Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room: Listening, Dec 10
On that first Christmas Eve, an angel of the Lord appeared to a group of shepherds and said, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) It is fascinating that the first words were “fear not.” The angel could have simply started with “Behold.” Why “fear not?” First, the appearance of the angel was glorious, and it frightened those humble shepherds. That makes sense. Second, hearing from God can be a little fearful. It is our deep desire but what if He tells me to do something I don’t want to do. Third, as humans, we tend to be fearful. “Do not fear” is the most common command in the Bible.
As we continue to ponder the challenge “if you hear His voice, don’t harden your heart” (Hebrews 3 and Psalm 95), thinking through this issue of fear is significant. Quite simply, fear is the response we have to a perceived threat. Expression of fear can be either active or passive. We might express fear through passively cowering in the corner or we can express fear through actively fighting against things, taking life by the collar and not letting go. Ultimately, the threats we perceive have to do with our well-being. We ask questions like: “Is life going to go ok for me?” “Am I going to be hurt?” “Am I going to make it?” “Will I ever get to __________?” “Will _________ever stop?”
The challenge with fear is that it often runs in the backgrounds of our minds and hearts, subtly guiding and directing our responses and decisions. In his book, Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr writes:
“Our culture teaches us that everything out there is hostile. We have to compare, dominate, control, and insure. In brief, we have to be in charge. That need to be in charge moves us deeper and deeper into a world of anxiety.”
As we are seeking to listen to God, fear is a challenge we need to address. It can keep us from hearing God and also listening (trusting) God. So, how do we address the presence of fear in our lives?
First, we need to remember that God spoke to shepherds. In the first century, shepherds were not the heroes of the story like we often see in Christmas pageants. Shepherds were very common laborers who worked bad hours and were often away from their families. It was not a prestigious profession. They were everyday people! One of the fearful questions that can plague us is: “will God speak to me? I’m nothing special.” The simple answer: “of course.” Jesus describes Himself as a shepherd (John 10:1-5). He came to us as one of us and His sheep can know His voice. It is not magic or superior knowledge that allows us to hear His voice. It is His goodness as a tender shepherd.
Second, we might be fearful that God will tell us to do something that we can’t do or don’t want to do. Here is the glorious truth: God always leads us in ways that connect with our deepest desires. We are hardwired to live in relationship with God. We may not always be aware of this truth and other desires may be more in our awareness, but it is that truth which is deeper than all other truth. In Isaiah 55:1-2, God says to His people:
“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”
The point is simply this: we tend to spend our resources (time, energy, and money) on things that can’t satisfy our deepest longings and if we “listen” to God, He graciously (freely) leads us to that which is good and ultimately satisfying. We can trust that. The first words from the Angel, after “don’t be afraid,” were “behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” The news that God brings is “joy.” We can trust. Our deepest joy and God’s heart are always in concert with one another.
Finally, we can approach a seemingly hostile world without fear as we learn to listen to God. His voice is one of calm and peace and rest. Fear is not from Him. Fear and anxiety are not part of His vocabulary. In Psalm 95, part of the foundation of listening to God is remembering that He is the creator: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (v 6) There are two significant ideas here. First, we can let go of fear because He is the Creator. This world is His and there is nothing beyond His knowledge or control. “In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” (v 4) The ancient peoples were afraid of the ocean. The mountains were the realm of bandits and thieves. God says: no realm of life is outside My influence. Second, all of the created order contains the embedded message that we need not fear. Anything that comes into our view can be an opportunity to listen to God.
In Matthew 6, Jesus used flowers and birds to illustrate His challenge: “do not be anxious.” Today, as you walk through your day, ask God to speak to you through His creation. As you ponder the trees, the hills, the moon, the stars, the birds, or the flowers … ask God to tell you about Himself. Hear His voice and listen (take it to heart and ponder it).
Utilize this prayer throughout your day as an expression of your trust:
Father, help me to silence every creature, including myself. I want to listen to You as I hear your voice. Help me to learn stillness so that I might be attentive to Your good and gracious voice. As I hear, may I have the courage to follow Your heart from my heart. Thank you for desiring to do life with me.