How to Hear in the New Year
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 4, 2009

Main Passage: Luke 8:4-15 (NLT)

Well, we just finished off the Christmas season, and next Sunday we’re going to be beginning our series on The Faith. But today, on this first Sunday of 2009, I thought we’d just talk about how to hear God.

We talk a lot in churches including here at Sunrise about listening to God and paying attention to what He says. We talk about going where He leads and obeying what He says. But how do you hear God in the first place? I mean, if you’re going to do what He says, don’t you need to know what He’s saying? Jesus said…

John 10:10 (CEV)
“I came so that everyone would have life, and have it in its fullest.”

If we believe that… that Jesus wants to give us an abundant life, life to the full… then we really ought to pay attention to what He’s trying to tell us, don’t you think? We should probably hear what He’s trying to say to us.

But really though, does God still speak to people? Because a lot of crazy things have been done by people claiming “God told me to…”. And a lot of people have been manipulated by other people claiming “God told me to…”. Does God still speak to people today?

Well, the answer is… YES, God really does still speak to people. And He primarily uses this right here. He can use other ways, too, but this is the primary way. He primarily uses His Word, the Bible. And nothing else He says to you will ever contradict what He says in here. So if God speaks to you in some other way… through another person, through your conscience, through impressions, through nature, through a dream, through a vision or audible voice, whatever… it will always be in harmony with what He says right here.

So what we’re going to do for the rest of the time this morning is this:
We’re going to look at a story Jesus told about being receptive to the Word of God. We’re going to talk about what makes us difficult to hear from Him, and what makes it more likely for us to hear from Him. It’s known as the Parable of the Sower (or the Farmer, or the parable of the seed, or the parable of the soil) found in Luke chapter 8, which Chris has already read for us.

It was the story of a farmer who went out to scatter seeds in his field. Some of the seed fell on the footpath, some fell on the rock soil, some fell among the thorns, and none of them grew. But some seed fell on good soil, and that seed produced a huge crop. And then Jesus said…

Luke 8:8 (NLT)
“Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”

So how many of you have ears? The let’s listen to what Jesus is saying and understand it.

Let’s talk about this story. In every instance, the same seed used. But there are four different kinds of soil, and that’s what makes the difference. Because…

The Farmer:    God
The Seed:        God’s Word
The Soil:          My heart

God and His Word are unchanging. It’s the condition of my heart that makes the difference.

Now, what I don’t want you to do is try to characterize yourself as just one of these kinds of soil. Because the reality is that we change, day to day, week to week, month to month. The condition of our hearts may change depending on circumstances, depending on what we’re going through, depending on our habits, depending on a lot of things.

There are times I’m more receptive to hearing from God than I am at other times. And there are times when I’m more prone to ignore Him or not hear Him at all. But the goal is to maximize the times that I’m receptive to Him and His Word. So…

How Do I Hear God Speak?

Step 1: Cultivate an Open Heart

I have to want to hear Him speak. I have to desire that and want that. But some people are closed to that very possibility. Some don’t want to hear because they’re afraid of what they’ll hear. But you know what? You can actually be afraid and still have an open heart. You can be a little nervous about what God’s going to say to you and still want to hear from Him because you know that no matter what He says, you know it’s best. You know that whatever He wants you to do or asks you to say or directs you to go… whatever it is He says… He loves you and cares for you, wants the best for you, and you know you can trust Him. That doesn’t mean you’re not anxious, but it means you have an open heart in spite of it.

So how do you respond when you’re afraid of what God may ask? Do you close up shop, or do you maintain an open heart regardless of what He may ask?

