Listening to God

 Adam and Eve heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day and they hid themselves among the trees of the garden from His presence. God had provided everything that was needed by them – all types of fruit bearing trees, gold and precious stones and they were blessed to hear His guiding words daily. They were aware of the law of obedience to given commands, to multiply, be fruitful and dominate the earth. Then why did God forbid man and woman to acquire the knowledge of good and evil for this is essential to being human?  

         In Dec, 1941, the Japanese air force attacked Pearl Harbor, forcing America to enter the Second Great war. The Americans decided to know about the psyche of the enemy before engaging with them and commissioned a great anthropologist of that era, Ruth Benedict. In her book “The Chrysanthemum and the Sword”, she has identified two types of cultures in societies around the world – the shame culture and the guilt culture. In the first, highest value is honor and living up to it where what others perceive about us is more important and one is made to feel bad for failing to live up to others expectations of us. Japan is typically governed by this and pride and honor takes precedence over every other thing and the Japanese soldiers committed ‘Hara-Kiri’, suicide by falling on a sword than suffer the ignominy of surrender. The middle eastern societies except Israelites also follow the same cultural ethos.

The Israelites and many other societies follow the guilt culture, where main issue is about righteousness and about conscience or feeling of guilt on failure. The main differences of the two cultures are that in guilt culture punishment and/or repentance is expected. Shame is other directed and visual while guilt is inner directed for conscience keeps reminding about the failure. Instinctive reaction to shame is to hide and become invisible to others while guilt being internal, hiding provides no alternative. Guilt is of the ear and not the eye and the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 is of appearances, shame, vision and the eye.

The serpent told the woman ‘on eating the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, despite the fact that they were created in the ‘image and likeness of God. And the woman ‘saw that the tree was good to eat and desirable to the eyes and it was attractive as a means to gain intelligence’. After eating the fruit their eyes were opened to their nakedness but not to see what God wanted them to see but what the world has on offer. Before eating there was no shame for their physical appearance but afterwards it was the main element of their and our lives, forcing them to hide. Later, while telling them about the result of their sin, God told the woman that her desire will be for her husband (Genesis 3:4-5; 7 and 16). Visual presentation and appearance came into play in mankind and reality was pushed back and this affected both sexes. The narrative of sin of the first two humans is all about visual element, typical of a shame culture.

      What was the first sin? – Adam and Eve knew the right from wrong and the need to obey and follow God’s commands for they were made in His image and likeness. But they followed their eyes and not their ears, ignoring god’s word heard by them, forbidding the fruit of one tree in the Garden. Their acquired knowledge was of appearances and not of conscience, of shame and not of guilt. Hiding means not being seen but how can one hide from a sound, a voice. Bible is about guilt from which none can hide, it is about conscience and inner voice, God’s voice in our hearts and not about our looks. This voice tells us what is right or wrong, true or false – right and truth do not change according to locations or communities whereas perceptions and views/appearances change. God desires us to live by uniform standards, His standards, His commands that do not change with time.

 

Moses was called by God on mount Nebo and he died there. God arranged for his burial in the valley of Bethpeor in Moab and nobody knows the location of his burial place (Deuteronomy 34:1-6). Archangel Michael had to fight with Satan, who was trying to take Moses’ body to bury him before all Israelites and create a unique memorial for him to distract them from God (Jude 9).

Lord Jesus told the Samaritan woman on the well, “God is a Spirit, worship him in truth and spirit” (John 4:24). Spirit is not seen but his voice is heard in our hearts and God wants us to hear Him and has given His Holy Spirit as voice of God within us. God spoke to Moses face to face, as if to a friend (Exodus 33:12), while Moses prayed to God to show him His glory. The answer from God was, “No man can see Me and live” (Exodus 33:18-20). Idolatry is forbidden in the Bible and there is no photo or painting of the Lord Jesus existing anywhere to avoid a visible identity for that will violate the command of God. God desires us to live by His Word and not as per expectations of others, though natural tasks will keep getting performed as per established norms of the world. All Jews speak and pray the ‘Shema’ pledge, wherever they are in the world, which starts with “Hear, O Israel”, commanding them to listen to Him.

         Why was ‘Shema’ or ‘prayer of allegiance’ started? – The command from God to the Israelites as conveyed through Moses is “Hear, O Israel, The LORD our God is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). The Hebrew word translated as ‘hear’ is ‘shema’ pronounced as ‘shmah’ and it means ‘hear, discern, obey, proclaim’. Moses took “the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has said we will do, and be obedient (Exodus 24:7). The same word ‘shema’ is translated as obedient implying the correct meaning of the word. Hearing is a mental activity – pick up sounds by the ears and is basically a passive action involving little effort. Biblical hearing is more than that, for the one simple word ‘shema’ contains much more than just hearing. God desires us not only to listen to His Word but act on the same and this can only happen once we understand the real meaning of what is commanded. Once we have grasped the real meaning – the apparent and implied, only then are we in a position to believe, act on it and tell others – the totality of actions God desires from us.

