Ever sense God speaking? Whether least expected or searching for answers, we open our Bible or a devotion to the perfect verse or hear a song lyric speak directly to us. Often so spot on, it’s surreal. Other times, we cringe remembering God knows all and speaks even in our missteps. Regardless of how and when God communicates, it’s crucial we not only listen, but apply our listening in action.
This year my ‘one word’ is listen; chosen because I need to close my mouth and open my ears more. My friends understand this isn’t always easy. I’m verbal and share my thoughts even when not solicited. So ‘listen’ was my way to work on a perceived weakness. It’s also part of why I haven’t written or communicated online lately, either. But as we enter the second half of the year, I’m learning listening involves much more than hearing.
Recently a friend asked about my writing. I explained in this season of life, my focus was on family and listening for what God had next. That week, my Bible reading involved using our God-given gifts and as I spoke with her, I felt the twinge of God speaking. More verses and studies prompted me about not neglecting spiritual gifts and being obedient. Okay God, I’m listening.
So back to writing and working on a God inspired project although I don’t understand how it will all work. That’s often the case when God speaks. It may not be logical or with a clear path forward. But listening isn’t planning; it’s listening. And obedience to God isn’t simply listening; it’s action.
The Bible has plenty to say about listening in action. Let’s start with this admonition about hearing God’s voice as described in Hebrews:
14 For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15 Remember what it says:
“Today when you hear his voice, don’t harden your hearts as Israel did when they rebelled.”(Hebrews 3:14-15 quoting Psalm 95:7-8)
Ouch. I don’t want to be rebellious. But that’s exactly what happens when we don’t listen or act as we are called to do. James describes it like this:
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:14, 18)
Yes, faith is believing, but it is demonstrated by our actions. How we do this isn’t simply by being a good person because like Paul, I don’t always do what I should do:
I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Romans 7:19)
Exactly! Thankfully, Paul goes on to provide the answer to our problem:
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 7:24-25a)
We don’t need to stay in our disobedient sin. Jesus is the answer! We believe in Him and apply our faith as Paul explains in the next chapter:
So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. (Romans 8:6)
Later he explains more how this works:
And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. (Romans 8:26)
The Holy Spirit is with us as we listen and act in faith. His strength provides what we lack as Paul describes here:
I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong.
20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:16-17, 20)
Listening in Action
It’s as simple and complex as listening in action. We do this by trusting and staying connected to Jesus like roots in the verse above. We act knowing the Holy Spirit will help and guide us. It may sound simple, yet often it’s wrought with confusion, delay, or our lack of desire to do God’s will. Simply put, it’s often more difficult and uncomfortable to act after listening to God. It’s easier to stay in the boat and not walk on the water like Peter did.
God’s ways don’t always make sense. Just like Peter accomplished more than he imagined, when faith gets us out of the boat to follow Him, it’s amazing! But also like Peter, when we allow our logic to interfere, we may sink. Note what Jesus says as He saves sinking Peter:
“You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” (Matthew 14:31)
He’s saying the same to us. Instead of thinking and sinking, let’s keep our eyes on Jesus. Let’s act on our faith and step out of the boat to follow Jesus.
I began the year with this verse:
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. (James 1:19)
I often do the opposite and speak first. So, I’m listening but also paying attention to James’ continued thought in v. 22:
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.
As we mature as Christians, we simply cannot stay comfortable. It’s important to listen to what God is saying in His Word, through His Spirit, and even via others. But we also need to act. It’s our actions the world sees. When we live our faith through our actions, we are doing what James encourages:
Don’t just listen to God’s word. Do it.
For me, that’s listening more than I speak. It’s sharing what I learn often through writing. It’s being kind and encouraging even when I don’t feel kind and encouraging. It’s leading into the unknown when I’d rather hang out on the comfy couch.
Simply put, it’s doing what Jesus would do. It’s listening in action.