Drawing Near - More than Reading: Listening
This weeks post considers what it means to do more than read the Scriptures in drawing near to the living God
As we continue our drawing near series, bouncing out of our Encounter preaching series in church on Sundays, I want to dive deeper into what it is to draw near to God.
Consider something with me...
The Jesus that the early church was learning to follow was the Jesus that had literally just walked the earth before ascending to be with the Father, right before the eyes of the Apostles (Acts 1:9-11). When they shared the stories of Jesus orally - for the first century people were far more an oral culture than a written one (more on that here) - they were talking about the LIVING Jesus who had just walked amongst them and risen to be with the Father. In short, the early church were continuing to walk with and in response to their living Lord.
Here's the kicker - so too are we, adding a few thousand years into the gap between us and the LIVING Lord Jesus walking our earth.
It gets better! And even more profound.
In a great book I am reading on Pastoral ministry by the late Eugene Peterson, Working the Angles, Peterson makes a significant point. Being so near to the living, breathing, walking and talking Jesus as the early Christians were in historical time, the recounts of His life they told were experienced very differently to how we moderns tend to read them now. Whatever particular event, or interaction, or teaching from Jesus' life they shared with one another,
"They heard Jesus speaking off every page (or recount) of the Scriptures. When they preached and taught they did not expound texts; they preached "Jesus" - a living person with a living voice. They were not "reading in" Jesus to their Scriptures; they were listening as if for the first time and hearing that word that was in the beginning with God and through whom all things were made, and whom they had seen and touched, now hearing the word of God made alive for them in the resurrection. The dead body of Jesus was alive; so was the dead letter of Moses." [Working the Angles, p.103]
We are the inheritors of this very same tradition of hearing and listening. The word of God, the bible, is more than something we simply read. It is the way, one of the primary and ultimate ways, we listen to our living Lord. Do you hear Jesus speaking off every page to you?
Peterson says it far better than I,
"Listening is an interpersonal act; it involves two or more people in fairly close proximity. Reading involves one person with a book written by someone who can be miles away or centuries dead, or both. The listener is required to be attentive to the speaker and is more or less at the speaker's mercy. For the reader it is quite different, since the book is at the reader's mercy...in listening the speaker is in charge; in reading the reader is in charge." [p.87-88]
What's being said here? Essentially, the way we approach the written word of God really matters. Reading it to listen for the living God is one thing. Reading it for it to be read is quite another. Peterson notes that our modern expressions of culture and education make us far more readers than listeners in general. We are trained to be information gatherers. But this is not how the Bible was designed by God to primarily assist us. Like any good story told,
"the primary reason for a book is to put a writer into relation with readers so that we can listen to his or her stories and find ourselves in them, listen to his or her songs and sing along with them, listen to his or her arguments and argue with them, listen to his or her answers and question them. The Scriptures are almost entirely this kind of book. If we read them impersonally with an information-gathering mind, we misread them." [p.95]
Have you ever thought about the bible as God's stories written to put you into relation with Him? To find ourselves in them? To listen so as to sing along with Him? To listen so as to argue with Him? To listen so as to question Him? Could not this be what the writer of Hebrews meant when he notes,
"For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." [Hebrews 4:12]
The living God wants to get our live attention through the living voice of His words, recorded in oral and then written form yes, to be recorded to continually be the living and active words of Jesus to us, every day of our lives.
So how do I do more than read?
Ok great, so how do do more than just read as I have been so well trained, and not inappropriately so, to do?
Practicing attending to God through His word, like I wrote last week, is certainly a way to go beyond simply reading. But what else can I do?
What I would suggest is a reimagining what we do when we come to the Bible in general. We would do well to consider the approach to understanding the ancient Hebrews had - those who carefully collated and continually retold the Old Testament narrative. Contrasting the ancient Greeks with the ancient Hebrew people, Peterson gives us this helpful insight:
"The ancient Hebrews and ancient Greeks differed in their primary sensory orientation: the Hebrews tended to think of understanding as a kind of hearing, whereas the Greeks thought of it as a kind of seeing." [p. 113]
What if you came to the text of Scripture to understand in a hearing way? What if you came to whatever text you are to come to and sought to hear it, and in your mind hear God as you put yourself in relation to Him, found yourself in the text, sung it, argued it with him, questioned him? This is nothing short of a reimagining our approach to the Scriptures. It is very different from our Western scientific approach to be sure.
But could this not be how we freshly experience the breath of God through the pages of our ancient Scriptures:
"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God p may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." [2 Timothy 3:16–17]
So this week
Come to your times spent with the Bible, the Scriptures, to listen, more than simply read.
And even more than this, come with the intent to hear in your understanding from God, not simply to read and be done reading. For the living Jesus who walked the Earth and was heard and seen doing so as recorded in the Gospels is the same living Jesus who has every gracious intent of being heard and seen by You and I as we hear Him through the pages of these Scriptures we read week in, week out.
Listening for God and hearing in my understanding with you all this week!
Written by Ps. Rob