How to Hear in the New Year
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
January 4, 2009
Main Passage: Luke 8:4-15 (NLT)
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.
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.”
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?
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:
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.
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.
Seed: God’s Word
God and His Word are unchanging. It’s the condition of my heart that
makes the difference.
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.
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…
Do I Hear God Speak?
Cultivate an Open Heart
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)
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…
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
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.
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.
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
Hardened Path = A Defensive Heart
defensive heart is totally unwilling to listen to God. God never even
gets the chance. So why would anyone have a defensive heart?
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.”
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.
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
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.
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.”
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…
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.”
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
Shallow Soil = A Superficial Heart
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Three: Eliminate the Distractions
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.”
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.
Soil with Weeds = A Preoccupied Heart
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.”
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…
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.
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
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
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.
Four: Cooperate with What God Says
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…
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)
other seed fell on fertile soil. This seed grew and produced a crop
that was a hundred times as much as had been planted!”…
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.
Good Soil = A Responsive Heart
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.”
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
[Adapted primarily from “How to Hear in
the New Year” by Jeremy McGarity, Skyline Church, December 30, 2007]