Listen Up!

I’m a light sleeper. I’m constantly on the qui vive for intruders and middle-of-the-night phone calls announcing catastrophe. Earplugs make me blissfully unaware of my surroundings and allow me to sleep through the night. Those little balls of wax are a blessing to my physical and mental health.

Of course, insulation from reality can also be dangerous. Sometimes the very things we want to screen out are the things we are in most need of hearing. I don’t need to hear noises that will disrupt my sleep. But God is so sure I need to hear some hard truths about myself that He will shout until I hear His voice.

I’m reading Isaiah Chapter 58 every day during Lent. This past week, I’ve found myself lingering on the first verse:

“Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.”

Before He begins His litany of the people’s sin, God warns Isaiah he’s going to have to break through the self-righteous, self-satisfied, self-pitying bubble they’ve constructed. He’s saying, “You know all the stuff these people don’t want to hear? You’re going to shout it at the top of your lungs! All their dirty little secrets? You’re going to blare it over a loudspeaker to get their attention!”

Isaiah 58 is withering indictment of the people’s hypocrisy. Their lips pray to God one minute and quarrel the next. Their fasting is more concerned with appearances than with true humility. They worship and praise the Creator while they mistreat His creation. And as if that isn’t bad enough, they have the effrontery of accusing God of ignoring their piety and not hearing their prayers.

“Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?” (Isaiah 58:3)


The irony is too delicious.

They are so busy whining that God isn’t listening, they don’t see that they are the deaf ones.

They are all too happy to hold God to His promise of hearing their prayers, yet conveniently plug up their ears to His demands for justice, love and compassion. And so, God tells Isaiah to shout. He knows that there comes a time when gentle rebukes must give way to full-throated cries; when niceties and euphemisms must be abandoned.

He knows that nothing less than a blunt, blaring truth will penetrate our willful deafness.

God’s salvation story is punctuated with God having to turn up the volume so we will hear Him:

  • Only the final plague of the death of the firstborn was loud enough to get Pharaoh’s attention and make him submit to God’s will.
  • Only the prophet Nathan’s bold confrontation (“You are the man!”) was loud enough to bring King David to his knees in repentance.
  • It takes nothing less than a knock-you-off-your-feet encounter with the risen Christ to make Saul hear God clearly.

And so on throughout God’s encounters with his stiff-necked people. Until finally, God sends Jesus, a walking, talking, healing, sacrificing Holy Bullhorn to call us to to repentance, to salvation, to reconciliation with God. His life, death and resurrection are God’s greatest — and loudest — proclamation to the world.

Throughout the gospels, Jesus says, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The fact of having ears apparently isn’t enough to guarantee hearing. There needs to be a submission, a willingness, an active decision to hear with the ears we have been given. Sometimes this means pulling out the ear plugs that allow us to sleep in blissful ignorance of our failure to love and serve as God intends. And when we don’t, we can count on God to make enough noise to pierce our deafness.

My prayer for this Lent:

Lord, I do not want to make you shout.
I want to hear what you have to say to me, even if it is hard.  I confess my my obstinacy and my self-righteousness and trust that you will forgive me.
Lord, give me ears to hear.
Amen.

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