Hearing God: Start by Overhearing

This is a section from a sermon I preached at my home church, Grace Evangelical Free Church in La Mirada, as we work our way through the book of Hebrews. I got to do chapter 7, on Melchizedek, and I presented it as an opportunity to learn how to heard God’s word. I think that’s one of the key concerns of Hebrews overall, and I take its teaching on Melchizedek to be an especially vivid instance of it.

I’ll turn most of the sub-points into their own blog posts in the next few days, but if you want to hear the w hole thing, the full Vimeo is embedded (audio and outline also available at our church resources website).

Hearing God’s word is a skill. It’s a skill that we can learn, with God as our teacher. God is in the business of making us good listeners, good hearers of his word. Hebrews is all about this: learning to hear God’s word. Practice makes perfect, until we become mature, (5:14) “those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” God is an excellent speaker, and is in the business of making us good listeners.

The playwright Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) once gave this advice to authors: “If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.” With a good writer, there is nothing extra just hanging around, to be ignored. Well, God is the kind of careful composer who doesn’t just leave extraneous stuff strewn about in the early chapters. He said Melchizedek and he is going to fire that Melchizedek gun pretty soon. We just need to do some ear calisthenics to make sure we hear it when it goes off.

So before we get to Melchizedek, we’ll go through some ear exercises. Here are some baby steps into hearing God’s Word.

First of all, we don’t have to start by hearing what God says to us. He actually starts us out with an even easier step before that: he lets us OVERhear him. He lets us overhear him talking to somebody else about us. I think that before God even speaks to us, he speaks to his Son in our presence, so we can overhear them talking to each other.

Think about it this way: in the gospels, when Jesus begins his public ministry, a voice comes out of heaven. I assume it’s a big booming James Earl Jones style voice, and what does it say? It says “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Okay, voice from the sky says listen to this guy, I’m listening to this guy.

“This is my son.” But what’s it say in Hebrews? Ch. 1:5, “You are my son.” Get the difference between “this over here is my Son,” and “you are my Son?” Hebrews lets us in on the fact that before God ever talked to us, God the Father was already talking to God the Son. 

When did the Father say this to the Son? Before when.  Where? Beyond where. God the Father and God the Son have been in conversation with each other in eternity past, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. When God starts communicating with us, he’s already been communicating with himself from before the foundation of the world. If communication is a success term, God needs a hearer, and he has always had the perfect audience: himself. The Father has always had the Son as his audience, and the Son has had the Father to hear him, forever and ever amen.  Which means you’re invited to the listening party, but if you don’t come, there’s a party going on anyway.

When God starts saying his word to us, he starts by letting us OVERhear what has been going on between the Father and the Son already. He brings us into that conversation. We learn to hear God’s word by the immersion method, the same way babies learn to speak in our households. First a lot of listening, a lot of overhearing what’s going on around them, then hearing direct speech to them, and finally responding. God is a communicating God who brings his children up the same way.

My wife Susan had sweet grandparents who made a habit of talking to each other about their grandkids: “Isn’t Susan growing up to be a lovely young girl? Oh yes, and she has such a nice way with everything. Such a helper around the house, I just love that girl.” When people compliment you, you believe them. But when you OVERhear them say nice things about you to somebody else, you really know you’re getting the truth. Plus you get the bonus of getting to feel sneaky! “Wow, inside information.”

This is how God trains us: The Father says “you are my Son.” The son says “I will tell of your name to my brothers, in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

The Father says “Sit at my right hand,” and the Son says “I will put my trust in him.” We should listen in to that. Overhear this divine conversation. I don’t know what the Father and Son talk to each other about in the Spirit when they are at home in the happy land of the Trinity. But by the time we overhear them, they have begun to talk to each other about us.

  • Linda

    Thank you for another way of hearing God speak. I have read through the Gospels looking each time for how Jesus speaks to: his disciples, the Pharisees, the common people. Listening to the communication between the Father and Son is another perspective. I also am excited about listening to the silence. The depths and riches of God’s word are unfathomable. Thank you for opening my eyes to another way of listening.
    God’s blessings upon you.
    L. Lacey


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