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ASPECTS

a monthly devotional journal
by David Lampel
Issue No. 83
October 1997

THE LISTENING HEART



One of the great mysteries of the Christian life is our curious ability to avoid God or, if not literally avoid Him, at least place Him near the bottom of our priority list. Why is it there are times when just about anything else seems more important than time spent with the Lord?

Like most people, I have my morning routine. After my wife has left for the office, I put on a pot of coffee, then go to my desk to check my mail, read The Washington Times, listen to yesterday's Chuck Colson column, and process any new subscribers. If I skip any part of the standard routine, I feel as if a critical piece of the day is missing-- as if I've stepped out of the house without trousers. That missed element remains on my mind, and I don't rest until I find an opportunity to accomplish what was left out earlier.

Yet my approach to prayer is precisely the opposite. Not only has it never made it into my regular morning routine, but I can easily accommodate its absence.

I really do want to read the news every morning; I'll go out of my way to make sure I do. If for some reason that part of my morning routine is left out, I feel deprived, uninformed. Yet the same does not hold true for what should be a morning time of being alone with God--a time of being informed by Him. I may feel some regret over missing something important, but the truth is that I regret missing prayer much less than I regret missing the news.

The troubling mystery is why? Why is it easier to miss the Lord than the morning newspaper or cup of coffee? Why is it harder for me to miss a favorite radio program than it is to miss time in prayer with the Lord?

The One Being Heard

One explanation for this curious incongruity is the realization that it's easier to listen than to speak. It's always easier to be passive than active.

Every morning when I check my mail, I'm reading correspondence initiated by someone else. When I read the newspaper, I'm reading events that happened to someone else, written about by someone else. When I listen to Chuck Colson I'm, well, listening. All these activities are relatively passive.

But the common perception of prayer is that it is primarily active. What am I going to say? What petitions am I to bring? What words of praise can I offer up? So it becomes easier to put off prayer when the answers to these questions do not come; if I can't think of anything to say, then I won't say it!

Our prayers should indeed contain words of praise and adoration, words of confession and contrition, words of supplication and intercession, words of thanksgiving. But many days begin without our being able to put literal words with those thoughts; we feel illiterate before our God, so, failing the words with which to describe our heart, we decide to not initiate the prayer. Because our idea of prayer is active, requiring more effort than our more passive regimen, it is easier for us to set it aside.

Far too many of us think of prayer as a monologue in which we're the one doing all the talking. Prayer has become an exercise in informing God of our feelings, our thoughts, our longings. Once we have accomplished that valid but ultimately self-centered task, we sign off and go on our way, happy in the knowledge that we've checked in with heaven and done our bit for the day.

Prayer should be, instead, a dialogue in which God does most of the talking. Oh, we are certainly to bring Him our petitions, our praise and our longings; He encourages us to do just that.

But here is the paradox: When I listen to a favorite columnist or radio speaker every morning, I do so that I might benefit from their wisdom. I acknowledge that in their area at least, they have something worth listening to. But then I turn to the all-wise, all-knowing God--and do all the talking myself, never giving Him the chance to speak to me!

It is easier to give ourselves permission to pray when we admit that what God has to say to us is more important than what we have to say to Him.

Upside Down

Another explanation for the ease with which we demote God in our daily routines is that we are still dwelling in a place where those other things are considered more important. We may be redeemed, but until death or Christ's return our address is still "The Earth," and "Heaven" remains but a future forwarding address.

No chilling winds nor pois'nous breath
Can reach that healthful shore;
Sickness and sorrow, pain and death
Are felt and feared no more.
[2]

This is a time and place in which God has become an inconvenient distraction to what most people see as really important. God is someone people make jokes about, and only take seriously when tragedy strikes and the bagpipes are called upon to drone out the ubiquitous Amazing Grace.

So given the climate, is it any wonder that some of this confused attitude will inevitably seep into the believer's life? Even the best-intentioned among us is swimming upstream against the temporal gospel that swirls about our heads, permeating every channel of access to our brain.

Until we meet our Savior face to face we must dwell in a dark and alien land in which our faith and its practices are deemed undesirable. So it only follows that our own priorities may be adversely influenced by the distorted standards of the age.

This makes it all the more critical that we begin each day with God's voice. No matter how we choose to listen, it is important that we begin each day with His perspective.


