Publication: Pastoral Letter, January 2011

Dear Friend in Christ:

Happy New Year! I was recently in West Virginia visiting with friends, Jim Legg and Stewart Farley; we were talking about spiritual issues. Stewart spoke about how God was speaking to him about listening, and it struck home with me. I also need to hear much better.

God doesn’t speak to entertain; He speaks for deliverance and direction. Hearing means everything. I must confess to being a poor listener, and I have discovered numerous reasons why that has been true. I could attribute it to ADD, but I doubt God accepts that excuse. More likely it has to do with stubbornness, pride, or preoccupation with my own plans. In any case, it has often been costly.

THE NOISY STADIUM

Football season is almost over, but it is my favorite sport. I mean no offense to other fans, but I do enjoy Alabama football and other teams in the Southeastern Conference. I recently read an interview with an Alabama player who partially explained their loss at LSU by saying that they could not hear the signals. LSU is an exceptionally loud stadium. It is called “Death Valley” for a good reason.

A lot of far more serious losses can be explained by a failure to “hear” the signals. Sometimes we do not “see” because we do not hear. On one occasion when David was engaging the Philistines in battle, the Lord spoke to him and said not to face them head on but to circle around behind them. Then God said, “When you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly for then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines” (see 2 Samuel 5:24).

The wind in the trees…how loud was that? How vital was it that David would hear? Thank God that the “stadium” was not noisy that day. Too often we are living in a “noisy stadium” and miss the vital signal.

Another example: Elijah was depressed after his great victory at Mt. Carmel. But he fled from the wrath of Jezebel into a cave far down in the south of Israel, and spent the night there. The next day, the Lord called him out to stand on the mountain. Then the Lord gave him a demonstration of sheer power through a great wind, an earthquake, and then a fire. “The Lord was not in either of the three displays of power.” Interesting. But they did get Elijah’s attention.

After the fire there was a “still small voice” and God began to give Elijah new direction (see 1 Kings 19). The rest of his very significant life was the outcome of hearing a quiet, small voice. Depression can be an impediment to hearing. We usually get depressed because of spent energy, chemical issues, and unhappy results. In that condition, “fireworks” are not what we need or want. It’s the quiet voice of God that brings peace and direction.

BE STILL AND KNOW

David certainly understood conflict and stress, yet he had time to war, write, and be a musician. What was his secret? Psalm 23 tells us that the Lord was his shepherd, and he was led to lie down in green pastures and beside still waters to restore his soul.

He reveals his secret again, in Psalm 27:4, when he says, “One thing I have desired of the Lord, that I will seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple”. In Psalm 46, the Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God.” David heard that; he refers to God as his “refuge.” Did David learn this as a shepherd boy? Perhaps. He must have spent hours quietly observing the heavens and playing soul-restoring music before the Lord. Even King Saul felt the peace of God when David played the harp. Evil spirits left.

We are often like someone who stops to ask for directions, but drives away quickly before hearing the answer. James says that if we lack wisdom, we can ask God. He goes on to say “ask in faith”. If we ask in faith, then we expect to hear something very important_wisdom. James continues: “Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth…So then, let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak…” (see James 1).

Since we are the fruit of His Word, it is vital to be quick to hear. Too bad there are no spiritual hearing aids to be passed out as we enter the worship service or, for that matter, as we leave it. But there are ways that God gets our attention. Usually those “attention-getters” occur when we have failed to hear.

Many people come to the Lord as a result of some kind of trouble or need. Psalm 40 describes how David cried unto the Lord out of a horrible pit. The prior verse says, “I waited patiently for the Lord.” Not much else you can do when in a pit of miry clay! In Psalm 27, He said, “When my enemies came to eat up my flesh….” Then he desired to be in the House of the Lord! My father used to say, “Thank God for your enemies; they will cause you to pray more than your friends will.” I have found that to be true.

James 5 speaks of suffering or sickness motivating people to pray. Jesus said that hunger and thirst can motivate us to pray. But the issue is, once we have prayed….take time to hear. If we do, difficulty can turn out to be a hearing device.

