The probability is very high that at least once in your life (and likely many times more than that!) you were obviously upset by another person. Those who were close to you, who truly knew you, saw that you were upset.

You were not upset for a few hours or a couple of days. You were visibly upset every day. Your struggle was obvious to those who knew you. It was obvious to those who knew you someone was deeply distressing you. To those that knew you it was obvious that the distress was a continuing reality in your life.

Finally someone who truly cared about you and knew you approached you. This was their suggestion: "Just go talk to the person. Share with him (or her) how you feel."

In those circumstances, often this is our response: "It would not accomplish anything. He (or she) hears only what he (or she) thinks I say. That is all he (or she) hears. He (or she) will not listen to hear what I actually say."

You have been in that situation, have you not?

I wonder how God thinks when we put Him in that situation. We know what God would say before we listen to God. We only hear what we expect because we have already decided what God would say. So instead of listening to God, we substitute our own conclusions. Then we are convinced we have heard God say exactly what He meant to say. We claim to listen to God when we actually listen to ourselves.

Listening to God involves just that--listening. This evening I want to illustrate how important it is to listen to God to understand what He says.

  1. In Genesis 22, God made His most unusual request of Abraham.
    1. God said, "I want you to take your only son, the son that you love, and offer him in sacrifice as a burnt offering in the land of Moriah on a mountain I will show you."
      1. This request was extremely unusual, totally unlike anything God ever said to Abraham.
      2. This request opposed everything else God said to Abraham.
        1. It requested a human sacrifice--the killing of a family member to worship God.
        2. God had never before requested Abraham to offer a human sacrifice.
      3. God gave no explanation for His request.
        1. He gave no promises or assurances.
        2. He gave no explanation--how would God keep His promises if Isaac died?
      4. Abraham could have easily reacted to God's clearly understood instruction by focusing on the illogical nature of the request.
        1. How would God keep His promises if Isaac the child of promise was dead?
        2. How could Isaac fulfill the role that God declared for him if Isaac was dead?
        3. God clearly declared before Isaac's conception (Genesis 17:19) that God would keep His everlasting covenant through Isaac.
    2. Abraham not only listened to God; he also responded immediately.
      1. Genesis 22 records Abraham's prompt action.
        1. He got up early the next morning (verse 3).
        2. He saddled a donkey to ride (verse 3).
        3. He split the firewood for the burnt offering (verse 3).
        4. He took young men servants to assist on the trip (verse 3).
        5. On the third day he left the young men behind guaranteeing that they did not hinder him (verse 5).
        6. He took the fire with him (verse 6).
      2. Abraham did what he could do to promptly comply with God's instructions; in no way did he delay his son's death.
      3. Abraham fully expected to kill Isaac as a burnt offering to God.
    3. Genesis 22 explains that God intervened as Abraham was in the act of killing Isaac and prevented the boy's death.
      1. Abraham's actions proved that he reverenced God above anything else.
      2. Genesis 22:12 records this statement from God:
        "... for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me."
      3. God then renewed His promises to Abraham.

  2. In Isaiah 20, we read about a very unusual three year period in the life of the prophet Isaiah.
    1. God instructed Isaiah to do something that you simply would not expect God to request.
      1. God instructed Isaiah to go about his public life naked and barefoot for three years.
        1. There are differences in conclusions about what nakedness means in this instruction.
        2. Whatever its meaning, it was God's instruction for Isaiah to display his body inappropriately in public for a period of three years.
      2. He was to appear in public as a person taken captive in a city fallen as the result of siege.
        1. Whatever the manner was that he presented his body, it was considered inappropriate and shameful.
        2. By daily standards in Israel, he displayed his body in a totally inappropriate manner.
    2. Isaiah was to do this as a sign and token that Judah should not place their confidence in weak Egypt and Cush.
      1. Not all of God's signs were miraculous acts.
      2. Some were symbolic human acts.
      3. Isaiah's nakedness was to be a symbolic act.
    3. Listening to God produced an unusual behavior that was not viewed by Israel's public as godly behavior.

  3. Matthew 26:36-44 states the ordeal Jesus endured in the garden of Gethsemane.
    1. Jesus clearly understood what God wanted, but Jesus preferred to avoid both the experiences and the responsibilities.
      1. Though he clearly understood what was to happen was God's plan, he prayed earnestly that he not endure it.
        1. Not once, but three times he earnestly prayed that he not have to endure the ordeal ahead of him.
        2. Each time he requested that God's will, not his will, be done.
      2. Jesus could have approached God on this occasion in many different ways.
        1. "God, have I not lived on earth just exactly as You wanted doing exactly what You wanted?"
        2. "God, have I not made enough sacrifices?"
        3. "God, am I not Your son?"
        4. "God, if you love me so much how could you expect this of me?"
    2. Listening to God mean trials, rejection, and crucifixion.
      1. The immediate result of listening to God was awful.
      2. The long term result of listening to God was unbelievably good.

  4. Some of the Jewish Christians refused to listen to God because it meant a complete change of thinking and understanding.
    1. Technically, these Christians are referred to as the Judaizing teachers.
      1. You see these Christians clearly in Acts 15:5 and in the letter of Galatians.
      2. They were Jewish Christians who may have been few in number, but very dedicated in their convictions.
      3. They were Christians who were absolutely convinced that non-Jewish people had to learn and accept Jewish religious practices before they could be baptized into Christ.
      4. There was one way to approach God: the Jewish way.
        1. As Acts 15:5 states, these Christians believed that men who were not Jews had to be circumcised and observe the law of Moses to be spiritually acceptable to God.
        2. Being baptized into Christ was not enough.
    2. These Jewish Christians were so convinced that God functioned through Israel exclusively that they were absolutely convinced that a person had to accept Jewish practices before he could be a Christian.
      1. If anyone suggested that God planned to save the non-Jewish nations in any other way, that suggestion was unthinkable.
      2. To accept a different conclusion meant changing the way they thought, and that was impossible and unacceptable.
        1. Their families had belonged to the God of Israel for centuries.
        2. They served God all their lives.
        3. Their understanding of scripture and conclusions simply could not be wrong.
    3. Yet, if they were going to understand what God did in Jesus Christ, they had to listen to God instead of themselves or their past.
      1. Listening to God would redirect their faith and alter their conclusions.
      2. Listening to God would change their thinking about God's will and work and the way they looked at God's will and work.

Listening to God is a demanding, difficult thing to do. Two things make it difficult. First, you have to study. Studying the Bible must include an openness and willingness to learn things that change your understanding. It is very hard to be that open to God. Second, you have to be honest in identifying your baggage. When every single person becomes a Christian, he or she brings his or her baggage along. It takes a special kind of honesty with self to identify the baggage we brought with us into our belief system.

When I was about 40 years old, I learned some things from my study of scripture that created a huge struggle and crisis in my faith system. I realized I faced a very definite choice. I could close my ears to God and continue to think only those thoughts I was taught to think in the past. Or, I could listen to God and let His word teach me anything God wanted me to understand. That was a very difficult choice, a very pain filled struggle.

What do you decide? Will you only listen to what you were taught in the past? Or, will you listen to God and let Him teach you old truths that are new to you?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 20 January 2002

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