Still, still with Thee, when purple morning breaketh,
When the bird waketh, and the shadows flee;
Fairer than morning, lovelier than the daylight,
Dawns the sweet consciousness, I am with Thee.

Alone with Thee, amidst the mystic shadows,
The solemn hush of nature newly born;
Alone with Thee in breathless adoration,
In the calm dew and freshness of the morn.

When sinks the soul, subdued by toil, to slumber,
Its closing eyes look up to Thee in prayer;
Sweet the repose beneath Thy wings o'er shading,
But sweeter still to wake and find Thee there.
So shall it be at last, in that bright morning
When the soul waketh, and life's shadows flee;
Oh, in that hour, fairer than daylight dawning,
Shall rise the glorious thought--I am with Thee.

Harriet Beecher Stowe

__________ (Selah) _________


BEING AUTHENTIC

The very nature of God and the means by which we are to listen to Him run counter to the ways of a society based on quick and easy gratification. If, as believers, our citizenship lies elsewhere, then so should our methods. Listening to God does not come naturally to children of dust, for what is natural is to not listen at all.

"If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about." C.S. Lewis[3]

The emphasis of our age is on appearances. It doesn't really matter what is in a person's heart, so long as he appears to be compassionate and caring; a person's Spiritual veracity doesn't really matter, so long as his prayer sounds sincere. Solid faith and tenacious compliance to it have become suspect, so the idea of practicing dialogue with God for the purpose of life-altering obedience can be something odd even for the Christian.

The easy road is to display our public righteousness without bothering with the private. But Jesus had a name for people like that: hypocrites.

And Jesus applied the same principle to our conversations with God _ even giving us a template prayer which would be well-received by the Father.

The contemporary version of this easy hypocrisy has always been illustrated for me by an episode observed years ago. We were visiting a charismatic church on a Sunday evening to attend a dramatic presentation being staged there, a one-man show on the apostle Paul.

As with Protestant congregations the world over, before the program officially began, the large auditorium was filled with a swarm of loud, boisterous people conducting the mundane business of friends and acquaintances. The two women seated next to me busily swapped tales of soccer practice, new recipes, and diaper rash.

Before the visiting actor began his monologue, the crowd was warmed up with the singing of a few songs. A worship leader mounted the stage and called everyone to join him in singing a praise chorus. The keyboards began the intro and literally within mere seconds the two women next to me switched from diapers to waving their arms, eyes closed--in apparent swoons of heavenly discourse and praise. I was stunned by the instantaneous transformation, and wondered just how authentic could have been their praise.

That's the easy path; it takes little effort to go through the public motions that will convince everyone of our holiness. What is a much greater challenge is to go through the private process that will actually produce in us the public validation of our close relationship to God.

But we must first convince ourselves that the learning of this unnatural habit will be worthwhile.

Time Alone

Before Moses began his service to God, it was required of him to get alone with God, to hear His voice and intentions.

Before the apostle Paul could begin His ministry for Jesus Christ, he had to get away for a period of instruction and preparation.

Even Jesus prepared for His own ministry in the solitude and privation of the desert, listening to the Holy Spirit . . .

. . . and periodically during His earthly ministry it was necessary for Jesus to get alone with God the Father.

None of us can hope to sustain an authentic Christian walk without listening on a regular basis to the word of God. We must come to understand and embrace the fact that His counsel is timeless, relevant, and personal.

__________ (Selah) _________


Once we have confessed this dependency, we can then move into a lifestyle of habitual listening to His voice in whatever form it takes.

GOD'S SPECTACLES

People and institutions are queued up, eager to influence the way we think and behave. Television sitcoms, commercials, talk shows on radio and TV, films, magazines and books--including this journal, of course _ are in the business of presenting images and arguments for our life decisions.

It isn't that we actually hate God. It's not necessarily animosity we are demonstrating when we disregard the things of God. The reason that we permit the counsel of others before the counsel of the Almighty is that it is easier--and it is easier because we remain people of the dust.

When Christ enters our earthly life, He sends the Holy Spirit to assist us throughout the remainder of our temporal walk. The Spirit takes possession of our eternal components, hooking up, as it were, our permanent umbilical to God.

But our physical self remains earthbound--not unaffected by the Spirit, but also not in His possession. So the inner tension is established, as the apostle Paul so eloquently and ironically describes in his own life:

So while our eternal soul is in the possession of the Lord, the machinery of our existence remains tied to the dust from whence we came. The pumps and tubes that keep the body alive pump with the same fluids that sustain the unregenerate; the gears and pistons that move us about are the same; and the emotions and yearnings that motivate the body to action can be the same as those who do not know Christ.

