Attentive Listening

Attentive Listening

By Pat Knight

Mary of Bethany, a sibling of Martha and Lazarus, possessed enviable listening skills. When Jesus visited their home, she sat at His feet with her rapt attention hanging on each of her Master’s words. Mary unabashedly worshipped Jesus, captivated by her Friend to the exclusion of all others present.

 On the same occasion when Mary and Martha prepared a dinner for Jesus and His disciples, Martha demanded. “‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’” (Luke 10:40). To Martha’s surprise, the Lord commended Mary’s actions, tenderly replying, “‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has shown what is better, and it will not be taken away from her’” (Luke 10:41-42).

Both Mary and Martha loved their Lord, but Martha allowed distractions to divide her devotion. No doubt she wanted a delicious, perfectly presented dinner for her guests, straight from Martha Stewart’s handbook. But, it was Mary who displayed compassion, kneeling before Jesus, intently absorbing every word, noticing each gesture, studying His facial expressions, and discerning silent or spoken aspects of His conversation. Mary listened audibly and visually.

On that evening of dinner fellowship six days prior to Christ’s crucifixion, Mary poured a pint of expensive perfume over Jesus’ feet in anticipation of His upcoming sacrifice. She didn’t ask her Lord’s permission; she intuitively knew that Jesus would approve of her gracious act. Surrounded by men, Mary wasn’t intimidated. Loosening her long hair to wipe Jesus’ feet of excess oil displayed Mary’s humility; a respectable woman didn’t unbind her hair in public. Her submissive spirit was apparent; caring for feet was servant’s work. Mary’s actions spoke volumes. By anointing Jesus’ feet, she demonstrated that she understood Jesus’ teaching about His future death and burial far better than His disciples did.

Listening is an active art. It takes commitment to heed God’s words. To hear well, we must concentrate fully, not permitting distractions to eclipse our attention. Adequate listening skills allow us to know the will of our heavenly Father for our individual lives. We hear God speak to us through His Word as He communicates His love, commands, and our relationship to Him and to others.

God has surely listened and has heard my prayer.
Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me.
—Psalm 66:19-20

Prayer time without listening is simply a one-sided conversation, a monologue rather than a dialogue. “Love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life” (Deuteronomy 30:20). Prayer and praise, listening and love, complement one another as we interact with Jesus Christ in a personal relationship.

God no longer speaks audibly or in dreams to believers as was His custom in times past. Now the Holy Spirit interprets God’s messages and illuminates God’s written Word, making His personal guidance and wisdom available to us.

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, the large crowd was listening to him with delight” (Mark 12:35a; 37b). When was the last time you listened to your Lord during prayer, from His Word, or while reading Christian literature, reacting with extreme satisfaction and great pleasure, the kind of attention Almighty God deserves?

Let us not miss the sovereign plans about which God desires to advise us through His Spirit. Live in anticipation of His words, confident that our two-way communication is functioning to full capacity. More than any other discernable sound in our world, yearn to recognize God’s soothing words. He provides power to persist toward the ultimate goal of spiritual victory as we listen, follow, and trust Him explicitly.

A father used a game of ball toss as an object lesson to instruct his son regarding a well-balanced conversation. For a while the two threw the ball back and forth, settling into a predictable rate. Then, the father dropped the ball and refused to continue the volley. When the bewildered son asked his parent to explain his behavior, his father compared his actions to those of an unbalanced verbal discussion: just as dropping or hogging the ball disrupts a game, such is the way with conversation involving an unequal exchange of listening and speaking. Concentration is required to keep the ball in motion just as shared dialogue keeps conversation moving. Prayer, like a game of ball, is participatory activity. The alternative is talking to oneself, and we all know how non-stimulating that can be!

Our Lord is never too busy, distracted, or preoccupied to harken to the emotions attached to each word. God listens with love. Though He is aware of the intent of our hearts before we speak, God is pleased to hear from us. “‘Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking, I will hear’” (Isaiah 65:24).

