Listening by Asking

As we transition between Mark and Luke, I thought it might be good to connect one of our Lord’s teachings that appears in both. In Mark 4:24 and Luke 8:18 we find Jesus giving us the same admonition. “Consider carefully how you listen.” In both gospels Jesus tells us to take the time to ponder more deeply the things we see, hear and experience from Him because what He conveys to us to too important to miss or take lightly. Even though this is true, we need to recognize that the bigger picture is about more than just encouraging us to become better listeners.


When we get to Luke 9:45, we will read that the disciples did not understand what Jesus was saying to them because “it was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it.” We see the same thing in Deuteronomy 29:2-5.


Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 3 the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear. 5 I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.


Even though they saw God’s signs and great wonders, they didn’t understand what they meant. Each and every one of them knew that, even after 40 years of really hard use, their clothes and sandals had not worn out and yet their eyes did not see and their ears failed to hear that God’s hand was in this. I can imagine them saying things like, “Wow! Nothing wears like this Egyptian leather! I’ve been hundreds of miles on these things and my sandals still look new!” Or, “Can you believe that the tunic I made has lasted this long! I must really be getting good at making clothes.”


Fast-forward some 2,000 years. The disciples watched Jesus heal the masses, they tasted the food He multiplied, and they experienced Him calm the storm. They also heard Him teach about how they were to serve and they heard Him tell them about His coming death. Although they experienced, saw and heard all these things they responded by arguing about who among them will be greatest in the kingdom. Like their ancestors, they didn’t yet “get it.”


Are we any different? 


It makes me wonder how many times I miss the message and it makes me ask what I can do to improve my listening. Jump back to Luke 8 with me for a moment. The command to listen is found in the middle of three important stories which help us understand what the Lord was saying.


The parable of the four soils is an encouragement to persevere in providing the proper environment for the Word of God to grow and produce fruit in our lives. Providing good soil for whatever number of seeds one has is evidence of careful listening. Knowing that God’s Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105) we understand that one way to apply God’s Word is by putting it in a place where it is free to illumine and reveal that which was once hidden. Finally, we come to the story of Jesus’ response to the arrival of his mother and brothers. He responds by saying that those who apply God’s Word and put it into practice—those who provide good soil for it and place it on a stand—are His true family. Just like the four soils, those who have a little fruit will be given more but those who do not apply the Word of God will end up losing even what they thought they had (it will be snatched by the devil, have a short root and wither or be choked by worries, riches and pleasures of this world).


Listening deeply enough to put God’s Word into practice is the most important thing we can do. But as I said at the start, this is not just about us becoming better listeners because the gospel is not about our intelligence or our disciplined approach to life and devotion. Some things are hidden from us not to make us try harder but to help us see our weakness and cry out for help.


Luke 9:45 hints at the fact that these hidden things require more than just our effort. Yes, we still need take the time to examine what Jesus has said, ponder it, work at it and think about it; we need to listen carefully. At the same time, as we engage in this work of listening, we must not be afraid to ask Jesus about it. Inquire, ask the question and let the Lord unfold the beauty of His word in your heart. I wonder, was it the disciple’s fear of asking that prolonged the hiddenness of the things they needed to know? Does my lack of asking do the same?


Sometimes I find myself not asking because I think I already know and fully understand what Jesus is saying to me. Other times I forget to ask, simply relying on my own skills and listening to illumine the way. And there have been seasons when I doubted that God really cared or had a word to say to me (often because I was feeling so “bad” about myself at that time). No matter what our motivation, the command to carefully listen and the invitation to ask remains.


It makes me wonder if the path to true listening is found by asking.


“Lord, open my eyes that I might see and my ears that I might hear your Word as you speak to me in many ways. Illumine my mind and soften my heart that I might more fully understand and experience the Word you send my way. Help me ask the questions that lead me to understand what you want me to know. And then when I do see and know, give me the courage I need to put into practice that part of your Word that I have received and understood.”


Pondering these good and challenging things with you,