Do we really listen when God speaks?

By Jennifer Davis Rash
Executive Editor, The Alabama Baptist

In the last Rashional Thoughts blog post, I outlined four conversations that led to misunderstandings because one or both parties weren’t communicating with context in mind. If you missed that column, then you can find it in the previous blog post or under opinion/Rashional Thoughts.

As I processed the four conversations and thought about how the misunderstandings happened, I realized how often we do this to God when we claim to be seeking Him and His wisdom in His Word.

We may indeed do the literal act of reading the Bible but are we listening? Do we understand? Can we walk away
with an accurate interpretation of what is written and know how to apply it to our lives today?

New Testament scholar and Bible professor George H. Guthrie said in his Bible study workbook “Read the Bible for Life: Listen. Understand. Respond.” that we should do more than just read the Bible — we should read it well so we can truly listen, understand and respond.

“We need to read it so that we hear what God wants to say to us in a way that is life-changing,” he said.

But we should also read it in context.

“God gave us His Word at specific times in specific places and ways. We respect God’s choices and purposes in these matters when we take context seriously,” Guthrie said. “Conversely, when we ignore context, we risk misunderstanding what He intended to communicate.”

If we don’t read the Word in context, then we automatically force our own context into the words and make them fit what we understand in relation to our lives and experiences instead of what God was saying in the context in which it was written that could then be applied to our lives now.

For those of us who grew up in church, we’ve heard the main Bible stories numerous times, and we pretty much have them memorized. Or at least we think we do.

Have you ever gone back and checked yourself on some of the basic Bible stories? You might be surprised how much we add to or take away from Scripture when we retell these well-known parts of the Bible. I don’t think any of us mean to do it, but when we read in Deuteronomy 4:2 and 12:32 that we are not to add to or take away from Scripture, we might want to double-check our memories and interpretations.

Innocently, we could be sharing parts of the Bible incorrectly because we misinterpreted one part of the story or weren’t focused on listening when we heard the story.

To truly understand the Bible and how it applies to our lives, we have to do more than just hear the story or read the words. We have to listen, truly listen. We can’t impose our own ideas or prejudices on it. We can’t come into our time in the Word with a preconceived outcome that we are going to force the words to match. We can’t pick and choose the parts we like and ignore the other parts because they aren’t comfortable or we don’t want to hear them for whatever reason. We must listen with a focused mind and clean heart, both clear and ready to be filled with new insights and direction from God.

I am always amazed at how even reading a familiar verse, chapter or book of the Bible brings a fresh application to what I need that day — at least when I’m truly listening.

One thought on “Do we really listen when God speaks?

  1. Great post, and wonderful insight. In my personal study, I have tried to make it a focus to slow down. So much of my “reading life” is speed-based, in that I need to read reports from work quickly, move through the email chains as rapidly as possible, and so on. I find that even in my leisure reading, I tend to move quickly through the pages.

    But God’s Word should be different. One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 1. In it, the Psalmist talks about meditating. One of the meanings of the Hebrew word used in Psalm 1 means “to mutter”, and another meaning of the word is to “muse or imagine”. I find it is much easier to mutter, muse and imagine when I slow down enough to absorb what God is saying to me.

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