Pressing On

with THE WORD

A study of the Scriptures to discover who God is, what He is like, and how to partner with Him now.

Filtering by Tag: listening

My daddy said "STOP!"

When our boys were small, there were only two ways to get spanked in our house.  First, was for lying.  Didn’t matter what you lied about, that violation of trust received a spanking…and then we would deal separately with whatever had been lied about.  Second, a spanking would occur for blatant, deliberate disobedience. 

Our boys were typical little boys, and they thoroughly tested both of these rules.  After each time, I would pull them into my lap and let them cry into my chest until they had calmed down.  It was in this teachable moment that we talked about what had brought them to this point and how to avoid it in the future.  I would also repeat one of two phrases that I borrowed from Jesus:  “If you love me, follow my directions.” or “Hear my voice and follow my directions.”  The first comes from John 14:15 and the second from John 10:27:

John 14:15
If you love me, you will keep my commands.

John 10:27
My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me.

You always hope your children get the lessons you try to teach them, but these verses ended up being applied in an unexpected way:

For our second Halloween in West Virginia, we walked around the neighboring side-street houses with other families that lived near us.  Our younger son was too little to walk the entire distance, so we pulled him in a wagon.  Our older son was Kindergarten-age, and he walked about a block ahead of us with some of the neighbor’s kids and friends who were in upper elementary school.  The kids were told to stay within eye-sight of the parents.  The weather was pleasant and it was a fun, relaxing stroll around the area.

At the very end of the designated Trick-or-Treat time, we started to head back home.  Our group of kids was about two blocks ahead of us, but we could still see each other.  At an empty side-road intersection, the group of kids went left, toward home…except for one, who looked left and then right and then left again.  Even from our vantage point, you could see our son’s mind spinning the options.  To the left, was home and the end of the night…but to the right were more houses with their porch lights on and other kids still getting candy.  So after weighing his options, he booked it to the right.

I didn’t mind his choice.  He was still within eye-sight, but I could see something that he couldn’t, because of the rolling hill the street was on.  There was a car, moving carefully up the road, but heading toward my son.  He was safely off the side of the road, running on the grass, but he was solely focused on getting more candy.  Depending on which house he targeted first, I was afraid he would dart out into the street.

I took a deep breath, barked out his name and gave him a loud, one-word direction: “STOP”.  He immediately stopped in his tracks.  I gave the wagon handle to my wife and ran to our son.  I got there just as the car slowly rolled by him.  He was crying because he didn’t understand why I yelled and likely thought he was in trouble.  The house he had targeted was on his side of the street and turned out to be the home of one of my co-workers.  She told me that she had heard him crying and was worried that he thought they were out of candy.  She called to him, saying, “It’s ok little boy, we still have candy.  You can come get some.”  Through his choked back tears, he gave this response: “No.  My daddy said stop.”

It didn’t hit me until the next day that although I could see him – he couldn’t see me.  While he was focused on something good, something he could have, as soon as he heard my voice…he knew he had to trust me and do what I said.  Even if it didn’t make sense to him in the moment.  Even if it meant missing out on something he wanted.

How well do we know our Savior’s voice?
Enough to recognize it above all the noise of life?
Do we trust Him enough to do what He says?

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Flashback Favorite - Being heard

Preparing the next study is taking longer than I anticipated, so I offer this Flashback Favorite.  I love the reminder that God hears us...always and with everything.  We don't need to hold anything back from Him.  He can handle us - our fears, our emotions, and our messes.

Being heard
originally posted on May 27, 2015

We are social beings, God created us to be in community with Him and with others.  So when a crisis hits and grief wears us out, our natural response is to seek the companionship of others.  The times we get blind-sided, as soon as we recognize that resolution may not come quickly, the next step we typically take is to look for someone to go through it with us.  We tell ourselves “I just need someone to talk to.”

But that’s hard to find sometimes, isn’t it?  There have been times when I didn’t feel like I had someone to talk to, or that my situation was different enough that no one I knew could relate all that much.  In addition to the struggle of trying to process the mess of my situation, I also felt lost and stuck because it seemed like I had to go through it alone.

