Winter 2010

Religion and Spirituality

Listening to God

Winfried Fritz

It seems to be a paradox of modern life that the actual working hours for most people are considerably fewer than they were one or two generations ago, but we still feel that we don’t have enough time. Whether this is true or not, many lives, especially in first-world societies, are filled to the brim with activity, leaving little time for listening and thinking.

We live in an age in which knowledge has increased and it’s difficult to manage the abundance of information coming at us daily. Between the mountains of paper to sort through, we try to find a few minutes to talk to friends and associates on our cell phones, download material from the Internet, and watch our favorite news channels via satellite dish or cable. We do these things while attempting to keep up with all the other demands of life. There is a sense that we are always in a hurry, wheels spinning, going nowhere.

Are we being left without time for the most important things?

Considering the accomplishments, possibilities and unbelievable progress of this modern age, it’s an astounding time to be alive. We have learned to handle many complex technical issues, but do our human relationships reflect the perfection we see in technical developments? Sadly, we still have not made much progress in resolving problems in this area of life. 

A growing number of people seem to have lost their orientation: never has there been so much confusion about what is right and what is wrong. The increase in broken families shows that at the deepest personal level, society is slowly disintegrating. At the same time, fear of terror and crime has become part of daily life, and once again war is deemed essential at the international level.

Contemplating the realities of our rapidly globalizing society, we get the nagging feeling that something is definitely going wrong. There are a lot of questions and a lot of unsatisfying answers.

A long time ago, a very wise yet disillusioned man looked at the emptiness of his life and said, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). This was Solomon, king of ancient Israel.

Solomon had tried to find out by personal experience what is good in life, and as one of the wealthiest individuals in history, he had the means to test everything: “Whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I did not withhold my heart from any pleasure” (Ecclesiastes 2:10).

Certainly you would think this would produce the happiest life. But it did not. Reflecting on what he had discovered and on the things that happen in life, Solomon fell into deep despair: “Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind” (verse 17). Personal experience and all of his wisdom did not provide King Solomon with the answers to the big questions of life.

Is the quest for answers in fact hopeless? Or can we go somewhere to find them?

If there is no God with absolute standards who reveals discoverable truths, then we can never find definitive answers to many important questions. Everyone and everything may be right, everything is debatable, and the Bible is reduced to no more than an interesting collection of stories and ideas. 

But there is a God, the Creator, and He created for a purpose, as we show in our free online Bible study course, Foundations. Because God is a loving God, He did not leave us without knowledge of that purpose; the Bible reveals what that purpose is and how to achieve it. 

At the end of his life, Solomon said: “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all” (Ecclesiastes 12:13).

The most positive news is the fact that there is a source where we can go to find the answers to all the basic questions of life. Yet that source has been so misunderstood and misused that many are unwilling to consider it. This source is the Bible, God’s Word. 

 

  • The Bible gives us the answers to the great questions of life.
     
  • Within its pages, we learn about a way of life that produces true happiness and purpose.
     
  • The Bible also answers the questions of where we come from and where we are going, and records God’s dealings with humankind.
     
  • It is the record of God talking to humankind.

 

In another Foundations study module, we show that prayer is essentially communication with God. However, to have a lasting relationship with Him, this communication should not be one-sided. In other words, we need to do some listening as well.

A person may be an expert in interpreting details in the Bible but still lack understanding. Jesus found the religious leaders of His time in such a condition. They had considerable knowledge about the Bible and even kept many things that God had commanded, but Christ told them, “You know neither Me nor My Father” (John 8:19).

This is very significant. How is it possible that people who dedicated their whole lives to their religion did not know the God they professed to worship? What was lacking?

The key is that we all need to be ready to listen to God’s will and pay attention to what we hear. If you are willing to act on what you learn from God, He will open your understanding (John 7:17). As Jesus did with His disciples, He will do for you—if you want to listen, He will help you understand (Luke 24:45).

Listening to God is not like listening to a song or a poem; it means taking what we hear seriously enough to act on it. Jesus described it in a striking way: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, emphasis added).

In Proverbs 9:10 God instructs us that “the fear [deep respect] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Why Listen to the Bible? 

Before we begin to read the Scriptures, it is essential to consider what the Bible claims to be. We need to have the right approach to the information found there.

The Bible reveals itself to be God’s own Word. God is speaking to us, and in its pages He defines what is known as truth:

 

  • “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
     
  • “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

 

Here God’s Word is described as a sharp sword. With this tool we are able to define the boundaries of right and wrong and learn about the principles that can guide us through this confused world.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). 

God inspired the Bible, thus it is from God. The Bible reveals that God is its author and that it contains the truth.

If we learn to listen to God, we have a most helpful instruction book for our lives. It also contains the history of God working with humankind, and regarding prophecy, the Bible is even “history written in advance.”

The Bible is not subject to our personal, preferred interpretation; it is God’s will as revealed to those who wrote it down for us (2 Peter 1:20–21).

Of course, for any serious student of the Bible, many questions arise when reading it. We have tried to answer many of them in the various study modules in the Foundations course.  

The willingness to study the Word of God—to listen to God’s advice, instruction, admonition, warning and encouragement—is a very powerful spiritual tool, essential for our spiritual growth and development.
 

Essentials of This Module: 

  • The Bible is the source of the answers to the great questions of life.
     
  • Without the Word of God, we will find no definitive answers to these questions.
     
  • The Bible is the record of God talking to humanity.
     
  • The key is that we need to be ready to listen to God’s will and pay attention to what we hear.
     
  • Willingness to listen to God’s advice, instruction, admonition, warning and encouragement is a most necessary and powerful tool for spiritual development.