The Jews recite this prayer – from very early childhood it is taught – as a daily reminder of their commitment to God with total dedication to follow Him in doing His will for the day. Thus listening involves hearing and heeding the voice of God from the depths of the soul and then absorb that within to make it a way of life. the sin of Adam and Eve is not about what to wear, the forbidden fruit or the fall etc, it is about adopting a way of living contrary to what God commended them. God desires us to listen and adopt His statutes as guidelines for our living and not what others desire of us to live as per their norms. It is about accepting the majority view, social acceptance over God’s acceptance. They saw what they wanted and ignored what they had heard from God and shame resulted not guilt for otherwise they would have come before God in repentance to seek forgiveness.

 

Shame does not change lives but guilt does for it forces us to repent and resolve to avoid repetition of the misdeed. All along during the period of more than three years of His ministry Lord Jesus repeatedly urged “He who has ears, let him hear” and the same message was repeated from heaven in the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation chapters 2 & 3. Everybody could hear Him clearly but very few put it into action and Mary was commended before her sister Martha for this, for she chose what could not be taken away from her (Luke 10:42).

         Hearing and faith – The action of hearing is directly related to faith also for we tend to hear something that we believe more attentively. Apostle Paul confirms this that ‘faith comes from hearing and hearing the word of God’ (Romans 10:17). He had learnt the Gospel from the best teacher of that time, Gamaliel, and was a learned scholar of the Scripture – The Old Testament. The above quoted text in Hebrew, the language of the Jews, would then be ‘Emunah is shema’ where emunah means faith, thus linking them together into one. Correct action of hearing or shema would translate into faith and without that one cannot have it. Correct form of listening will lead to action in faith or obedience. Obedience originates from faith and is a result of it but it cannot be a precondition for faith. To have faith is to hear and obey and neither can be without the other. I must choose to obey and only then hope to see His hand working in me and blessing me.

The chosen twelve – the Disciples – initially saw everything that the Messiah did, healing others, raising the dead and feeding them physically and spiritually, but actually heard little. Judas Iscariot sold off the Savior from 30 pieces of lucre; Peter denied knowing Him and with others fled for their lives. Apostle John was the only one standing before the cross with the women followers of the Lord and was rewarded with the care of His mother. They started listening to His words only after His resurrection and even then Apostle Thomas wanted to first see the wounds of His hands, feet and the side before believing in His victory over death. It was only after Pentecost and after arrival of the indwelling Holy Spirit that they understood, obeyed and started others about the Lord and His words.

Prophet Elijah had revealed the Living God, Yahweh and his own commitment to Him through the three years of ordained draught and later on Mount Carmel. He had convinced King Ahaz to call the prophets of Baal and Asherah to face him in a contest to see who was following the real God. After fire from heaven accepted Elijah’s offering, 850 priests of the false gods were massacred by the Israelites and it rained after Elijah prayed. But he fled for his life at threat to his life from queen Jezebel and landed in a cave on Mount Horeb. He saw fire, whirlwind and an earthquake but God was in neither and God’s voice was heard in a “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

 

How to recognize God’s voice? – Surrounded by such a great noise of various voices and sounds around us that reach our ears – both of the living and the dead, it is imperative that we learn to identify each and its source. It is important to first learn to recognize identity of the voice we hear while in prayer or otherwise – is it really God or another?  God has promised that when you seek Me then you will find Me – when you search for Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). Are you expecting to hear God’s voice? If we are not searching for God how can we listen to Him, even though His voice is in and around us? Secondly, those who know Him know His voice also and follow Him (John 10:4). We usually desire some great revelation from God – about our own life or about others whereas God is a God of detail for perfection is achieved through small parts of the whole being perfect. God teaches us about small events and we must expect to hear Him in that. Thirdly, “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:24) for the sheep spend time with the Shepherd enjoying His loving care and protection through their personal relationship with Him. We can hear and recognize the Shepherd voice only if we accept Him as such and develop a personal relationship with Him. Fourth, Apostle Paul declares “All Scripture is God breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). God breathed into a form of dust and it became a man, a living being that communicates with others who come in contact with him. Word of God is also live and speaks to us through study and meditation and any voice relaying a message that is contrary to His Word (Holy Bible) cannot be from God ignore that.

         Developing the ability to ‘listen’ – Saul, later named Apostle Paul, met Lord Jesus on way to Damascus and was blinded by the immensely powerful light of His glory. He however listened to the Lord’s voice, obeyed and in faith never ever stopped listening to and obeying the ‘still small voice’ of his Lord, throughout his life. Listening is connecting the soul to Him to hear His word speak and it takes training. First, we must learn to give priority to God in our everyday lives and seek His guidance and power for all activities of life. Second, focus on His Word and seek His Divine help in creating silence in the soul to listen to Him. Our soul is the centre of our desires and feelings and exercising control over our wishes helps in developing and retaining focus. Stop fearing what others would think or say, rather think about what the Scripture commands and what will God think if we disobey Him.

If I had started listening to my fears about what others would think and do probably I would have never found the true and living God. Many viewers questioned me about my dress code and physical appearance but this did not stop me from proclaiming the Good News of the Gospel through various avenues that are available. I even told many to listen to the program with closed eyes and accept the truth of the message.

        God is invisible to our sinful eyes and we must listen to His voice, understand and obey His statutes in our life. Listening to Him is a continuous spiritual process and it must change and transform us in to His image and likeness. Our Lord Jesus is a God of close relationships, it is imperative that we step closer to Him and rejoice in His love. 

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