A sure way to get an idea of what is really special to God, is to look at how much energy Satan puts into tearing things apart. For example: look at communities, cities. God loves cities – they are places where people of all nationalities come together. So they are under attack – any city in the world you’re going to find full of all kinds of evil and corruption. Another example of something that’s close to God’s heart is listening. Listening is so important to God. We live in the information age and our capacity to listen is under attack. Listening requires so much discipline.
We also need to focus, not only what is under attack, not on what is broken and corrupted, but look at what it’s pointing to. Look at the preciousness of what is valuable to God. There’s a counterfeit version of everything that’s good. Families and communities matter, so there are gangs. Love is precious to God, so there are corruptions of love: prostitution and exploitation. Hearing is important to God, so there are counterfeit versions of what it means to listen.
We listen for all sorts of different reasons: we listen to be entertained, we listen to go to sleep, we listen so that we can jog, run to music and we listen to gain information, to educate ourselves. But the bible uses a particular word for what it means to hear, a word that the Hebrews knew quite well. It doesn’t mean just listen because you’re interested or to get information, but it means you’re listening with a view to obey. It’s a relational listening, that requires you give honour to the one you’re listening to.
God loves to pour His heart out to His people. When I was much younger and I was seeking God, I remember stumbling across a verse in Exodus. It’s about God’s relationship with Moses. Moses had done a lot of big, ‘exciting’ stuff, parted the red sea, plagues, fire, smoke, a lot of drama, but in this almost throwaway comment in Exodus 33:11, it says:
“Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)
God is always looking for a people He can trust, He can confide in. We are not slaves, but Jesus calls us His friends: “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15)
God is revealing who He is and what His secrets are. It says that God reveals Himself to those who fear Him, who take Him seriously. We want to be those that take God seriously.
Here’s an important question:
“What must we do to do the work the works of God?” (John 6:28) This was the Pharisees, asking Jesus. Wherever you go, and you meet somebody new, whether it’s work-related or at church, at some point someone will ask you what you do. With the Pharisees, they ask Jesus what they must do. They asked about the works plural, and Jesus’ answer was “The work” and that’s an important twist. Jesus often does this. He’s dramatically decreasing the quantity of stuff that you have to do, but He’s enormously expanding the quality of what that looks like.
So, what must we do to work the works of God? That’s plural. The Pharisees knew of at least 613 things, according to the law, that you have to do to make God happy. The Pharisees had come up with all sorts of extra traditions, even to add to those 613 rules. Jesus zooms in on that and focuses on the quality, rather than the quantity. He says the work of God is to believe in the One that He sent.
But does that mean we don’t have to work anymore? Just before He says that, Jesus says “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:27).
It’s life-saving that Jesus uses the term approval when He’s talking about work. Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning. As Christians, we still work and we work hard. What Jesus is saying is: don’t work for the things that don’t bring glory and honour to Me. Work with the sense that God has already set His approval on Jesus. There’s a really important distinction between performance and work. We’re not working for approval, we’re working from approval. When we are accepted and approved, we work for the honour of God, not the acceptance of God.
Jesus said of the Pharisees, ‘it’s no wonder you can’t believe: you accept honour from one another but not the honour of God above. When we realise that we are accepted then we are free to pursue the honour of God. We are already accepted. Here’s another mind-blowing, performance- shattering scripture for those of us who feel we need to work to please God. He said:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but already has passed from death to life.” John 5:24
Jesus was assuring people that what’s at stake here is enormous, but what is required is something relational. It’s believing in who Jesus is.
What does it look like to believe? It’s hard to escape the pattern that you see in the gospels. Jesus equates becoming a disciple with falling in love with Jesus so that we obey Him. We can be fooled into thinking that obedience is cold, legalistic and religious. The very opposite is true. Jesus says that if we love Him, we’ll do what He says, we’ll obey His commands. This isn’t a burdensome process. We don’t do things because we have to – it’s because we’re hearing God, loving Him and obeying Him. Whatever we love we make time for.
We often talk about ‘applying’ the word, but following Jesus isn’t about getting information and applying it to your life. It’s not a knowledge-gathering process. We come to God, relationally, loving Him and we hear Him, something is revealed and we respond. It’s not that information is given and we apply that knowledge as if we were a computer or a machine. It’s much more intimate and complicated. We could come to every single meeting and write down five points and apply them to our lives but what matters is that we hear God ourselves. No-one can hear God for you.
When I first became a Christian – for some reason I went deaf in my right ear. I couldn’t hear for a whole solid week. Generally, I’m not given to much self-pity, but I felt alone in the universe. I felt like a cosmic orphan, the whole world around me closed in. You interpret everything through this new spatial dimension that is closed in on you.
We interpret a lot of the world around us through our hearing, and when we don’t hear spiritually, we misinterpret everything else. We start to think that everything is about us. Our identity is wrapped up in our ability to hear. Jesus said “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27), so the sheep are identified by their capacity to hear. I know that I belong in this church because I hear what God is saying to us. You hear how you fit into the story. It might not always be pleasant and nice, but we always have to make sure that we are hearing God. I know that God is doing something with this people, we’re a part of the ongoing prophetic conversation.
* This is adapted from a sermon in church