Perhaps the author of Psalm 119 felt the same way, but instead of looking for another human being to talk with, he seeks out God.  Look for what happens when he approaches God with his grief and sorrow:

Psalm 119:25-32
My life is down in the dust; give me life through Your word.
I told You about my life, and You listened to Me; teach me Your statutes.
Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts so that I can meditate on Your wonders.
I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word.
Keep me from the way of deceit, and graciously give me Your instruction.
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me.
I cling to Your decrees; Lord, do not put me to shame.
I pursue the way of Your commands, for You broaden my understanding.

There is so much comfort in the phrase I told You about my life, and You listened to Me.  From this, we know that we can bring any grief-filled situation to God, and He will hear us out.  There’s no indication in the text that what the psalmist said about his life was only the good, or only the bad, or only the things that he thought God would want to hear.  There are no limitations on what he feels he can or cannot say about his life, and God doesn’t run away from him because he’s feeling worn out, tired, or stressed from grief.  He can approach God with everything - I told You…and You listened.

The Hebrew word for You listened contains two ideas – of someone being heard and of that person being answered back.  While most translations focus on God answering, it is also reassuring to know that God is actively listening. 

This section of Psalm 119 ends with the author stating what he’s trusting God for as he navigates his grief.  He is looking to God to broaden my understanding, and the literal translation of the phrase is to enlarge my heart

I’ve been told that life’s events can make you bitter or better…that in our difficulties we can shrink back, or we can expand and grow.  But the psalmist knows, as we intuitively recognize, that real growth comes from our relationship with the God who actively listens to us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Solomon's biggest warning

After telling his son that the most important thing for him to do is to guard his heart, Solomon gives his son the longest warning on any one topic in the book of Proverbs.  For almost three entire chapters, Solomon warns his son about the dangers of breaking the seventh commandment God gave to Moses.

Proverbs 5:1-8
My son, pay attention to my wisdom; listen closely to my understanding
so that you may maintain discretion and your lips safeguard knowledge.

Though the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her words are smoother than oil,
in the end she’s as bitter as wormwood and as sharp as a double-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death; her steps head straight for Sheol.
She doesn’t consider the path of life; she doesn’t know that her ways are unstable.

So now, my sons, listen to me, and don’t turn away from the words of my mouth.
Keep your way far from her.  Don’t go near the door of her house.

The words from the lips of the forbidden woman are seductively enticing – and deadly dangerous.  The young man has a choice – whose words will he listen to?  The smooth words of forbidden woman or the wisdom of Solomon?

Solomon gives the best defense against the siren’s song – don’t go near the door of her house.

If she is purposely avoided, then her smooth words cannot ensnare him.  However, if he foolishly gives in to this temptation, Solomon warns that it will cost him severely:

Proverbs 5:9-14
Otherwise, you will give up your vitality to others and your years to someone cruel;
strangers will drain your resources, and your earnings will end up in a foreigner’s house.
At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed,
and you will say,

“How I hated discipline, and how my heart despised correction.
I didn’t obey my teachers or listen closely to my mentors.
I was on the verge of complete ruin before he entire community.”

If he gives in to her temptations, the young man will not be able to undo the path his life will go down.  Any profit will go to another, and he will only be left with regret.  The destruction to himself, his family, and his community cannot be undone.

We see this play out today as well.  Sexual sin is one of the greatest destructive forces in today’s society.  “Sex sells” is what we’re told, and the numbers don’t lie – advertisers prey upon our inability to control our sexual appetite.  The world’s system is set up to ensnare both men and women.

If we consider its ultimate cost, what that moment of pleasure will take from us in this life and in the next, we can see why Solomon spends the next two chapters continuing his warning.

Proverbs 5:20-23
Why, my son, would you be infatuated with a forbidden woman
or embrace the breast of a stranger?
For a man’s ways are before the Lord’s eyes,
and He considers all his paths.

A wicked man’s iniquities entrap him;
he is entangled in the ropes of his own sin.
He will die because there is no instruction,
and be lost because of his great stupidity.

