I can be hearing but not listening. I do it all the time.
In western culture we are subjected to a constant barrage of noise and information. We have talking heads on the radio in the car. Music streams into stores as we shop. The television provides incessant babble if we allow it. The stream of information is unrelenting and we cannot possibly take it all in. We have to be selective in our listening.
In several places in the Gospels, Jesus makes the statement, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” My paraphrase of this would be, “you’ve got the equipment required to hear, now use it and listen up.”
How many times have we sat in the pew (or chair, depending on the age of your church building) and had our minds wonder during the sermon? We have the privilege of hearing the Word of God proclaimed and we fail to take advantage of it. You might be thinking it would be different if it was Jesus himself teaching, but would it? The disciples who heard him struggled to understand what Jesus was talking about. They proved to be as slow to hear and understand as we often are.
Notice that the command to hear is in the present tense. The idea is to keep on hearing. This gives me the idea that this requires a moment by moment decision to be open to really hearing what God has to say to me through his Word.
One of my favorite hymns is Come Thou Fount. The first verse begins like this:
Come, thou Fount of every blessing,
tune my heart to sing thy grace
To use my ears to hear, my heart needs to be tuned into the right frequency. I need to be calibrated to receive the signal.
The lack of hearing is not a physical problem for most of us, it is a problem with the will. I must choose to allow the words to penetrate to my core in order to be changed by them. I have ears that work reasonably well, but to often I cannot hear what God is really saying to me.
C. S. Lewis address this in The Problem of Pain when he writes:
“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Lewis is not saying that God is sending pain our way like a sadistic parent who uses beatings as the primary means of discipline. In a fallen world, pain in inevitable and God does not prevent us from experiencing all pain.
What Lewis is saying is that having experienced pain, we are more open to hearing God speak. Our pain is sometimes a consequence of our own choices but we also are hurt by the sin and failure of others.
Regardless of the source of the pain, I find that I am more open to hearing from God in the midst of it. At any given moment, I have the choice to allow my ears to hear. When I choose to ignore God’s voice, he uses the circumstances of my life to remind me that I am his and I need to listen.
I must choose to keep on hearing.