To love to hear the Lord spoken of, and to seek to follow him: Is there a finer summary description of a Christian’s aim? This article looks at the role of the ear in listening to God. Note: An audio recording of this column will be available on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.
His life on earth nearing its end, Pilgrim, the central figure in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, recalls the places where the rare adventure of following Jesus had taken him, and declares what had been his entire life’s intention and purpose:
I have loved to hear my Lord spoken of; and wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot, too."
To love to hear the Lord spoken of, and to seek to follow him: Is there a finer summary description of a Christian’s aim?
Biblical people were hearing people. Unlike the Greeks, for whom the eye was central, Hebrews emphasized the primacy of the ear. Israel’s ear was to receive God’s Speech and transmit it to the heart. The function of Israel’s heart, the seat of their will, was to prompt them to obey.
But the entire process of learning to carry out God’s will began with the ear. How important, therefore, that Israel’s ear be sound, capable of receiving what God wanted them to hear. It needed to be “dug-out” regularly, cleared out and kept free of any wicked obstruction. (Eugene Peterson renders Psalm 40.6: “My ear, LORD, you have dug-out.”)
God’s clearest, boldest speech to human beings was his act of sending his Son, Jesus Christ. The book of Hebrews begins: “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,” says Hebrews 1:1-2. Jesus, as John 1:14 says, was God’s Speech made flesh.
Among Jesus’ important tasks on earth was to perform spiritual surgery upon the ears of God’s people—to cure their hardness of hearing so that they could hear God speak. Thus, when Jesus put his fingers into a deaf man’s ears and commanded them to “Be opened,” that act of physical healing, wonderful in itself, pointed toward something even more wonderful. It anticipated the time when the Kingdom of God will appear in its full splendor and glory. Then the Lord’s people shall be “all-ears” for Him, so to speak. They shall be wooed by no other voice than by God’s alone. They shall be eager to hear and swift to obey the Lord’s life-giving commands. In Pilgrim’s words, they shall “love to hear their Lord spoken of.”
The ability to hear well spiritually is vital to living as God intends. Godly hearing is that Spirit-enabled practice of learning to listen to Jesus, and to respond to him. No Christian skill is more important—or urgent—to acquire than this. Through it, God’s people can learn to “hear their Lord”—they can dwell in him, cultivate fellowship with him, learn to become like him, and live more and more for him. No wonder that Jesus himself declared in Matthew 7:24: "He who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house upon a rock."
To hear our Lord’s voice, we his followers must learn to eliminate the raucous static of other sounds and voices. We must clear away the incessant drummings of fear, frustration, and resentment, which so quickly and easily can drown out our Lord’s voice. We must learn, too, to shut out all other alluring voices, among them, the wooing calls from our cheap idols, the vain ways we use to secure our status, purpose and value. Tirelessly we must work at digging all these things out of our ears, and throw them away.
How important, like young Samuel, longingly to plead: “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.” (I Samuel 3.10) And then, having heard him, intently to respond, as Mary did: “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” (Luke 1.38).
What more fitting time to do the important work of cleansing our ears and preparing our hearts than during Lent, a season to help us to hear again the Good News of Jesus’ suffering, dying, and rising again on our behalf? It’s a time to slow down the pace of our busy, crowded and hurried lives, and to fill our ears and hearts with words from our Lord. And what greater or more important message can we hear from our crucified, sin-crushed Savior than his victory cry: “It is finished.”?
How easy to fail to do this. Edward Donnelly is right: "We are too apt to hurry past the cross, to undervalue, in spite of ourselves, the supreme mystery of the ages by a shallow assumption that we know it all. We don’t, and we never will. But we need to take time to learn as much as we can. We need to ‘behold,’ to ‘survey,’ to ‘stand and stare.’"
And also to hear.
“How sweet the Name of Jesus sounds
in a believer’s ear;
it soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
and drives away his fear.”
“If our meditation upon the Cross be meager, can our love for the Savior be great?” (Frederick Leahy)
Note: An audio recording of this column will be available on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.