“.. listen obediently to God, your God, and keep the commandments and regulations written in this book of revelation. Nothing half-hearted here, you must return to God, your God, totally, heart and soul, holding nothing back… And I command you today: Love God, your God. Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God…
“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today: I place before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life… And love God, your God, listening obediently to him, firmly embracing him. Oh yes, he is life itself, a long life…
Do you hear lady wisdom calling?.. right in the city square where the traffic is thickest, she shouts, “You – I’m talking to all of you.. – I’m telling you how to live well, I’m telling you how to live at your best.. Blessed the man, blessed the woman, who listens to me, awake and ready for me each morning, alert and responsive as I start my day’s work. When you find me, you find life, real life, to say nothing of God’s good pleasure..”
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own sheep and my own sheep know me. … My sheep recognise my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them real and eternal life.
I am a choral singer – that means I sing with lots of other people, not necessarily at the same time or in the same notes.. one of the most important skills we have to develop is to hold our own lines against others when they are doing totally different things from us! It struck me at a recent rehearsal – where not only the other singers but also the orchestra are doing things that clash horribly with my line of music – that this discipline and skill of both finding and then sticking to my own line is a metaphor for the life of a follower of Jesus in a world of hostility to the gospel.
From the very beginning of the story – when Adam and Eve chose to listen to a different voice, singing a different tune – it has been clear that who we listen to will have huge consequences for us and our eternal wellbeing. By listening to, and acting in agreement with, the voice of the serpent, Eve set in train events which are still being played out today. She and Adam knew the voice of God, and chose to listen to another instead.
God has always given his people freedom to listen to other voices, but if we choose to follow their advice, or stop listening for his voice, then we will be heading for trouble. A singer has to listen to all that is going on, but if they are to hold their own line, there will be certain chords and notes which will give them the cues they need and the support to keep going as the composer intended they should! Do I know where to find those cues among the cacophany of other voices which bombard me all the time, suggesting that God cannot be trusted, that Jesus is a myth, that religion is a private thing and not to be talked of, or that it is dangerous and something to be ashamed of?
Followers of Jesus listen for his voice – we turn to the records of his ministry, to the letters of his disciples, to the Hebrew scriptures from which he quoted and where he saw himself foreshadowed. We listen for his voice in scripture, and we listen hard, so that every tone and characteristic becomes dear and instantly recognisable, no matter what else is going on.
Followers of Jesus also listen for each other – just like the others in my particular section of the choir. We hear one another, we depend on one another’s discerning and ability to hold the tune against others – as a group we are so much better and stronger than on our own. In the same way, I am weakened in my faith-listening if I never do it with others, I make myself so much more vulnerable than I need to be!
Almighty God, give your children the will and the discernment to listen out for and fix upon your voice among all that would distract us. Bless us with companions who desire to listen to you, and who will help us to remain faithful to your tune, your rhythm, your composition for this world and your work in it. Help us, if and when we stumble in our line, to realise quickly that we are astray, and to listen with fresh hunger and desire for you, so that we return to your path and glorify you.