Helen Keller once said, “Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.” The ability to hear is such an important part of the human experience. But can a person hear without actually listening? I suppose it depends on who you ask. Hearing refers to an involuntary ability to perceive a noise, while listening implies an intent to understand the noise. Parents will often claim their children have “selective hearing,” in which they seem to filter out the sounds (i.e. their parents’ directions) they’d rather not recognize. I wonder if God the Father would say the same thing about us rebellious humans, regardless of our age.
Does God still speak to His children today? I truly believe He does. However, it is much less important to ask if we are hearing from God than to ask if we are listening for Him. The Hebrew word for this kind of intentional listening is sama or shema. In fact, an important Jewish prayer from Deuteronomy is actually entitled The Shema:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the door frames of your houses and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, NIV)
In scripture, hearing from God does not stop at understanding, but it comes to completion in obedience. Romans 2:13 (NIV) says, “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” One concept cannot be separated from the other. The restoration of our relationship with God the Father requires obedience to follow through with what was heard from the Lord. John 12:47-50 (NIV) says, “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” God the Father will judge us by how well we obeyed what we heard from Jesus.
Our obedience to the voice of the Lord also leads us in confidence that we belong to Him. John 8:47 (NASB) says, “He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God." ” Recognizing His voice means that we are part of the flock of the Good Shepherd: Jesus. John 10:27 (NIV) says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
For those of us who question how we can truly hear from the Lord, I would encourage you to keep asking that question. Actually, take it one step deeper and pray that question to the only one who can answer it correctly. The closer we draw to God, the better we can hear His voice. In fact, He is the one who even gives us the ability to hear Him in the first place. Isaiah 50:5 (NIV) says, “The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back.” Throughout scripture we are given examples of people who heard from the Lord without understanding. It is why we so often read Jesus saying, “He who has ears let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15, NIV) May we diligently, fervently, and repeatedly pray the words of young Samuel, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10, NIV)
Once we have learned to hear from God, we have the most important job of all: training others to hear His voice as well. Romans 10:13-14 (NIV) says, “for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” We should never assume someone has heard the voice of the Lord. There are people who have attended church diligently for decades who are no closer to Jesus than the atheist down the street. May we who hear the voice of the Lord today follow the example of John the Baptist who made ways straight for people to find the Lord. Let’s be the hearing aid of gospel in the ears of the spiritually deaf.