Can You Hear Me Now?

By: Julian Wells

“God again set a certain day, calling it ‘Today.’ This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.’” (Hebrews 4:7)

Very few people are familiar with the name of Paul Marcarelli. But for years he was one of the most recognizable faces on television, appearing in countless Verizon commercials, cellphone to his ear, and repeating the phrase “Can you hear me now?” over and over, purportedly to demonstrate the far-reaching coverage of Verizon’s wireless network. Those words, “Can you hear me now?”, became an iconic catchphrase people often used when they suspected people were not paying attention to the words they were speaking.

imageI often think of those commercials when I read the Book of Hebrews. Three times in the span of two chapters, the author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 95:7-8, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” (3:7,15, 4:7) Perhaps the most vital skill that a follower of Christ needs to develop and hone is learning to discern the voice of God from all the other voices that clamor for our attention.

Our lives today are packed with background noises that can easily distract us from vitally important things needing our focus. We pride ourselves on our ability to multitask. We eat while watching television; we listen to music while jogging; I watch Netflix while on the treadmill; my wife is even able to read a book and watch television at the same time.

However, studies have shown that when we multitask, we are never as efficient as we think we are at those activities. That is why automobile accidents have increased with the widespread use of cellphones. It is also why we should not multitask when it comes to reading God’s Word, which is the primary means through which we hear the voice of God.

I have made it a practice for many years to start the day by reading my Bible before anything else has a chance to distract my attention. But in order for it to impact our lives, we must do more than just read it – we must listen to God’s voice as he speaks to us through the Scriptures.

All too often, I have been guilty of reading just to maintain a Bible reading plan without truly digesting what God is saying to me, often prejudging the content to align with my own interpretations and inclinations, leaving little room for the Spirit to guide me in a different direction. We should never be so nonchalant about hearing the voice of God.

Years ago, after hearing a message by Dr. Charles Stanley on this topic, I recorded in the cover of my Bible these ten ways we should listen to God as we read his Word:

  • Eagerly
  • Attentively
  • Trustingly
  • Expectantly
  • Prayerfully
  • Patiently
  • Humbly
  • Purposefully
  • Joyfully
  • Repentantly

Remembering to adopt these postures as I read God’s Word has served me well through the years. When I do so, I rarely fail to hear God’s voice. He shows me things I’ve never noticed before. He feeds me, strengthens me, challenges me, humbles me, and gives me ideas for blog posts to share with you.

If your life is too busy to read the Bible this way, then your life is simply too busy and I strongly encourage you to evaluate your time and make adjustments. When Christ walked among us, it was clear to all who encountered him that his teaching was unlike any before him, and yet so many missed his glory and majesty. We must not make that same mistake by allowing trivial pursuits to keep us from the awesome privilege of hearing God’s voice through the pages of his Word.

“Christian believers make a great mistake when they refer only to the Bible as the Word of God. True, the inspired Bible is the Word of God speaking to our hearts and to our souls. But in referring to the Word of God, we do not mean just the book—printed pages sewed together with nylon thread. Rather, we mean the eternal expression of the mind of God. We mean the world-filling breath of God!” – A.W. Tozer

Note: All Scripture from the New International Version (NIV)

 

A Mirror Into the Soul

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets, but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:22-25 ESV)

imageI love the mental image this verse conjures up in my mind – the image of looking at my reflection in a mirror. It speaks to the perspective we should adopt as we open up God’s Word.

Whenever I look into a mirror, I am focused on my outward appearance. Do I need to shave or comb my hair? Did I cut myself shaving this morning? Is anything hanging out of my nose?

When we peer into God’s Word, we should think of it as a mirror into our inner appearance. Do my thoughts and attitudes reflect the heart of God as revealed in the Scriptures? Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (NIV)

Instead, all too often I tend you use God’s Word as a magnifying glass through which I look to judge everyone around me. From time to time this has led to a few caustic comments on social media which I quickly came to regret when they led to unfruitful and contentious discussions. Such encounters rarely change opinions, but they sometimes fracture relationships.

