given on Sunday, September 7, 2014
Have you ever heard God speaking directly to you? Have you heard a voice call you by name so clearly that you turned and looked for the source of that voice? Have you suddenly had a thought that came out of nowhere and was just the right answer to a problem?
In all the recent discussions about being a Christian, we seldom add in that we are to listen to God. Listening implies that we know the speaker and are expecting to hear honest answers to our questions and knowledgeable information on which to base our decisions. But in our daily lives, listening is one of the hardest skills we have to develop. Kids, phones, busy calendars interrupt all too often listening—and the list continues to grow.
Last week the significance of our reaffirmation of baptism may have lost its significance because of physical and mental exhaustion following the fair. The business of living constantly gets in the way of our ability to hear God. The irony is that if we slow down and purposefully listen for God, the clutter in our human lives becomes much less disruptive.
The answer lies quietly in our acceptance of the triune God. We refer to it in our creeds, in our hymns, and in the Bible. The answer is the Holy Spirit. We can agree in the concept of God the Father and Jesus the Son because the documentation is in the Bible; and the historical records of humanity supports the life and death of Jesus.
So why do we skip right over the same source which talks about the Holy Spirit, aka Holy Ghost? Sadly, the Holy Spirit is a major key if not THE key to hearing God. Listening is a skill and developing the skills to recognize God talking to us, individually talking to us, is assumed rather than taught in Sunday school, discussed over coffee, or demonstrated.
As difficult as it is for adults to understand the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian, how can it b explained to young people? I am nearing the end of Eugene Peterson’s devotional called Solo. The Bible is read from Genesis to Revelation in a specific form of lectio divinia, a structured reading process to ‘hear’ God’s words.
This week, the devotion for day 359 was the first reading into Revelation and included more instructions for praying. Praying is conversation with God:
Lie on your back in stillness (outside, if possible, where you can see the sky). Focus on the magnificence of God’s character and how he brings victory to humanity. As you think about who God is, whisper these words to him:
God, you are A to Z
God, you are The God Who Is.
God, you are The God Who Was.
God, you are the God About to Arrive.
God, you are the Sovereign-Strong.
Express your gratitude to God in whatever heartfelt way you wish.
Just how often do Christians practice this type of listening for God? I suspect very few do.
How do we hear God? We listen. We reaffirmed our baptism last week, but there is also baptism by the Holy Spirit. This is probably the most difficult concept to understand in Christianity—even more so than God himself. Somehow we can agree that God is the creator, the father of us all, even the son Jesus Christ himself.
First, the Bible tells us how the Holy Spirit works. We often speed read right over it because the words do not always use the proper noun Holy Spirit or Holy Ghost. The scriptures may say God spoke to Moses, or God may deliver an answer like the manna in the desert. The stories of Jesus demonstrate the actions carried out by the Holy Spirit. Whether Jesus brought Lazarus back from the dead or healed the leper, the Holy Spirit is the force that gives us the strength to accomplish God’s work. Reading the Bible is a way to hear God.
A second way to hear God is to pray. The faithful in the Bible took time to pray. They conversed with God and shared the problems that needed attention. Sometimes the busy life got in the way of hearing God’s answer, but we all have witnessed cases when a difficult event suddenly turned into a blessing. The Holy Spirit heard the prayer and provided an answer.
The Holy Spirit is active in our lives all the time. There are times when we suddenly are given an extra dose of adrenaline to avoid danger or to block harm. On occasion some words come out of our mouths that are just the right thing to say in a moment when you have no idea what to say. And then, there are those times when all the stress comes falling down upon you and in the midst you suddenly experience peace and know that even this will pass and you are ok.
The Holy Spirit is how we hear God. The triune God is complete and we acknowledge his power, his son, and our own role as tools for the Holy Spirit to use. The words may not be loud enough for others to hear, but they are for you to hear. The words surround us; we just must listen.
Selecting the hymns for today, I stumbled into a hymn (UMH 649) that gave me some insight:
How shall they hear the word of God
unless the truth is told?
How shall the sinful be set free,
the sorrowful consoled?
To all who speak the truth today,
impart your Spirit, Lord, we pray.
True, the words are a prayer, but the answers are implied; yet, Christians can hear them with the gift of the Holy Spirit:
How shall they call to God for help
unless they have believed?
How shall the poor be given hope,
the prisoner reprieved?
To those who help the blind to see,
give light and love and clarity.
No action of service can be done without the Holy Spirit’s presence. No words of compassion can be said without the Holy Spirit working.
How shall the gospel be proclaimed
that sinners may repent?
How shall the world find peace at last
if heralds are not sent?
So send us, Lord, for we rejoice
to speak of Christ with life and voice.
How do we hear God? We listen. We lie back on the ground, look up to the heavens, and listen. While we may not fully understand how the Holy Spirit works, when you listen you will sense his presence as ideas and thoughts bubble up in your mind. You know you are baptized by the Holy Spirit when you find yourself in settings where your actions seem unplanned but provide the perfect answer. You are a servant of God when you feel a pull in your heart to respond to a plea. You have the Holy Spirit within you when you reluctantly step out of your comfort zone to go on a mission trip or help complete a task you feel you cannot do.
How you hear God is demonstrated by how you live your life. When others begin seeing a change in you from self first to others first, you begin showing them how God works even in a world filled with evil and injustice. When others come to you for solace, God fills you with words of compassion and guidance.
How do others hear God? They hear him through the words of the Bible, the words of our hymns and prayers, but most importantly they hear God through you who have been baptized by the water and the Holy Spirit.
Dear God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
Thank you for believing in us despite all our mistakes.
Thank you for loving us so much that you trust us.
With your gift of the Holy Spirit, speak to us.
Guide us to actions extending your reach.
As we stumble through our earthly life,
Give us the confidence to act on your behalf.
Help us to know that when we do listen,
You are speaking to us with grace and love.
We pray we hear and do as you would have us do
So others may hear you too. –Amen.