If we maintain candid, vivacious communication with God, as Mary of Bethany demonstrated, our listening skills will soon produce pleasing acts of worship to Him and service to others. Jesus promised, “‘You are my friends if you do what I command’” (John 15:14). What a privilege, to claim the sovereign Savior as a personal friend, who listens to us and expects attentiveness to His voice. Could there be anything more satisfying?

Before you pray, ask the Holy Spirit to clear your mind of entangled thoughts and distractions, to focus entirely upon the glory of God. Then your heart will be receptive to His guidance. In the quietness of your prayer time, ask God to reveal Himself. He will gladly open your mind and heart to reveal paths to follow Him. “Listen to my instructions and be wise; do not disregard it. Blessed are those who listen to me” (Proverbs 8:33-34a).

Learn to be attentive to your Savior with the bold singlemindedness Mary exhibited. Incredible interactions occur at the feet of Jesus as we submit, weep, confess, and listen for our Master’s divine words designed solely for our needs.

When We Are Neediest

When We are Neediest 

When you are the neediest, He is the most sufficient.

When you are completely helpless, He is the most helpful.

When you feel totally dependent, He is absolutely dependable.

When you are the weakest, He is the most able.

When you are the most alone, He is intimately present.

When you feel you are the least, He is the greatest.

When you feel the most useless, He is preparing you.

When it is the darkest, He is the only Light you need.

When you feel the least secure, He is your Rock and Fortress.

When you are the most humble, He is most gracious.

When you can’t, He can.

—Source unknown

Are you at “Wits’ End Corner”?

From Streams in the Desert devotional.

Are you standing at “Wits’ End Corner,”
Christian, with troubled brow?
Are you thinking of what is before you,
And all you are bearing now?
Does all the world seem against you,
And you in the battle alone?
Remember—at “Wits’ End Corner”
Is just where God’s power is shown.

Are you standing at “Wits’ End Corner,”
Blinded with wearying pain,
Feeling you cannot endure it,
You cannot bear the strain,
Bruised through the constant suffering,
Dizzy, and dazed, and numb?
Remember—at “Wits’ End Corner”
Is where Jesus loves to come.

Are you standing at “Wits’ End Corner”?
Your work before you spread,
All lying begun, unfinished,
And pressing on heart and head,
Longing for strength to do it,
Stretching out trembling hands?
Remember—at “Wits’ End Corner”
The Burden-Bearer stands.

Are you standing at “Wits’ End Corner”?
Then you’re just in the very spot
To learn the wondrous resources
Of Him who fails you not: 
No doubt to a brighter pathway
Your footsteps will soon be moved,
But only at “Wits’ End Corner”
Is the “God who is able” proved.
-Antoinette Wilson

When you can’t, He can

WhenYouCantHeCan-ManDespair-50--AMP

When We are Neediest 

When you are the neediest, He is the most sufficient.

When you are completely helpless, He is the most helpful.

When you feel totally dependent, He is absolutely dependable.

When you are the weakest, He is the most able.

When you are the most alone, He is intimately present.

When you feel you are the least, He is the greatest.

When you feel the most useless, He is preparing you.

When it is the darkest, He is the only Light you need.

When you feel the least secure, He is your Rock and Fortress.

When you are the most humble, He is most gracious.

When you can’t, He can.

—Source unknown

God Knows What You’re Going Through

If you’ve ever thought that God is not aware of your pains and frustrations, your fear or crying during sleepless nights, please take the time to read Franklin Graham’s account of what occurred during his recent trip to Myanmar. 

Franklin Graham:
Whatever You Are Going Through—
God Knows

Dear Friend,

A few weeks ago I traveled to Myanmar, a nation once known as Burma. We’ll be holding a Crusade there at the end of next year, and I met with pastors and members of the Crusade committee. This is a country that has been under military dictatorship for the last 50 years or so, and churches have been under severe restrictions.

Things are beginning to change now, and we are thankful that churches are gaining some freedom. People are hopeful. As you can imagine, there is a lot of planning and groundwork that needs to be done far in advance of the Crusade, and we would appreciate your prayers. This is the first time the churches in this area have cooperated for an evangelistic effort like this, and we are asking God to work in a mighty way.