We cannot escape the voice of the earth; short of hermitic seclusion in an isolated cave, it is impossible to avoid the siren song of this world. Try as we might, it will find us. Even if we vowed to never again attend a movie, watch television entertainment, or listen to music _ even if we restricted the world's input to the news, we would still be submerged into a toxic bath of our society's value judgements, priorities, passions and enticements.

All the more reason, then, for us to make a point of listening first to the word of God. At a minimum we must counterbalance the "wisdom" of the world with the true wisdom of God. But our goal is Spiritual maturity; our purpose is not an even draw, but real growth in the things of heaven. Our goal is not to simply give equal time, but to gain Christ's perspective on our existence.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul compares the imperfect vision we have now to that which we will enjoy once we have seen the Lord "face to face" in heaven.

We could borrow this illustration to describe the improved perspective we gain--even while here on earth--when we develop the habit of listening to God before anything else. Like a person with poor eyesight putting on his glasses, suddenly the intentions of the world become clear when seen through the corrective lens of God's word.

So every day that begins by putting on God's spectacles has the advantage of His vision. Every disappointment, every crisis and trial, is seen not with the myopia of the world, but with the broad sweep of God's peripheral vision. Every moment of happiness and joy, every mountain-top victory as well as every quiet pleasure is seen not as personal triumph, but as one extra moment of reward enjoyed in God's kingdom.


Speak, Lord, in the stillness, While I wait on Thee;
Hushed my heart to listen, In expectancy.

Speak, O blessed Master, In this quiet hour;
Let me see Thy face, Lord, Feel Thy touch of Power.

For the words Thou speakest, They are life indeed;
Living bread from heaven, Now my spirit feed!

All to Thee is yielded, I am not my own;
Blissful, glad surrender, I am Thine alone.

Speak, Thy servant heareth, Be not silent, Lord;
Waits my soul upon Thee For the quickening word.

E. May Grimes

__________ (Selah) _________


KNOWING HIS VOICE

The Spiritually-minded person sees God all around, because everything bears His mark--the fingerprints of the creator.

We are free to disregard the signs of His influence, but we do so by our own choice--and at our own risk; God has spread Himself around so liberally that we have no excuse not to discover Him.

He is in the breeze that cools us in the midst of summer heat. He is in the soft cooing of the baby, pleasant and content within its mother's arms. He is in the rhythmic lapping of small waves on the shore of the mountain lake, and the burbling song of the stream traveling over and around water-smoothed boulders.

He is found in the chatter and shared intimacies of old friends over a weathered picket fence. He is found in the crushing, incessant noise of the city as well as in the bucolic stillness of the country glen.

God is near us in every tragedy and joy, every sorrow and ecstasy. His life surrounds our own, holding us up, nurturing, coaxing, chastising and encouraging. He is there when we are aware of Him, and He is there when we are not.

More than just a reassuring comfort, His presence actually describes God to us. He has left His fingerprints all about us not just so that we would know that He is there, but that we might come to understand who is there. It is God's nature, His personality, His very essence that is there for the possessing, and we will remain something less than what we could be, until we avail ourselves of that knowledge.

__________ (Selah) _________

Communion

As I sit by the pond and listen to the sounds of nature, I wonder why it is so much easier for me to find God here than in the city. I wonder why these sounds more readily point me to God than others.

I've lived in the city and I've lived in the woods. I've lived where one is awakened by the sounds of a police raid being conducted across the street, and I've lived where one is awakened by the sounds of a wren inviting a mate to his newly-made nest. I've lived where from my own bed I could hear the telephone conversations of someone in the house next door, and I've lived where I haven't heard another human voice for a week.

Why is God so much more present in the sounds of the birds, the croaking of the frogs, the bleating snort of the deer? Why do I hear God more in silence itself?

When a man-made sound happens to waft by from some distant source--say from the limestone quarry, or a passing jet or helicopter--I don't find myself being drawn toward God by those sounds. When I step onto the busy city streets, dodging the noisy cars and belching delivery trucks, hear the scream of tires and the tiresome arguments of passing pedestrians, I am not lifted by them into the throne room of God.

