How often do we listen to God? I mean REALLY listen to God! I’ll bet that we hear God sometimes but listen to Him less than we like to admit. In fact, listening to God is probably one of the most neglected habits we have while we are being progressively sanctified. We hear Him but don’t listen to Him. So what’s the difference?
I believe the difference between hearing and listening has to do with our attitude. Sometimes there is something blocking us from hearing, so that can be difficult at times. I remember when I was much younger – 16 or so – I was helping my dad in our house. He had been talking to me but I continued to do what I thought he had wanted me to do. The issue was that something had changed, he told me to do something else, and I failed to hear him. When he asked if I was simply not paying attention or if I had not even heard him, I said I was ot paying attention to him. But, in reality, I had not even heard his voice. Eventually I admitted that I was having trouble hearing him and my teachers in school. I went to the doctor and found that my inner ear canal was blocked with something. I was given some medicine to help clear it out. Eventually my inner ears cleared and I could hear again. Listening, though, was another issue! After all I was a teenager and already knew everything!
We treat God like this sometimes, don’t we. We go about what we THINK He wants us to do. All the while He is saying that we need to do something else but we don’t hear Him or listen to Him. Sometimes, like me at 16, there is something in the way of our hearing Him and thus preventing us from listening to Him. This could be sin in our lives, unbelief, or simply being too busy with our own life to hear Him. But sadly I think we are all-to-often too enamored with our own plans to hear Him. You see, much too often we are spiritual teenagers…we already know everything so why do we need to hear God?
But hearing and listening to God is vitally important to our progressive sanctification. If we hear Him and then listen to what He says, we will become progressively more like Him. If we decide to do things our way, we will be, well, spiritual teenagers…we’ll continue to be legends in our own mind! But this should never be!
You may wonder why I keep writing about “hearing” and then “listening” to God. Well, let me explain.
“Hearing” is a simple process of processing sound waves that travel through the air, strike the eardrum, which in turn vibrates some bones which then cause nerve impulses to travel to the brain. The brain then interprets these impulses as sounds and, voila, we hear something! But listening is something else.
We listen not so much with our ears…not so much with our brain. We listen – at least we should listen – with our heart. We have some really great examples of this in Scripture. I will concentrate on only one.
Let’s look at 1 Kings 3:5-9:
5 In Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, “Ask what you wish Me to give you.” 6 Then Solomon said, “You have shown great lovingkindness to Your servant David my father, according as he walked before You in truth and righteousness and uprightness of heart toward You; and You have reserved for him this great lovingkindness, that You have given him a son to sit on his throne, as it is this day. 7 Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. 9 So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?”
1 King 3:5-9 (NASB)
In this passage we see that Solomon is now King of Israel. Solomon recounts how God had shown kindness to David in David’s life. God kept His word to place a descendant of David’s on the throne (who is Solomon). Solomon states the reality that he is young and inexperienced (v. 7) and that he has a big job to do governing Israel (v. 8). In verse 9, Solomon responds to God’s question in a majestic way. He responds as we should pray each day. The NASB does a great job translating the Hebrew here in v. 9. I want to zero in on the words “understanding heart”.
. So Solomon wants to hear with his heart. He wants to have understanding, knowledge, and wisdom in dealing with the governance of Israel. He wants his judgments to be correct and discerning. In short, he doesn’t want to just hear…he wants to listen.
(The Hebrew here is leb shema. This means hearing (shema) heart (leb) – the term leb is oftentimes used for the center of mental faculties in the human. However, here I think the context is clearly more than simple mental faculties and employs more than acquisition of knowledge)
We need to listen with our heart to actually hear with understanding as God speaks to us.
This doesn’t mean that we hear God’s voice audibly. I believe the vast majority of the fantastic conversations with God with Him speaking audibly are not true. God typically speaks to us through his word. But we need to understand that listening to God is more than just reading His word. It is more than just praying to God. It is more than just sitting down and emptying our mind of the daily clutter.
Listening to God means we hear with understanding. That means we both study the Bible on a deep level AND read it on a devotional level. That means that we pray to God asking for wisdom AND walk through the circumstances that bring us wisdom. That means we worship God with our voice AND with our Spirit. When we incorporate understanding into our hearing we have listening. And listening to God is a very good thing.
When we listen to God we can’t help but grow closer to Him. We can become closer because we don’t simply hear what He is saying to us through His word but we also understand its application to us AND we apply it. Far too many folks just skim the Bible without ever really studying it so that they can apply it to their lives. That is like hearing someone on the phone tell you how to avoid a major pothole in the road then going out and ignoring everything they said. Then, when we drive through the pothole and damage our vehicle, we complain about the pothole.