Monday, 3 February 2014

Is anyone listening?

Jesus answered, "It is written, 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " Matthew 4:4

I know someone who doesn't speak. I don't know why this is, and it's no business of mine to ask. Perhaps it's a physical problem with his mouth, or some kind of psychological blockage. But if you say Hello to him he will smile and shake your hand, but he doesn't say anything. As you can imagine, this makes communication enormously difficult, indeed, pretty well impossible. Whereas most of us (let's be honest) talk far too much, so everyone knows only too well what's in our minds, with him you just never know. Strange, and rather disturbing. 
But now here is something of massive importance... Our God is a God who speaks.

The third verse of the whole Bible tells us that "God said...". And constantly, throughout both the Old Testament and the New, God is speaking. It's a theme you just can't get away from.

Suppose God never spoke? How would that be? Suppose we simply had no way of ever knowing what was going on in his mind? We would be completely helpless as to what life is all about, and how we are supposed to live it.

The big question then is: How does God speak? Well, in various ways. 

First, through the created world around us. The Psalmist tells us that "the heavens declare the glory of God... Day after day they pour forth speech" (Psalm 19). Look at creation and reflect on the power and beauty of God!

Second, through our consciences. Don't we all sometimes hear that inner voice warning us about something we are tempted to do? Conscience isn't a perfect guide - like human nature as a whole it is corrupted by all sorts of bad influences. But if we bring it before God it won't lead us far astray. 

Above all, of course, God speaks through his son Jesus. This is why the Bible refers to Jesus as "the Word made flesh" (John 1). Every time you focus on Jesus you are in effect hearing God speak. He is the living Word of God.

But God also speaks through scripture - the Bible, as we usually call it. This is why Jesus, when he was tempted by the devil, sent him packing by quoting the words of scripture, "it is written...", three times. The devil has tempted Jesus to turn the stones around him into bread - a pretty serious temptation, given that he had gone without food for forty days! But Jesus refuses to give in: the greatest need of human beings, he says, is not physical food, however vital that may be, but God's word. This is a direct quotation from Deuteronomy 8. Jesus knew his Bible! - and he knew how to use it.

Could that be said of you and me? God speaks, that's for sure. But are we listening? Do Bible texts and passages spring naturally to our minds to help us in the normal circumstances of our lives? Or is our knowledge of the Bible hazy, patchy, hit-or-miss?

I hope all of us are good listeners. I imagine that most of us listen specially carefully if the person speaking is someone we regard as particularly important - someone we love, someone who is in an important position. Well, people don't come more important than God, do they! So close your ears to him at your peril.

God has given us a book. We call it the Bible. Certainly, it can be a difficult book: there are parts we find hard to understand, parts that really don't seem relevant, parts, let's be honest, that even seem to us offensive. Yet through it as a whole he speaks to us. So not to listen to it is sheer folly. 

Are you serious about your Bible? Is it time to get to grips with it in a fresh way? Think about it. Reflect on it. Pray over it. And not just the nice bits, the easy bits - no, every chapter, every verse. If you are serious about God, how can you not be serious about his word?

Putting it another way, not wanting to bother with the Bible is tantamount to not wanting to bother with God. As Jesus put it, we don't live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Father, forgive me that though you are constantly speaking, I am so rarely listening. Thank you for the gift of the Bible. Please help me to take it seriously, and to make it my daily food. May I hear your voice as I read today. Amen.

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