While the quietude of nature draws us one step closer to the presence of God, the sounds manufactured by civilization most often insulate us from Him. They represent society's bent away from God, and as such, work against the indwelling Spirit's bent toward God.

We all need a quiet place where we can commune with God. It may not always be a forested glen. We can commune with Him in the arid solitude of the desert; on the shoreline, with its pounding breakers to mask the sounds of everything else; in the privacy of our car, while on the freeway; or in a quiet, inner room of the house.

Wherever it may be, we must find and use often that personal place where it is easier for us to find God's holy presence. We must find and frequent that place where His voice is not masked by the invasive cacophony of the world.


But while God is, indeed, all around us--there for the having--that is not to say that all means by which we listen to God are equal. There is a danger in listening for His voice on the wind before one can accurately isolate His voice from the rest. Popular culture can paint glowing portraits of God that are grossly inaccurate, and voices have been assigned to the Lord which, in truth, have been manufactured in the bowels of hell.

If Satan can dress himself in rags of righteousness to fool those unschooled in the ways of the true Light,[6] then we must use caution when listening for God's voice in the instruments of this world. He is there, but so that we know that we are hearing only Him, we must first familiarize ourselves with the true sound of His voice.

In The Beginning

Today God's authoritative voice is found only in Scripture. Here is where the seeker comes to learn His personality, His ways, His motivations and methods. The Bible is where we hear His anger over sin and disobedience, and His deep compassionate love for those who call upon His name. The Bible is where we learn what happened to those who followed God, and what happened to those who turned Him away. God's character is painted with strokes both broad and finely detailed on the pages of Scripture, so here is where we must turn to learn of Him.

It may seem more romantic in this age of "feelings" to listen for God's voice on the whisperings of the wind, but without a keen familiarity with the true God of Scripture, it may not be His voice at all that is being heard in the sounds of this world.

A few years back an acquaintance sat in our living room bemoaning his present unemployed status. He had had a good job, but because of circumstances outside his control, had been recently laid off.

It was clear that this gentleman was troubled over the situation, but was trying to remain positive and dependent on his faith. As he described to me his efforts to gain employment elsewhere he said confidently, "You know what the Bible says: `The Lord helps those who help themselves.'"

Perhaps it was wrong of me; considering his downtrodden condition, I didn't say anything at the time. Actually the Bible doesn't say anything like that. But this man had heard it said so many times in popular culture--possibly even from the pulpit--that he believed it was there.

Because he was not personally familiar with Scripture, he didn't know that the true God of the Bible would never say anything like that.


We must begin with what we know, and what we know of God is in His written word. This is where we must turn for the authoritative picture of who He really is.

One of the best ways to become acquainted with God is to read through the Bible from beginning to end. This is the best way to understand the flow of history, the passage of His mercy and justice through all the myriad people who have called upon His name; it is the best way to see the relationship the New Testament has with the Old--the relationship Christ has with the Law; and it is the best way to be inspired by the stories of those who have lived imperfectly under His condescending grace.

A popular method of reading through the Bible is to use one of the many systems by which it is broken down into daily installments for reading through its entirety in a year. My favorite for doing this is the New International Version published by Tyndale[7] in which each day's reading includes a portion of the Old Testament, New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs. Faithfully using this system will take the reader through the entire Bible (they don't tell you, but this system actually includes the Psalms twice) in 365 days.

But there's no magical formula in reading through the Bible in one year; it is more important to be there, than to accomplish it in a prescribed time frame. A daily, leisurely listening to the God of Scripture in small bites is of much greater value than cramming down several pages to ensure you complete the project on schedule. It doesn't really matter how long it takes.

By daily listening to the historical, authoritative voice of God from the pages of His Book, we are then prepared to meet the day equipped with the knowledge of our Lord and--even more valuable for each day His perspective on everything that will come our way.


Thy Word is like a garden, Lord,
With flowers bright and fair;
And every one who seeks may pluck
A lovely cluster there.
Thy Word is like a deep, deep mine;
And jewels rich and rare
Are hidden in its mighty depths
For every searcher there.

Thy Word is like a starry host:
A thousand rays of light
Are seen to guide the traveler,
And make his pathway bright.
Thy Word is like an armory,
Where soldiers may repair,
And find, for life's long battle day,
All needful weapons there.

