I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24
This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do no see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: “You will be ever hearing but never understanding: you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. Matthew 13:13-15
Jesus’ declaration in John 5 asserts that to hear His Word is to live. But He also repeats the age-old prophecy that indicates that not all hearing is really hearing. This motivates me to seek discernment. How does one really hear? What prevents true hearing?
The passage in Matthew comes from Jesus’ parable of the sower. In it, the farmer sows the seed, which is the Word of God. The ability to respond to the Word is determined by the disposition of heart of those who receive it, represented as the various soil types on which the seed falls. I’m sure you are familiar with the story and, if not, you can read it beginning at Matthew 13:5 and in Luke 8:5-15. I like the conclusion of Luke’s version: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”
This still leaves me wanting to know more about the qualities of a noble and good heart that really hears the Word. I know people who do a lot of good things, and though I’m sure they perform actions that are encouraged by the Word, it is not actions that bring life. Hearing and believing bring life. Indeed, Jesus teaches that there will be people who have acted benevolently yet will not enter heaven on the Day of Christ. If actions do not flow from Him, they are not life. We must hear first.
The parable of the sower teaches us that the He sows widely and generously, indicating that the opportunity to hear is abundant. God is not stingy with the declaration of His Word. I hold forth that a significant hindrance to hearing is the tendency to superimpose the ideal of what we want to hear or what we think we should hear over what God actually says. God speaks, but we ignore what He says while we sift or twist the Word to come up with what we want. Thus, the quality of the noble and good heart that really does hear is that it is humble enough to pay attention to what is actually said. If you have been reading and listening to the Word for a while and practicing the sift-and-twist game, you have probably gotten some of those distorted ideas ingrained in your thinking and it will take an extra measure of humility to recognize and abandon them, but God’s grace is sufficient to the task and life is at stake.
This topic will occupy several articles, but I will begin with this: there are a few themes that God repeats often and, if I want to tune my ear to really hear, I will start to recognize those themes and give them weight. If God tells all of His people the same things, over and over, I should expect that those Words are for me, also. Rather than hunting for a verse here or there that supports an idea that I want to champion, I should lay my foundation on the big ideas that dominate the story. I hope I can help remind you of some of those big ideas that God appears to think are important. We need to pray for the humility to really listen so we can be those who hear, retain, persevere and produce a crop.