Sexual sin is a great stupidity.  It cannot be simply managed or contained.  The only safe way to deal with it is to take Solomon’s advice and don’t go near the temptation.  Avoid it, because you don’t want to pay everything it will ultimately cost you.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Learning how to listen for God

Over the years I’ve encountered many Christians who want to “hear from the Lord.”  We desire God’s guidance for our lives, but we tend to be rather unfocused in how we go about finding it.  We know that listening for God’s guidance is something that we need to learn and practice, but what we fail to realize is that means we’re going to need someone to teach us how.

We see an example of this at the beginning of Samuel’s career as God’s prophet:

1 Samuel 3:1-11
The boy Samuel served the Lord in Eli’s presence.  In those days the word of the Lord was rare and prophetic visions were not widespread.  One day Eli, whose eyesight was failing, was lying in his room.  Before the lamp of God had gone out, Samuel was lying down in the tabernacle of the Lord where the ark of God was located.

Then the Lord called Samuel, and he answered, “Here I am.”  He ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call,” Eli replied.  “Go and lie down.” So he went and lay down.

Once again the Lord called, “Samuel!”  Samuel got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

“I didn’t call, my son,” he replied.  “Go and lie down.”

Now Samuel had not yet experienced the Lord, because the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  Once again, for the third time, the Lord called Samuel.  He got up, went to Eli, and said, “Here I am; you called me.”

Then Eli understood that the Lord was calling the boy.  He told Samuel, “Go and lie down.  If He calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening.’ ”  So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came, stood there, and called as before, “Samuel, Samuel!”  Samuel responded, “Speak, for Your servant is listening.”

The Lord said to Samuel, “I am about to do something in Israel that everyone who hears about it will shudder…”

Then the Lord went on to give Samuel his first prophetic insight into God’s plans for the nation of Israel.

Notice how Samuel had to be taught how to respond to God’s voice.  Even though Samuel had been serving the Lord under Eli’s guidance, recognizing the word of the Lord wasn’t a skill Samuel just naturally had.  He had to be taught how to listen and how to respond to God’s call.

We’re like that, too.  We believe Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, and we accept His offer of eternal life, so we’re in His family.  We may even be serving – and serving well – within our local church congregation.

But if God called out to us right now, would we know that it’s Him talking?

For our current stage of human history, God doesn’t talk through prophets like He did in Samuel’s time.  Instead, we have the recorded words of Jesus and those who interacted directly with Him.  Perhaps the same question needs to be put into our modern context:

Do we know the Bible well enough to recognize God’s voice and direction?

When Joe began to mentor me, the very first thing he taught me was how to read and understand Scripture.  Learning how to properly observe, interpret, and apply Scripture was the major catalyst for growth in my relationship with God.  As I studied the Bible, I learned to recognize how God works and what He expects from His children.  I began to know Him better as He revealed Himself to me through the pages of the Bible.

Interacting with God’s word isn’t a one-and-done type of thing, either.  We don’t learn to handle the Scriptures and then consider it checked off our list of “ways to grow”.  We need to continually go back to where God has revealed Himself to us, because that is where our relationship with Him is found. 

Samuel had the same kind of experience:

1 Samuel 3:19-21
Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let nothing he said prove false.  All Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a confirmed prophet of the Lord.  The Lord continued to appear in Shiloh, because there He revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.

I love that last sentence, where God revealed Himself to Samuel by His word.  We have the same opportunity, to have God reveal Himself to us if we take the time to learn how to handle Scripture.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Being heard

We are social beings, God created us to be in community with Him and with others.  So when a crisis hits and grief wears us out, our natural response is to seek the companionship of others.  The times we get blind-sided, as soon as we recognize that resolution may not come quickly, the next step we typically take is to look for someone to go through it with us.  We tell ourselves “I just need someone to talk to.”

But that’s hard to find sometimes, isn’t it?  There have been times when I didn’t feel like I had someone to talk to, or that my situation was different enough that no one I knew could relate all that much.  In addition to the struggle of trying to process the mess of my situation, I also felt lost and stuck because it seemed like I had to go through it alone.

Perhaps the author of Psalm 119 felt the same way, but instead of looking for another human being to talk with, he seeks out God.  Look for what happens when he approaches God with his grief and sorrow:

Psalm 119:25-32
My life is down in the dust; give me life through Your word.
I told You about my life, and You listened to Me; teach me Your statutes.
Help me understand the meaning of Your precepts so that I can meditate on Your wonders.
I am weary from grief; strengthen me through Your word.
Keep me from the way of deceit, and graciously give me Your instruction.
I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me.
I cling to Your decrees; Lord, do not put me to shame.
I pursue the way of Your commands, for You broaden my understanding.

