2 Kings 16:1-17:41
July 8 Day 189
Listen to God
Listening is very important. Some people are very good at it. It was said of President John F. Kennedy that he made you think he had nothing else to do except ask you questions and listen, with extraordinary concentration, to your answer. You felt that for that moment he had blocked out both the past and the future in order to listen to you.
Listening to God is one of the keys to our relationship with him. ‘To listen’, means to hear attentively, ‘to pay attention to’. Prayer means giving God our full attention. This is the sense in which the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated ‘listen’ in each of today’s passages are used.
1. Listen to God speak to you through the psalms
We all experience physical hunger which can only be satisfied by food. We also have a spiritual hunger which can only be satisfied by listening to God. Jesus said, ‘People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).
‘Listen, dear ones’ says the psalmist (Psalm 81:8a, MSG). God warns the people of the dangers of not listening to him, and the blessings that follow when his people do listen to God.
The words of God satisfy our hunger. God promises, ‘Open wide your mouth and I will fill it’ (v.10). If we listen to him he says, ‘You would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you’ (v.16).
On the one hand, he says, ‘Hear, O my people, and I will warn you’ (v.8a). God wants the best for us, and wants to warn us of the perils of ignoring him. He continues, ‘But my people would not listen to me; Israel would not submit to me. So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own devices’ (vv.11–12). The result of not listening to God is that he gives us over to the consequences of our own actions (see also, Romans 1:24,26).
On the other hand, he promises that if we do listen to him he will act on our behalf: ‘If my people would but listen to me, if Israel would follow my ways, how quickly I would subdue their enemies’ (Psalm 81:13–14a).
Lord, thank you so much for how deeply satisfying it is to hear your voice. Thank you that each day we can listen to you and be satisfied as with ‘the finest of wheat’. Help us each day to listen to you, to pay attention to what you say, and then to trust you to act on our behalf.
2. Listen to God speak to you through the apostles
Paul was God’s messenger. God spoke through the apostle Paul. Those who were listening to Paul in this passage had the opportunity to listen to God.
When Paul was sailing to Rome, the centurion ‘instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship’ (27:11). His failure to listen to Paul was almost disastrous.
In the first part of the passage we see Paul in chains before Festus and Agrippa. He was telling the good news about Jesus, his death and resurrection. Festus said, ‘Paul, you’re crazy! You’ve read too many books, spent too much time staring off into space! Get a grip on yourself, get back in the real world!’ (26:24, MSG). Some people have always thought, and still do, that Christians are just ‘a little crazy’.
Paul’s response was, ‘I am not insane … What I am saying is true and reasonable’ (v.25). He did not reply, ‘Yes, it is all a bit crazy but I believe it.’ He refused to accept the suggestion that his beliefs are irrational.
Paul argued that there is a rational basis for faith. There are good reasons to believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. Our faith is ‘true and reasonable’. We should not be afraid to present logical and reasonable arguments. We need intelligent presentations of the gospel.
Today, there are many prominent atheist voices in the West arguing that faith is irrational. Like the apostle Paul, we must resist this suggestion. Many reasonable scientists and philosophers have also been faithful Christians.
One powerful document that argues that faith and reason are not opposed but complementary is the papal encyclical called Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason). Pope John Paul II was a professor of philosophy. In this encyclical he shows how faith and reason go together. St Augustine said, Crede ut intelligas (‘Believe in order to understand’). We understand in order that we may believe. And we believe in order that we may understand. This is the virtuous circle of faith and reason.
Before I became a Christian, I had listened to the arguments and the reasons for faith. Not all of my questions had been answered. Nevertheless, I took a step of faith based on what I had heard about Jesus. The moment I took the step of faith it was as if my eyes had been opened and I understood much of what I had not seen before.
Reason alone is not enough. It will only take us so far. However, when we are trying to persuade people as Paul was, to follow Jesus, it is important to explain that the message about Jesus is ‘true and reasonable’.
Agrippa’s response to Paul was, ‘ “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” Paul replied, “Short time or long – I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains” ’ (vv.28–29). Paul was not ashamed to pray that people would become what he was (Galatians 4:12).
Paul did not mind whether people became Christians through a crisis (‘short time’) or through a process (‘long’ time). But he did all in his power to persuade them to become Christians, as he had.
The civil authorities recognised that Paul had done nothing deserving death or imprisonment (Acts 26:31), yet they found a rather pathetic excuse for not setting him free (v.32). This must have seemed so unjust and unreasonable and must have been deeply frustrating for Paul.
Yet here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, listening to the words that Paul spoke on that occasion, and through them having the opportunity to listen to God.
Lord, may we become like Paul in his faith and passion. May we seek to persuade people with arguments that are true and reasonable. As we tell the good news about Jesus may people have a sense that in listening to us they are listening to God.
3. Listen to God speak to you through the prophets
2 Kings 16:1-17:41
God allowed Israel to be taken captive and led away into exile because they refused to listen to him.
Joyce Meyer writes, ‘Do you ever get careless about doing what God has asked you to do, letting sin creep into your life? Do not let our enemy, the devil, lead you into the captivity of sin and disobedience; it leads only to destruction.’
The history of this period in the book of 2 Kings could be summed up in the words ‘not listen’: ‘They would not listen … They would not listen … ’ (17:14,40). As we saw yesterday, all the problems the kings and the people of God faced were the result of not listening to God.
God spoke to his people through his servants the prophets. ‘God had taken a stand against Israel and Judah, speaking clearly through countless holy prophets and seers time and time again … But they wouldn’t listen’ (vv.13–14, MSG).
This was the reason they went into exile. ‘The exile came about because of sin: The children of Israel sinned against God … They did all kinds of things on the sly, things offensive to their God, then openly and shamelessly built local sex-and-religion shrines at every available site’ (vv.7–9, MSG).
‘They imitated the nations around them although the Lord had ordered them, “Do not do as they do” ’ (v.15). The result of not listening was that the people of Israel lost the presence of God and were sent into exile in Assyria: ‘he thrust them from his presence … the Lord removed them from his presence’ (vv.20,23).
Like us, so often, they had not been ruthless enough about sin in their lives: ‘They honoured and worshiped God, but not exclusively … They don’t really worship God – they don’t take seriously what he says regarding how to behave and what to believe (vv.32,34 MSG). ‘They didn’t pay any attention. They kept doing what they’d always done’ (v.40, MSG).
Lord, help us to heed the warnings that you give us. Help us to listen carefully to what you say. Deliver us from secret sins. Help us never to get careless about doing what you ask us to do. May we never allow sin to creep into our lives, and when it does to ask for help quickly. Help us not simply to do what the people around us do. Rather, help us to listen to your voice, to enjoy your presence with us.