O may I love Thy precious Word,
May I explore the mine,
May I its fragrant flowers glean,
May light upon me shine.
O may I find my armor there,
Thy Word my trusty sword;
I'll learn to fight with every foe
The battle of the Lord.

Edwin Hodder

__________ (Selah) _________


LISTENING

Our heavenly Father is a creative, imaginative God. He has but one voice, yet that crystalline sound is manifested in myriad ways. No one can say that His voice cannot be heard, since He's given us so many different ways to hear Him.

Learning of God through His word--learning of His personality and ways from the one dependable authority--is like discovering a golden key that unlocks every treasure house there is. Once we have found Him there, we suddenly find Him everywhere...

Lift your gaze into the glorious sky of a dying day, to the clouds painted in radiant pinks and purples and blazing reds, and you will hear His voice.

Linger in the sylvan quiet of the forest, and you will hear His voice in the gentle rustle of the leaves, the wind as it whistles through the pine needles, the chatter of the busy squirrel.

Listen to the chorus of the blue jay scolding the robin, the wren calling for a new mate, the chirping of the cardinal to his wife _ listen to the creatures He has created and you will hear God's voice.

Stand in awe of His might as the thunder rolls and quakes across as the land, as the lightning slices apart the night sky, and the heavens send forth their life-giving rain. Listen; it is His voice you hear.--

This is my Father's world,
And to my listening ears
All nature sings and round me rings
The music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world:
I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas _
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world,
The birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white,
Declare their Maker's praise.
This is my Father's world:
He shines in all that's fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass,
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world,
O let me ne'er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the Ruler yet.
This is my Father's world:
The battle is not done;
Jesus who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and heaven be one.

Maltbie D. Babcock

__________ (Selah) _________

    Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. James 1:22-25


Most of all, in the stillness and privacy of your prayer closet empty your mind and heart of every distraction, every consideration of self, and let your spirit rise above this temporal plane to the higher plane on which the Lord God dwells. Let all your senses absorb His communion, His gentle condescension to your spirit.

    As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:38-42

Remove all arrogance and pride, and in humility approach your God. In reverence bow before His throne, and once you have confessed, once you have declared His worthiness, once you have expressed your gratitude _ quiet yourself. Speak no more. And listen. Listen.


Lo, God is here! Let us adore,
And own how dreadful is this place;
Let all within us feel His power,
And silent bow before His face;
Who knows His power, His grace who prove,
Serve Him with awe, with reverence love.

Being of beings, may our praise
Thy courts with grateful fragrance fill;
Still may we stand before Thy face,
Still hear and do Thy sovereign will;
To Thee may all our thoughts arise,
Ceaseless, accepted sacrifice.

>Gerhard Tersteegen


NOTES, COPYRIGHT & SUBSCRIPTION INFORMATION

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Issue No. 83
October 1997

NOTES

[1.] The Pursuit of God (Christian Publications, Inc., 1982) p80ff. (return to footnote 1)

[2.] Samuel Stennett. (return to footnote 2)

[3.] Mere Christianity, book 4, chapter 2. (return to footnote 3)

[4.]Kingdoms in Conflict (Morrow/Zondervan, 1987), p49. (return to footnote 4)

[5.]May 22, 1996 Reflections by the Pond, a weekly e-mail column by David S. Lampel. To subscribe send your e-mail request to dlampel@dlampel.com.

[6.] The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. John 1:9-10 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. John 3:19 (return to footnote 6)

[7.]The One Year Bible, New International Version (Tyndale House Publishers, 1986). This book is available in a handy paperback edition. (return to footnote 7)

COPYRIGHT INFORMATION

All original material in Aspects is Copyright © 1997 David S. Lampel. This data file is the sole property of David S. Lampel. It may not be altered or edited in any way. It may be reproduced only in its entirety for circulation as "freeware," without charge. All reproductions of this data file must contain the copyright notice (i.e., "Copyright (C) 1997 David S. Lampel."). This data file may not be used without the permission of David S. Lampel for resale or the enhancement of any other product sold. This includes all of its content. Brief quotations not to exceed more than 500 words may be used, with the appropriate copyright notice, to enhance or supplement personal or church devotions, newsletters, journals, or spoken messages.

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture is from the New International Version. NIV quotations are from the Holy Bible: New International Version, Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 by the International Bible Society. Used by permission. NASB quotations are from the New American Standard Bible © 1960, 1962,1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by The Lockman Foundation.

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