There is so much comfort in the phrase I told You about my life, and You listened to Me.  From this, we know that we can bring any grief-filled situation to God, and He will hear us out.  There’s no indication in the text that what the psalmist said about his life was only the good, or only the bad, or only the things that he thought God would want to hear.  There are no limitations on what he feels he can or cannot say about his life, and God doesn’t run away from him because he’s feeling worn out, tired, or stressed from grief.  He can approach God with everything - I told You…and You listened.

The Hebrew word for You listened contains two ideas – of someone being heard and of that person being answered back.  While most translations focus on God answering, it is also reassuring to know that God is actively listening. 

This section of Psalm 119 ends with the author stating what he’s trusting God for as he navigates his grief.  He is looking to God to broaden my understanding, and the literal translation of the phrase is to enlarge my heart

I’ve been told that life’s events can make you bitter or better…that in our difficulties we can shrink back, or we can expand and grow.  But the psalmist knows, as we intuitively recognize, that real growth comes from our relationship with the God who actively listens to us.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Public prayer

Jesus and His disciples returned to Jerusalem the next day after clearing the money changers from the temple complex and severely rebuking the hypocrisy of Israel’s spiritual leaders.  Unsurprisingly, Israel's spiritual leaders wanted some answers and were eager to confront Jesus:

Mark 11:27-28 They came again to Jerusalem.  As He was walking in the temple complex, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came and asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things?  Who gave You this authority to do these things?

Jesus then used a parable to convey God’s displeasure with their administration of the nation’s relationship with God the Father.  The religious leaders clearly got Jesus’ point…and begin to plan Jesus’ demise.

Mark 12:12 Because they knew He had said this parable against them, they were looking for a ways to arrest Him, but they were afraid of the crowd.  So they left Him and went away.

Other portions of the religious establishment were then sent to challenge Jesus:

Mark 12:13 Then they sent some of the Pharisees and the Herodians to Him to trap Him by what He said.

And again:

Mark 12:18 Some Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and questioned Him

After rebuffing all their questions with wise answers that both amazed and delighted the crowd gathered to watch the dialogue, Jesus stopped to give them all a warning.

Mark 12:38-40 He also said in His teaching, “Beware of the scribes, who want to go around in long robes, and who want greetings in the market-places, the front seats in the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and say long prayers just for show.  These will receive harsher punishment.”

The scribes were members of the learned class, with responsibilities for studying the Hebrew Scriptures.  They also served as copyists, editors, teachers, and jurists.  They were held in high regard, and as such, they were also prone to holding themselves in high regard.

Jesus gave a specific list of actions that would help the crowd identify scribes to be wary of.  Their actions betrayed the heart’s true desire – to be given honor, rather than giving honor to God.

It’s the last identifier that I find rather interesting – the scribes would say long prayers just for show.  Their words were for those around them, in order that they would be noticed and highly regarded.  They would go on and on in great spiritual-sounding dialogue…and yet their target audience was only those physically around them.

We would be wise to consider the prayers of the spiritual leaders around us.  When you hear them pray, see if you can identify whom they are talking to…are they talking to God, or are they talking to you?  Are they praying for God’s will or just communicating information with their eyes closed?

Don’t forget to do a self-evaluation as well.  If my prayer habits and phrases are different when I pray by myself vs. when I pray around others, then it would be a good idea to speak to God privately about the matter.  Ask His forgiveness and for instruction on how to pray to Him when other people are around.

The last thing we want is to end up like the self-seeking scribes, because after all, their choices eventually led them to receive harsher punishment.  God has a long track record of severely correcting those who misrepresent Him in the manner which the scribes were doing.

Let’s beware leaders who act like that, and also make sure that we don’t act like that either.  As Jesus pointed out, a good litmus test to evaluate the purpose of our hearts is to listen to what is said in public prayers.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Trust and prayer

The first place we’re going to look at when it comes to what Jesus taught about prayer is during his longest and most famous teaching session, known as the Sermon on the Mount.  However, before we get to his teachings about a person’s prayer-life, it’s worthwhile to pause for a moment and listen to what Jesus has to say about his teaching in general.

