President Roosevelt was once at a gala ball going through the inane routine of shaking hands, smiling endlessly, and trading empty words with the guests in line. Growing tired of it and being convinced that no one was paying attention anyway, he decided to greet each person by saying, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded by saying things like, “Wonderful!” “How lovely!” “Keep up the good work!” One diplomat was listening however, and whispered in the President’s ear, “I am sure she had it coming to her.”
As this story reminds us it is possible to hear without listening, and to listen without hearing; for words to go in one ear and out the other (Jer. 5:21)! That is why the Lord Jesus on several occasions warned those sitting under His teaching to heed what they hear (Mark 4:24; Luke 8:18). In the parable of the sower, Jesus cautioned those who listened with a calloused, casual, or crowded ear proving the word of God unfruitful in their lives (Mark 4:1-20). The central theme of this parable is the need to “hear” and respond to the Gospel (Mark 4:3, 9, 15, 16,18, 20). Yet we can be very lazy with our ears in failing to put them to work in truly receiving, and truly believing the Gospel. We don’t take care to how we listen (Luke 8:18)! And that is disastrous because when we fail to listen well, we fail to live well. Hearing is a precious gift from God that promotes our physical and eternal well-being. If we fail to listen to what is critically important we can forfeit our lives and lose our souls. Eternal life is secured by faith in Jesus Christ, and faith comes by hearing the Word (Rom. 10:17). By implication hearing the Word of God is an act of eternal consequence.
Given that reality, I want to suggest some “hearing aids” that will enhance your capacity to hear and heed God’s Word. First, cultivate a high view of Scripture. I have often been struck by the fact that when Ezra opened God’s Word the people stood up and bowed their heads as a mark of reverence toward the Scriptures (Neh. 8:5-6). The inspired nature of Scripture should inspire devotion from us. This is God’s Word and we need to pay attention! Second, pray for greater comprehension (Psa. 119:18). It must not be forgotten that the Bible is a closed book until God illuminates our understanding, and that is why we need to pray (1 Cor. 2:10-16). Third, meditate on what you have read (Psa. 1:2; 119:97). To meditate is to mentally chew on what you have read in an endeavor to build a bridge between the meaning of the text and its application to your life. To help meditate effectively, remember that the Bible is useful for four things, “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Therefore as you mull over Scripture ask yourself: What did I learn (teaching)? Where have I failed (reproof)? How can I fix it (correction)? How can I make this change stick (instruction in righteousness)? Fourth, confess known sin (James 1:21). Just as soil needs to be turned and stones removed before seeds can be planted, so our hearts need to be plowed in contrition and confession (Jer. 4:3-4; Hos. 10:12). To change metaphors, unconfessed sin is like wax in the ear! How is your hearing?