Myanmar is a Buddhist country, and it has one of the most famous Buddhist temples in the world, the Shwedagon (or Golden) Pagoda. Thousands upon thousands of people go there to pray to the lifeless statues of Buddha. As I witnessed this in person, I thought of the story in the book of Daniel where King Belshazzar and the people “praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone.” Almighty God responded with handwriting on the wall, and Daniel was called to interpret the writing. He delivered God’s judgment upon King Belshazzar for worshiping gods “which do not see or hear or know” (Daniel 5:23, NKJV) and for failing to honor the God who gave them breath.

Read more here.

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At “Wits’ End Corner”

I’ve had my paperback version of Streams in the Desert devotional for years. It is probably my favorite devotional book. As you can see, I have read it so many times that I need two heavy-duty rubber bands to hold it together. It’s difficult to see, but the photo on the left shows the blue one that holds a big section of pages together. The pink one keeps the binding from slipping off.

StreamsDesertCollage-35--AMP

I received an iPad as a 2013 Christmas gift from my children, so I now have an extensive Kindle library on it, including a digital version of this book. And of course, I’m reading it again this year. When I read the May 23rd devotional, this poem leaped out at me as if I’d never seen it before. My eyes leaked as I read it, and I’m guessing yours will too. 

Are you standing at “Wits’ End Corner,”
Christian, with troubled brow?
Are you thinking of what is before you,
And all you are bearing now?
Does all the world seem against you,
And you in the battle alone?
Remember—at “Wits’ End Corner”
Is just where God’s power is shown.

Are you standing at “Wits’ End Corner,”
Blinded with wearying pain,
Feeling you cannot endure it,
You cannot bear the strain,
Bruised through the constant suffering,
Dizzy, and dazed, and numb?
Remember—at “Wits’ End Corner”
Is where Jesus loves to come.

Are you standing at “Wits’ End Corner”?
Your work before you spread,
All lying begun, unfinished,
And pressing on heart and head,
Longing for strength to do it,
Stretching out trembling hands?
Remember—at “Wits’ End Corner”
The Burden-Bearer stands.

Are you standing at “Wits’ End Corner”?
Then you’re just in the very spot
To learn the wondrous resources
Of Him who fails you not: 
No doubt to a brighter pathway
Your footsteps will soon be moved,
But only at “Wits’ End Corner”
Is the “God who is able” proved.
-Antoinette Wilson

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So Do Not Fear

Is41-10-WolfStalking--AMP

So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
—Isaiah 41:10

When I was a little girl, I was deathly afraid of dogs because one day a large dog chased me home from the corner store. I remember my terror while running with that dog right on my heels. I glanced back once to see his huge jaws open and those sharp teeth exposed.

As I got closer to home, I began yelling for my Mom to open the front door. I don’t know that she heard my words but she definitely heard me calling for her and was at the front door when I appeared. I darted past her and she quickly slammed the door shut.

Several years later, I started taking piano lessons from a woman who had the cutest little dog. Although the dog was cute, it was still a dog and I was as frightened of that little thing as I had been of the big dog who chased me home. My piano teacher couldn’t figure out why I was so afraid of her dog until I told her what had happened with that other dog. Once she understood my fright, she made it a point after every lesson to bring her dog over so I could get used to it. Several months later, I finally felt comfortable with her dog and learned to enjoy her sweet little face and cute ways.

As an adult, until a few years ago there was always a furry canine friend or two in my life and I know what it is like to feel the love and trust of these special creatures.

God works in our lives to alleviate our fears much like my piano teacher did. She would take my hand, place it gently on her dog’s back, and together we stroked that soft fur. Eventually I got up the nerve to pat the dog myself—first her back, then her head and finally I trusted her enough to let her lick my hand.

Beloved, God guides us through times of fear and uncertainty by slowly but surely filling us with the confidence that only He can give. You can always count on Him to keep a firm hold of your hand to carry you through those fearful times because He promised to do so.

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