At the end of his sermon, Jesus concluded with this illustration:

Matthew 7:24-27 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house.  Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock.  But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.  The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed.  And its collapse was great!”

The two groups of people the Jesus is addressing here are those that “hear and do” in contrast with those who “hear and don’t”.  Both groups hear Jesus’ words.  And what did they just hear?  The Sermon on the Mount, which was instruction primarily focused on Kingdom living.  So now that they have received direction, Jesus closes by warning them about the importance of putting his words into practice.

Notice the other similarities between the builders:

  • Both needed to build a house for protection from the coming storms
  • Both built their house before the storm came, presumably while the weather was good
  • Both experienced storms, as they couldn’t prevent the weather

But the difference between the builders…in fact, the ONLY difference between the builders…was also the defining difference when the storms arrived.

Jesus is claiming that the difference between those that “hear and do” and those that “hear and don’t” is just as significant as the foundation chosen by the builders.

Do we trust Jesus enough to act on his words?  It does us no good to simply listen to Christ’s teachings about prayer (or any other topic) if we’re not willing to take him at his word…and then take action accordingly.  In fact, Jesus says to that to hear him and then disregard his words will result in the eventual collapse of what we build in this life.

If we’re going to learn to pray like Jesus, we’re going to have to trust that he knows what he’s talking about…and then take action accordingly.

Keep Pressing,
Ken

Listening and Doing

Titus 3:14-15 Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives.  Everyone with me sends you greetings.  Greet those who love us in the faith.  Grace be with you all.

Paul ends his letter with a similar personal touch that began the letter with.  He deeply cares for his young protégée Titus, and Paul wants him to know that there is love and support from other believers for the Cretan church.

Interestingly enough, the final you in the last sentence, Grace be with you all, is plural.  While Paul obviously desires that the Cretans would consciously live within God’s grace, the plural here seems to indicate that this letter was to be read to the entire Cretan congregation.  Having the letter read aloud was normal for Paul’s letters that were sent to an entire church; however, Paul also expects that his personal letter to Titus would be shared with the general church audience.

Hearing the Scriptures has a different effect on us than simply reading the Scriptures.  I encourage you to try this exercise – read Paul’s entire letter to Titus out loud.  It will take less than 10 minutes and, based upon what we’ve learned by studying this text, think about what topics or ideas jump out at you when you hear the letter read aloud.  Make a note of those observations and talk to God about them.

A second exercise to try – which may be even better than the first – would be to have someone else read Titus to you.  Don’t follow along in the text.  Just listen.  Hearing someone else convey the Scriptures while we intently listen puts us into the sandals of the letter’s first recipients.  Having the letter read to us also gives us the chance to learn something new, as the reader may emphasize the words in the text in ways that we normally wouldn’t when we simply read it in our minds.

If you try either of the exercises (and I hope you try both), you’ll certainly encounter Paul’s major theme that we’ve seen throughout the letter – namely that God’s people should purposely focus on doing good.  Eight times in the forty-six verses, Paul brings up the topic of doing good.  That’s a lot of emphasis within such a short letter, but that was the Cretan believers’ next step.  Based upon their new relationship with God, which is due to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, the Cretan believers were to actively pursue becoming change-agents for good within the corrupt society around them.

Here is a rundown of Paul’s direct mentionings of doing good:

1:8 Church leaders should be one who loves what is good
1:16 False teachers are unfit for doing anything good
2:3 Older women are to teach what is good to the younger women
2:7 For the young men, Titus is to set an example by doing what is good
2:14 Jesus redeemed us from sin so that we would be eager to do what is good
3:1 All believers are to be ready to do whatever is good
3:8 Knowing the salvation message helps believers to devote themselves to doing what is good
3:14 Believers must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good

Now that we’ve finished our look into Paul’s letter to Titus, we have a question to consider:

Will I choose to act like the Cretan I was before I met Jesus, or will I devote myself to living the life that he rescued me for?

Keep Pressing,
Ken