HANNAH’S PRAYER

In 1 Samuel chapter 1, we read about Hannah, who was childless. In those days, that was considered a curse. She was taunted by her rival, Peninnah. Hannah was loved deeply by her husband Elkanah, but could give him no child. She wept over her condition and sadness filled her life. Deep need is a powerful motivator. It drives some to depression, drugs, or into other vain conditions. But for others, need drives them to God. Hannah was driven to God in desperation.

Hannah’s prayer was no perfunctory recitation of worn religious phrases. She was in “bitterness of soul”, praying to the Lord, and weeping in anguish. She made a desperate promise, “Give me a male child, and I’ll give him to you.” Her prayer in the tabernacle was so deep that her lips only moved but she had no voice. Eli the priest thought that she was drunk. He rebuked her, but she responded, “I have not been drinking; I have poured out my soul before the Lord.” After such deep prayer, she left in peace; she had “prayed through” – she had heard something.

Hannah’s prayer was beyond mere emotion. Her prayer was one of deep integrity. She was both passionate and honest before the Lord. She prayed in the Holy Spirit; she prayed powerfully. Extraordinary prayer brings extraordinary results. She knew He had heard her. Peace is an answer. The Lord answered her prayer, and she kept her word. She gave her son, Samuel, to God.

The great moves of God have come when His people have prayed like Hannah, out of deep need and deep desire. And those who prayed in that way have often been reviled and misunderstood. But the effectual fervent prayer of the righteous avails much (see James 5:16). We might ask, “How serious are our needs and how fervent are our prayers?” And, how clearly are we heard?”

HANNAH’S JOY

Hannah’s joy was equal to her former sadness_and more. Her cup ran over. Read her outburst of praise in 1 Samuel 2; it was prophetic. She rejoiced in her deliverance, the removal of her shame. But more importantly, she sees the Lord for Who He is, sovereign, triumphant, and the ultimate Judge. The last verse of her prophetic praise is profound: “He will give strength to His King, and exalt the strength of His anointed” (see 1 Samuel 2:10). She had heard something that was for centuries yet to come.

Israel had no king at that time, but Hannah saw something in the Holy Spirit. I am reminded of the praises of Mary, Elizabeth, and Zacharias praise recorded in Luke 1. “High Praise” is the result of breaking through into God’s eternal presence, where we see and hear more than one can say or realize what they’re saying. There are eternal elements in high praise that defy knowledge and human limitations and are yet available to us.

In the meantime, Eli’s sons were wicked and corrupt. They did unspeakable acts and they “abhorred” the offerings of the Lord. But Samuel was different because he was born and nurtured as an answer to prayer from a woman who could hear God.

Hannah made priestly garments for her young child who, even at an early age, loved to minister to the Lord. Hannah understood what is often forgotten: the ability to conceive is a gift from God. Hannah’s womb was a safe and sacred place. She knew for sure that Samuel was a gift from the Sovereign God, and she treated him that way. And he grew to hear God.

SAMUEL’S PROPHECY: I SAMUEL 3

It is not surprising that Samuel would become a prophet, given the events that led to His birth and being given to God. What is surprising is that it happened so early in his life. The Word of God was rare in those days. There was a lack of revelation – people were not hearing God. But late at night, Samuel was lying in bed and heard a voice call his name; he thought it was Eli. But Eli had not called. This occurred three times. Finally, Eli knew it was the Lord calling Samuel and told Samuel to reply, “Speak Lord, for your servant hears.” Samuel obeyed, and he heard the Lord speak: “I will do something in Israel at which the ears of everyone who hears it will tingle.” The Lord went on to describe the judgement against Eli and his sons.

Samuel was just a child and was deeply troubled, but finally, at Eli’s insistence, he told his mentor the calamity ahead. Not long after, Eli’s sons took the sacred Ark of the Covenant into battle, believing that God would not allow its capture. But alas, the Ark was captured, and in one day, both sons were killed. Upon hearing the terrible news, Eli fell backward off his chair, broke his neck, and died.

I can’t imagine how many times God had warned Eli and his sons. Apparently, they prayed as priests do but didn’t listen.

Is God speaking to America? To us? I believe that God still speaks; the issue is, do we listen? Jesus said that His sheep know His voice; that is how He leads. Hearing is a critical issue, just as critical as praying. Prayer without listening? You decide.

May we hear His voice together throughout 2011 and beyond!

In Him,
Charles Simpson

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Scripture Reference: 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, Psalms, James, 1 Samuel, Luke