It’s a little shocking, but it’s true. Even (maybe especially?) those of us who spend much time talking to (and about) God may find, upon reflection, a surprising infrequency to our listening to (and for) God. Yet hear the Spirit’s sobering words spoken through the prophet Isaiah, “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth & honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Is 29:13, NIV). Conceiving of a largely silent God beholden to hearing my prayers but unburdened by any contemporary inclination to speak for Himself forms a kind of idolatry very prevalent in our modern world & even among those of us who honor the name of the Lord with our lips. For the reality is “Our God approaches & He is not silent” (Ps 50:3, NLT). In other words, God speaks!
Whether we hear or not, however, proves more a matter of our heart than our ears. In other words, we are all made with the capacity to comprehend God’s message to us, but our willingness to yield to Him sets a measure for our receipt of His active direction, discipline, & discernment in our individual lives (consider, for instance, Jesus' words in Mathew 7:2). In other words, the measure of my earnest listening to God may be the best measure of how much of God—that is, how much of the blessing of Who He Is—manifests in & through me into the world around me!
Isaiah was “a man of unclean lips living among people of unclean lips” (Is 6:5), and yet he willingly said to the Lord, “Here I am” (Is 6:8). We often debate & discuss the possibilities of God’s revelations to humanity, but a more pressing point personally revolves around our own willingness to reveal ourselves to God. Though God sees and knows all, it is only the yielded heart that “opens the door” Jesus says He’s knocking on in Revelation 3:20, inviting the Lord into ourselves, that we might accept His formation of us by His indwelling Spirit into those whose very lives provide the testimony of Who He Is (Jn 15:26-27).
Isaiah did this, but so many of the rest of us (like King Ahaz in Isaiah 7:10-17) don’t. No wonder then that God’s message to & through Isaiah was to “Go and tell this people: ‘You will be ever hearing, but never understanding; you will be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ This people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears & they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn & be healed’” (Is 6:9-10 LXX*). It’s not that God doesn’t want the people to see, hear, & understand Him, but rather that He recognizes His own people often don’t want that, regardless of what they say, for their worship intends not really to reveal their hearts to Him but rather to hide them (Is 29:13; Mt 15:7-8; cf. Gen 3:7-10; Ps 50; Is 1:10-20).
Jesus also declared this warning through Isaiah as a hallmark of His own earthly ministry, saying “This is why I speak to them in parables” (Mt 13:13, NIV). Indeed, “He came to His own [people], but His own did not receive Him. Yet to all who did receive Him...He gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:11-12, NIV). Of these, He said “My sheep listen to My voice; I know them & they follow Me” (Jn 10:27, NIV). Therefore, “blessed are your eyes because they see, & your ears because they hear” (Mt 13:16, NIV). “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts...’” (Heb 3:7-8a, NIV), for “faith comes by hearing...the word" of God (Rom 10:17, NASB) and Jesus IS the Living Word (Jn 1). May we open our ears—and soften our hearts—to Jesus daily, that the Word may come to the world afresh through His Spirit indwelling our human flesh, our living testimony (Jn 15:27; cf. Rom 12:1-2) to the Almighty God who speaks!
*LXX = the Septuagint, i.e. the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible referenced most frequently by the New Testament writers