, but in that we have no choice. We will be controlled by one of two things — either the light or the darkness. We can’t escape control, but we can choose who controls us. One leads to despair while the other leads to inner peace such as the world cannot fully understand. One returns us to slavery while the other keeps us free. I hope you choose to follow the paths of God who is filled with loving instructions for us — not some of the time, but all of the time. I wonder if the above is helped by the instruction found in Hebrews 10:24, “Let us consider how to stir one another to love and good works.” God uses each of us to encourage one another to stay on the good and right path. May we each encourage someone today to — stay focused on God’s loving guidance and stay free!