Luke 8:5, 12 (NLT)
“A farmer went out to plant his seed. As he scattered it across his field, some seed fell on a footpath, where it was stepped on, and the birds ate it…

Now, on every field there are footpaths where the farmer walks, right? And after he’s walked there for a while, they become really hard. Like clay. So back in that day, farmers would walk on those pathways and just throw the seed onto the field. They’d be walking down the footpath throwing some seeds to the left and some to the right, and inevitably, some would fall on the footpath itself. And of course that’s where the birds of the air would come and feed on them. Jesus goes on in verse 12 to explain…

This week while Shera and I were in Fredericton, I got up early one morning and drove to Tim Hortons on Prospect Street. I had some work to do, and there was no way I was going to get anything done with an 8-year old and a 9-year old hovering around me.

So I drove in to Tim Horton’s, got out of the car, and looked up. And what I saw were hundreds of birds flying overhead. At first I thought they might be flying south, just a little late. But no, they were circling. And then I realized what they were circling. You see, that Tim Horton’s is right next door to McDonald’s, so they were circling looking for some of those fries that always seem to end up on the surface of the parking lot where they’re easy pickin’s.

Those birds knew where to look for food. Just like the birds would have known that the seed that fell on the farmer’s footpath would be easy pickin’s.

“The seeds that fell on the footpath represent those who hear the message, only to have the devil come and take it away from their hearts and prevent them from believing and being saved.”

So people who are far from God who also have a hardened heart are not receptive to God’s Word. But even for us as followers of Christ, I think we can still have a hardened heart. We can still be reluctant to hear from Him. We can still hold back. So in the story, the hardened path represents a defensive heart.

The Hardened Path = A Defensive Heart

A defensive heart is totally unwilling to listen to God. God never even gets the chance. So why would anyone have a defensive heart?

Four Reasons:

•    Fear

We’re afraid of what He might say. He might alter my lifestyle. He might have demands and expectations that will make me uncomfortable. You know, “I’m afraid He’s going to ask me to do something really weird.” Or, He’s going to ask me to give up something I don’t want to give up.” That’s fear.

•    Pride

“Maybe I don’t think I need God’s input. I’m doing okay on my own. I don’t need to hear from God.” But the truth is, that’s just a smokescreen for insecurity. I’m so afraid of my weaknesses I don’t even want to admit them to myself. Pride gets in the way and hardens my heart.

•    Bitterness

Sometimes the experiences of life cause pain. That happens to all of us. We all get hurt. And some of us respond to that hurt by withdrawing, and we become bitter.

•    Sin

Either we’re ashamed of the sin and don’t want to feel exposed, or we’re enjoying our sin and we don’t want to be confronted about it. But sin can harden your heart and prevent God’s Word from getting through.

Step 2: Allocate Time to Listen

“I’ve got to take time to get quiet and be still? That’s hard. I’ve got stuff to do. I’m busy.”

We get so busy, we get in such a hurry, that we end up telling God, “Okay, speak, but do it quick.” We want to hear from God, but we don’t want to give it time to sink in. Well, sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.

Luke 8:6, 13 (NLT)
“Other seed fell among rocks. It began to grow, but the plant soon wilted and died for lack of moisture…
“The seeds on the rocky soil represent those who hear the message and receive it with joy. But since they don’t have deep roots, they believe for a while, then they fall away when they face temptation.”

So the seeds couldn’t really take root. The rocks got in the way. And that’s the way it is with a person who’s too busy to hear from God. You want to be receptive, you want to follow Christ. But you don’t establish any roots and when a time of testing or temptation comes, you fall away.

The Shallow Soil = A Superficial Heart

Think about New Year’s Resolutions. Every January, people make these great New Year’s Resolutions and intend to follow through on them. But their commitment to them is shallow, so after just a few weeks (if that) they’ve completely forgotten about them.

Why does that happen? Because you don’t establish the habits that are going to help you accomplish your goals. You don’t commit the tie to learn a new skill, you don’t schedule time in to work out, you don’t develop a plan…

That’s the shallow soil. The desire may be there on the surface, but there’s nothing underneath to support it and feed it. You need to establish some roots so that when the heat is on, you can still thrive.