2 Timothy 2:23-24 wisely counsels us, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” (NIV)

In this day when the widespread use of social media impacts so many of our relationships, we would all be wise to heed Paul’s advice to Timothy. And as we read God’s Word, we should be more mindful of the logs in our own eyes as revealed by Scripture and less focused on the specks in the eyes of others. (Matthew 7:5)

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:6 NIV)

Reflections on Election 2016

“No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. (2 Timothy 2:4)

imageThings that don’t mix well: oil and water, Coke and Mentos, drinking and driving, politics and religion. Upon his 98th birthday this week, I was reminded of the response of Billy Graham when asked what he would do differently as he reflected over the course of his ministry. He replied that among other things, he would have “steered clear of politics”. (Christianity Today interview, Jan. 21, 2011)

I cringe every time I hear a political dialogue initiated at my church, knowing that such conversations threaten unity and distract those who hold different views, often disrupting their spirit of worship. As a teacher, blogger, and user of social media, I have always tried to avoid political discussions and comments for those very reasons.

The divisive nature of the recent election has only reinforced my personal aversion to traveling down those roads. Nevertheless, after much soul-searching, I feel compelled to share a few concerns that are weighing heavily on my heart in the aftermath of the election this week.

Over the course of this long political season I have personally witnessed a number of insensitive and irreverent comments and jokes concerning the candidates voiced by fellow Christians, many of which occurred during church activities. Such remarks often offend those who hold different political views, making them feel uncomfortable at best and unwelcome in our congregations and small groups at worst.

In the interest of unity, I have held my tongue as the names of President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and Mr. Trump have been uttered with disdainful and often disrespectful tones. I have been shocked and greatly disappointed by blatantly false, slanderous, and even racist political emails forwarded and social media posts shared by fellow church members, friends, and family throughout the course of this campaign. Such actions fly in the face of clear Biblical teaching to be respectful of those in authority and to slander no one. (1 Tim. 2:1-3, 1 Peter 2:17, 1 Peter 2:1, Eph. 4:31-32)

I must confess that I have been both surprised and disillusioned by such widespread and often enthusiastic support among so many evangelicals for a candidate whose actions and words appear so antithetical to the Biblical values of humility, grace, and forgiveness which we espouse. When cloaked in the mantle of Christian faith, I fear that such actions undermine our moral authority and credibility as the witnesses we are called to be. It is regrettable that to the public at large, the term “evangelical” now often conveys a political overtone rather than a Great Commission mandate.

Given the closeness of the Presidential vote this week in the face of such widespread evangelical support for the Republican ticket, it should be obvious that a large percentage of those outside our faith do not share the same political views. It pains me to think that many of those individuals will likely be even more resistant to Gospel-centered conversations as a result of recent actions and words of Christians, including some very prominent Christian leaders, in the context of this election.

Exit polls also reveal a great divide in the political leanings of white evangelicals compared to our minority brothers and sisters in Christ, to which we would be wise to be sensitive. Unity in the Body of Christ was a grave concern of Christ when he offered up that great priestly prayer found in John 17, and it should be a grave concern to us as well.

Personally, the disappointment and concern I have expressed here has in no way shaken my faith in God or my trust in his sovereignty. I am well aware that Daniel 2:2 informs us that he “deposes kings and raises up others”. But the testimony of Scripture also reminds us that sometimes he gives his people the leaders they ask for, and those haven’t always worked out so well. (1 Samuel 8:7, Ezekiel 14:3-5)

Having said all that, as commanded by Scripture, I will pray for and show respect for our new President, as well as those who supported him. I pray that he will prove himself to be more knowledgeable, disciplined, respectful, inclusive, and open to opposing views than he has demonstrated over the course of this contentious campaign.

While I may disagree with many of his policy proposals and am repulsed by so many of his words and actions, I will refrain from publicly disparaging his character or sharing false, misleading, and slanderous emails and social media posts, refusing to respond in kind to so many who have not hesitated to bombard my inbox and news feeds with such content.

This is the first politically themed article I have posted on this site, having wrestled more with my decision to publish it than with anything else I have written to date, knowing that many will not receive it with the same level of prayerful consideration by which it was drafted, extensively edited, and published.

I much prefer to focus on the things that should unite us as Christians – the concerns of God, rather than the concerns of men, (Matt. 16:23) resting on the assurance of Psalm 103:19 that “The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all.”

I pray that more Christians will join me in that focus, working toward healing the divide that has been unearthed in the Body of Christ this week and undoing any damage to our Gospel witness. Colossians 4:6 reminds us to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” May that be the salt that defines us rather than the kind of salt that inflicts pain when rubbed into the wounds of political disappointment.

May we never forget as we celebrate political victories, as Jesus proclaimed before Pilate, that our kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36)

“Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3) “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in humans. (Psalm 118:8)

Note: All Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)