A time for listening

Jesus answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” Matthew 4:4

Our God is a God who speaks.

That is a fundamental belief of Christians – the third verse of the whole Bible tells us that “God said…” And constantly, throughout both the Old Testament and the New, God is speaking. It’s a theme you just can’t get away from.

I know someone who doesn’t speak. I don’t know why, and it is no business of mine to ask – a physical problem with his mouth? some kind of psychological blockage? But if you say Hello to him he will smile and shake your hand, but he won’t say anything. As you can imagine, this makes communication enormously difficult, indeed, pretty well impossible. Whereas most of us (let’s be honest) talk far too much, making it very easy for other people to know what’s going on in our minds, with him you just never know. Strange, and faintly disturbing.

But suppose God never spoke? What then? Suppose we simply had no way of ever knowing what was going on in his mind? We would be completely at a loss as to what life is all about, and how we are supposed to live it.

How does God speak? Well, in various ways.

First, through the created world round us. The Psalmist tells us that “the heavens declare the glory of God… Day after day they pour forth speech” (Psalm 19). Second, through our consciences – don’t we all sometimes hear that inner voice warning us about something we are tempted to do? Conscience isn’t a perfect guide – it is corrupted by all sorts of bad influences. But if we bring it before God it is an important guide to us.

Above all, God speaks through his son Jesus. This is why the Bible calls Jesus “the Word made flesh” (John 1) – which, when you stop and think about it, is a very strange way to refer to a person. Every time you focus on Jesus you are in effect hearing God speak. He is the living Word of God.

And God speaks through scripture – the Bible, as we usually call it. This is why Jesus, when he was tempted by the devil, sent him packing by quoting the words of scripture, “it is written…”, three times (Matthew 4:1-10).

You remember the story… The devil has tempted Jesus to turn the stones around him into bread – a pretty serious temptation, given that he had gone without food for forty days. But Jesus refuses to give in: the greatest need of human beings, he says, is not physical food, vital though that of course is, but God’s word. This is a direct quotation from Deuteronomy 8. Jesus knew his Bible – and he knew how to use it.

And the question is: Could that be said of you and me? God speaks, that’s for sure. But are we listening? Do Bible texts and passages spring naturally to our minds to help us in the normal circumstances of our lives? Or is our knowledge of the Bible hazy, patchy, hit-or-miss?

I hope all of us are good listeners. I imagine that most of us listen specially carefully if the person speaking is someone we regard as particularly important – someone we love, someone who is in an important position. Well, people don’t come more important than God! So close your ears to him at your peril.

God has given us a book. We call it the Bible. Certainly it can be difficult, even puzzling, sometimes downright disturbing. But through it he speaks to us, so not to listen to it is sheer folly.

Are you serious about your Bible? I urge all of us to get to grips with it every day. Think about it. Reflect on it. Pray over it. Over time, get to grips with it all – every chapter, every verse.

If you are serious about God, how can you not be serious about his word? Putting it another way, not wanting to bother with the Bible is tantamount to not wanting to bother with God. Going back to what Jesus said, we don’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

Father, forgive me that though you are constantly speaking, I am so rarely listening. Thank you for the gift of the Bible. Please help me to take it seriously, and to make it my daily food. Amen.

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