You know the best way to establish some roots? It’s to get into the Bible. Yeah, it comes back to that again. But this is critical for any follower of Christ who wants to grow, who wants to hear from God, who wants to survive through times of testing and trial, who wants to be in it for the long haul.

In your notes this morning, I’ve listed a few websites where you can find reading plans to help you systematically read or listen through your Bible. If you don’t have access to the Internet, I’ve printed off a few copies and placed them on the Information Table at the back.

Now, what I always see happen when it comes to these kinds of reading plans is this: you start off well, and you’re making good progress, and you’re enjoying it… but then you miss a day. And then you think, “Now I’ve got to read two days worth.” And then you miss another day, and another day, and another. And eventually you fall so far behind that you give up.

Well, if you miss a day, here’s what I want you to do. Skip it. Just skip it. The idea is to keep going.

And when you get to those long lists in Leviticus and in Numbers… that’s as far as you got last year… don’t get bogged down by them.

Listen, I believe every word in the Bible is there for a reason. Every word is important. And there’s a lot of meaning even in those lists of names and all of those ceremonial regulations. But it takes a lot of work to find the meaning there. You’ve got to know your history, you’ve got to be able to cross-reference with other passages, you’ve got to understand some Hebrew symbolism and cultural rituals…

So here’s the thing… if that’s where you get hung up and if that’s where you tend to give up, then just skip it. Or maybe skim over it. But don’t allow the genealogies and these long lists to make you give up. Because I’d rather you skip them for now if it means you’ll read the rest. Maybe you’ll get back to them some other time.

Now, if you’ve got an interest in those things and you have the time a resources to dig in and uncover the meaning there, that’s great. But if not, then just skim over it and keep going.

Step Three: Eliminate the Distractions

It’s great to allocate time to listen, and I hope you do that. But if you really want to make the most of that time and you really want to hear from God, then you’ve got to eliminate the distractions. You don’t want to just listen more; you want to listen better. You want to listen more clearly.

So how do you do that? Well, it means you may need to cut some things out of your life. You’ve got to eliminate the distractions.

For some of you, it may be a relationship. Maybe a friend you have that is more of a distraction than anything else and they are continually pulling you away from God and making it harder and harder and harder for you to hear from God. Maybe you’ve got to cut down on that relationship or maybe cut it out altogether.

Or maybe it’s work, and you’ve got to shift a few things around and set limits on how much time you work. Or if your work tends to completely consume you and it requires you to be someone you don’t want to be, then maybe you need to start looking for something else.

Maybe the distraction for you is a habit. Maybe a nasty habit that you need to eliminate, or maybe just a generic run of the mill habit that isn’t all that bad in and of itself, but it’s still a distraction for you. And you’ve got to take steps to eliminate it.

Maybe for you it’s recreation, or maybe it’s the television, or maybe it’s the Internet… whatever it is, you’ve got to eliminate that distraction.

Luke 8:7, 14 (NLT)
“Other seed fell among thorns that grew up with it and choked out the tender plants…
“The seeds that fell among the thorns represent those who hear the message, but all too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life. And so they never grow into maturity.”

So you see the picture here. The farmer throws the seed, and the seed takes root and begins to grow and is doing fine, until it falls victim to the weeds surrounding it and the life is choked out of it.

The Soil with Weeds = A Preoccupied Heart

It’s the person who says, “I’m just too busy to hear God speak. I have too many other things going on. I’m occupied in other ways.”

And I’ve known a lot of people like this. They may even come to church… they may have at one time made a decision to live for God and follow Him… but their life is so busy with so many things that they never really are able to grow and all those things… all those distractions… just choke the life out of them.

Just over a week ago on Christmas Day, I tried to make a phone call and I got that message, “All our lines are busy; please try your call again later.” You ever get that message?

Well, it makes me wonder, is God trying to call you? Is He trying to call and that’s the message He gets… “All lines are busy; please try again later”?

