Learning to Listen

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Recently, in my devotions, I was reading Proverbs 1 and I took special note of v. 33: “But whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” Not only the substance of this verse, but also my notation in the margin, caught my attention: “2020. Genesis 6:22.” I had written this on 1 January this year. I was curious, so I turned to Genesis 6:22 and read, “Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him.” In the margin I had written, “2020.” The obvious connection is that, because Noah listened to God, even though he and his family faced a very difficult time, they could do so “without dread of disaster.” My intention for 2020 was to learn to listen to the Lord, to obey him, and to face whatever challenges awaited me with faithful fortitude. Little did I realise what 2020 would bring!

I wish I could say that I often meditated on these truths over the past eleven months. Regretfully, I cannot. However, this text has served as a timely reminder of my need to listen up when God speaks. As Genesis 6:22 reveals, Noah listened. And as Solomon exhorted, his sons were to likewise listen to the word of wisdom. Like Noah, Solomon instructed his sons to listen to the voice of God.

Solomon knew that, if his sons would listen and do God’s word (in contrast to his own failures in this area), then, like Noah, they would be delivered from destruction. Not necessarily delivered from hardship and heartache (after all, consider what Noah faced!) but they would be delivered from self-inflicted harm. If they learned to listen and to obey God’s revealed wisdom, they would get through life’s storms and, like Noah, be fruitful to the glory of God (Genesis 9:7). Not only would they avoid unnecessary disaster; most importantly, they would be used of God towards the extension of his kingdom on earth. Like Noah, by being faithful to listen, they would be fruitful in life.

As I reflect on 2020, I am convicted about my too-frequent failures to listen to God and not doing what he commanded. I wish I had been more faithful and had borne more fruit to the glory of God. I wish that failure had not been a too frequent companion. I’m sure that I experienced self-inflicted trials from my failure to listen and to do. No doubt, my life could have been somewhat more “at ease” had I been more faithful to obey. Perhaps some of my relational and emotional disasters could have been avoided had I listened to God. I know of one physical malady that would have been avoided had I listened to a physician rather than assuming I was an exception. And if that is true in the physical realm, how much more when it comes to listening to the Great Physician who is an infallible expert in every realm.

Perhaps you can relate.

2020 has been a memorable year, to say the least. My grandchildren will one day be telling their children about being confined to their homes for several weeks, and about curb-side birthday parties. They will have pictures of them wearing masks and stories of outdoor church services and their dads working from home. But hopefully, like us, they will be sharing about God’s faithfulness during these days and of learning first-hand that God’s promises can be believed.

A few weeks into our lockdown I wrote about Noah and his family being in another God-ordained lockdown. I noted that, when we compare our situation to theirs, there is little comparison. Nonetheless, like Noah and his family, we were being called upon to do “all that God commanded” us. As we near the end of the year, this is a good opportunity for reflection and therefore to ask, how did we do? Like me, you might blush at the honest answer. And yet, like me, you can probably testify that you desire to do much better in the days ahead. That is a good place to be as we face perhaps even more “floods” in the new year.

I am praying that I will be a better listener. In the words of James, I need to learn to be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19). I think that is a part of the answer to our prayer for wisdom during difficult times (James 1:5). I think Thomas Goodwin was right when he said that to ask for wisdom, in essence, is to ask for grace to respond well during trials. Perhaps when James penned these words, he had Proverbs 1:33 in mind: “Whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.” In other words, a huge aspect of the grace we need to live a life of steadfast perseverance (James 1:4) is the grace to learn to listen.

Whatever you are facing today, whatever you will face tomorrow, or next week, or in 2021, ask God to give you the same grace that Noah “found” (Genesis 6:8): that is, the grace to do “all that God commanded him.” Then, like Noah, we can ride above the floods “without dread of disaster.”

There is so much that is lovely about our Lord Jesus Christ. But his loving invitation ranks among the highest: “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30). Jesus still issues this salvific call, sealed with his shed blood, to all who will repent and believe on him, to come, and learn to listen and, hence, truly live.