Several years ago I had the chance to visit Greece.
It was an incredible experience to see some of the biblical sights. One of the sites I saw there was a place known as Delphi. It is the place where the god of Apollo was said to speak. He was said to speak every four years at the start of the Pythian Games.
People would gather from hundreds of miles around to hear the voice of Apollo. The way that it would work is the priestess of Apollo, Pythia, would call the meeting. She would stand over a fissure (a crack in the rock) where smoke sometimes came out of it. Archaeologists say it was either ethylene or methane. She would extend her arms as if she was carried by the spirit of Apollo. She would then, speak in gibberish- probably intoxicated by the gas. The priests who were gathered around would try and deliberate over what the gibberish, the voice of Apollo was saying. They would then ‘interpret’ it. It was always a standard saying- something like ‘know thyself.’ The people would then leave, thinking that they had heard from the god.
How in the world would someone, high on methane, pretend to be speaking for god? And how would the priests know what they were saying? And how would the people not think that they were saying was god?
Hunger to Hear
People would travel hundreds of miles on foot though mountainous terrain with no roads to hear this short phrase. I often wonder if in our churches today, and maybe even in our church,
we have Christians that carry around a bible that they swear is the word of God, but are less devoted to hearing from Him through that than these ancients were to hearing the word of Apollo?
Have you thought about it? When was the last time you heard from God and how did you know it was God? How far are you willing to go out of your way to hear from Him?
About the same time these people were gathering to hear the voice of Apollo, at 7th or 8th century B.C., there was a prophet outside of Jerusalem named Amos. He put His finger on our trouble when he said that there would be a famine for the word of God. People would search coast to coast in search for a word of God and would not hear it. Notice that Amos didn’t say that there would be a lack in the speaking, but in the hearing. He says there would be plenty there, but people would still wander from coast to coast as if there is nothing to be found.
We are a people that says God speaks to us. We call the bible the word of God and believe that, at least to some degree, that the preacher has heard the word of God. We’re people that ‘feel that God leads us’ or that “God gives us” vision or that ‘God tells” them to do something. We’re all familiar with this language, so much so that it doesn’t shock us anymore.
Searching for Something
That’s on one hand. But on the other hand, we are less sure of ourselves than ever. We wander from church to church, Christian book to Christian small group, all hoping that someone will say something that will unlock the mysteries. In part we’re feeding ourselves, which is good. But in part, we’re waiting for a magic phrase with a long forgotten formula for our Christina faith. Despite the fact that God is speaking, we wander from coast to coast, looking for the word. We want the word of God to come to us as clear and concise instructions so we can put it down and go do it.
Maybe you have a sense of searching and you’ve come to this moment because you feel that you wander from coast to coast looking for clarity. Maybe you just want clarity because His voice sounds a bit muffled. Or maybe you think that God speaks, but he just speaks to other people.
Think of the Israelites. Moses went up into the mountain where God was while the Israelites stood back at a distance. Some people are like that. Standing at a distance, waiting for someone else to come off the mountain with the instruction.
We’re in a paradox. We believe that God speaks and yet we often behave as though He does not.
Waiting On a Word
Read Matthew 13:1-23
In this era, seed was precious. Farmers were poor and seed was in short supply. Farmers didn’t scatter seed; they planted it. They were cautious about the soil they put the seed in. But, not this farmer.
In this parable, the farmer goes out and throws it indiscriminately. Does that reveal anything about God? It causes me to want to tell the people at Delphi, the true God is generously speaking. He scatters it among everyone; not just those who are deserving. He gives it to people who will respond and those who won’t alike.
When you think of hearing the voice of God, think of the reality that our God sows generously. He isn’t reserving His words. He is giving His word freely.
If you haven’t heard from God lately, it might be a problem with the soil, not with the seed. God, the farmer is always scattering seed.
There are four different types of soil that Jesus highlights in this passage.
Some hearts are willing to receive the word of God. It is as if some lives that are saying, you can grow here- I’ve got space for you- I’ll receive you. And to those lives, Jesus says, give me a few days and I’ll produce life in you.
When you allow the seed of His word to sink into the soil of your heart, it will grow.
Notice that the parable of the sower is not written for those outside of the church. It is a story for the church. In our Christian life, we never get beyond this parable. God is always speaking and sowing His word. And we always have the opportunity to either receive or reject the seed of His word in our lives.
There are so many people we see in scripture that saw Jesus right in front of them and missed Him. God’s heart for you is that you don’t carry the word in your hand and miss the opportunity to receive what He gives.
Listening and Understanding
Listening is an acquired skill. This parable is about learning to listen in the language that God speaks.
Until we learn to listen, we will always come to God, or the people of God with our list of questions. Without listening, we will be setting the agenda and never sit to receive His agenda. Within this parable, Jesus says “understand” 6 times. He says “listen” 15 times. And another 6 times, He says “listen that you might understand”. This parable teaches us to listen that we might understand the heart of God. He doesn’t want to merely be quoted. God doesn’t want to just give us content. He wants to give us Himself. Listening is about relationship.
Finally, this parable is about being, it’s not about doing anything. Nowhere in the story is there an imperative. There’s no point at which Jesus says ‘therefore, be the fourth soil.” He just puts it out there. He lets you read it and lets you discern for yourself where you are and then discern what is needed within your own soul to become the fourth soil.
There are five elements I’d like to share with you in regards to listening to the word of God.
- Believe He will speak. Back to the original picture of the farmer sowing generously. You must understand that God is not sparingly withholding His word from you. He is generously scattering the seed of His word. We have a lack of listening, not a lack of God speaking.
- Posture yourself favorably to hear Him. As God speaks to you, you must decide to be the good soil; ready to receive what He has to say. As we discovered last week, it is our choice if we receive what God offers or not. Chose to receive not only His grace, but also His word.
- Discern within yourself what He is saying. Listening is not about quoting Him back, but understanding His heart. Take the word of God and allow it to permeate your heart so that you may understand.
- Clarify the word of God. By speaking back to Him, reflecting what you’ve heard, you clarify His word to you. Clarify the word so that you may act on it.
- Obey the Word of God. You have not really listened to if you have not obeyed His word. There must be follow through and this opens the door for more listening.
Remember James 1:23-35
For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.