In your notes I put the definition of a weed…

Definition of a weed: anything that robs my time with God

It’s anything that robs my time with God. Jesus listed three…

Three Types of Weeds:

•    Worries
•    Riches
•    Pleasures

The worries of life, the accumulation of riches, and the pursuit of pleasure can all rob you of time with God and the opportunity to hear from Him. But this is what Jesus said in Matthew 6:33…

Matthew 6:33 (NLT)
Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

Let me ask you this: How much effort does it take to grow weeds? None, right? A few years ago Shera had a small vegetable garden in our backyard. And she would go back there every few days and pull all of the weeds and hopefully get those veggies to grow. And it took a fair amount of attention to care for that garden.

Well, the past couple years Shera hasn’t had the ambition to go back there… she’s been a little preoccupied, what with getting pregnant and all. And me? I have absolutely no interest in tending a garden. Some people enjoy it; I don’t. So if you go to that small patch in our backyard where we once had a garden, you’re going to find it full of weeds that are at least waist high.

Listen to this: All it takes for weeds to grow is neglect. Same thing in our walk with the Lord; weeds are just a sign of neglect.

And God says you’ve got to cultivate an open heart, you’ve got to allocate time to listen, and you’ve got to eliminate the distractions… get rid of the weeds.

And how do you get rid of weeds? I mean, when you have weeds in your garden do you go out to them and go, “Oh, you cute little weed, let me trim you a little bit and take care of you…” Is that what you do? No, you yank that sucker out of the ground. You hack them up. You cut them down. You’re not soft-hearted with weeds; you’re relentless. You do what it takes to get rid of them.

Whatever that weed is in your life, do what it takes to get rid of it.

Step Four: Cooperate with What God Says

I think God speaks most to the person who has already determined that they’re going to do what He says. To the person who has already decided to cooperate with Him.

But I think a lot of people approach God with the mindset, “You tell me what you want God, and then I’ll think about it. But I want to know before I agree.” And God says, “No, don’t play that game with me. I want you to cooperate with Me regardless of what I say.”

Listen, I don’t always get it right, but I want to cooperate with God in every way. I remember when I was just a kid… probably 12, 13, 14… someplace in there… I sang a solo in my church that I still remember to this day and I still want it to be the song of my heart. It said…

“Is there anything I can do for You, is there anything I can do?
For all the things You’ve done for me, is there anything I can do?
I’m willing to be used, dear Lord, whate’er the price may be.
So if there’s anything I can do for You, just make it known to me.”

And it went on…

“Is there anything I can say for You?” And then “Is there anywhere I can go for You?” It was a simple song that I sang 25 years ago, but I think that’s the attitude God is looking for in each one of us. An attitude of cooperation with Him whatever He asks.

Luke 8:8, 15 (NLT)
“Still other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!”…
“And the seeds that fell on the good soil represent honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s word, cling to it, and patiently produce a huge harvest.”

You hear the Word, you cling to it, you allow it to take root and grow, and in time it produces a huge crop.

The Good Soil = A Responsive Heart

A responsive heart is not a spectator. A responsive heart is not just observing. A responsive heart hears what God has to say and does something with it.

James 1:22 (NLT)
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says.

John 13:17 (NLT)
“Now that you know these things, God will bless you for doing them.”

So where are you at? If you did a spiritual X-ray of your heart, what would you see? Would you discover a defensive heart, maybe because you’ve been afraid? Would it reveal a superficial heart, shallow soil? Would you see a pre-occupied heart? Or would you be pleased to find out that your heart is receptive to God and His Word… Open to hearing whatever He wants to say to you and willing to cooperate with Him, regardless of what He asks?

In 2009, let’s all commit to becoming more open and more responsive to hearing from God. Let’s devote the time and the energy necessary, let’s take steps to get rid of all those pesky distractions, and let’s really hear from God in the New Year.

[Adapted primarily from “How to Hear in the New Year” by Jeremy McGarity, Skyline Church, December 30, 2007]



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