A sermon at AnOldSinner’s home church earlier this year focused on the subject of hearing God’s voice. It was a great sermon, and it clearly reinforced one of my biggest challenges. Listening to God is hard for AnOldSinner, and the sermon reminded me of the challenges I still face in this area. It also reminded me of something God revealed to me last year. He does not always wait for us to ask before he gives us an answer.
Hearing God’s voice seems to be hard for a number of reasons. First, most of us do not really listen to people around us very well. Even when we are listening, we are thinking more of how to respond than hearing what the person is saying. In many cases, we do not even allow the person to finish his or her thought before we interrupt with what we want to say. If we do that to someone standing right in front of us, how hard is it to do the same thing to someone we cannot see.
Second, God does not always answer us directly. There are times when He will, metaphorically speaking, take us by the shoulders look us in the eye, shake us a bit and say, “Pay attention! I am talking to you.” Most of the time he is not that direct, and believe me that is a good thing. I’ve had some of those pay attention moments, and I hope I don’t have another one for a long time.
Third, God answers our questions in His time. The senior pastor at church loves to say God will answer our prayers in one of three ways. God’s answer will be, “Yes, no or not now!” AnOldSinner sometimes has trouble with the last two of those responses, but they are easier to handle than the other possibility.
There are times when God answers questions we have not yet thought to ask. I discovered this little bit of wisdom last fall. I changed seminaries and majors. The new degree plan required that I study church history. While there were a number of benefits from changing schools and majors, this did not seem to be one of them. I wanted to dig into scripture and other issues, not what I thought of as church history.
I’ve always believed the best way to deal with something distasteful or disappointing is to get it over quickly. Accordingly, I immediately enrolled in Church History I, and immediately regretted my decision when I reviewed the syllabus. There was a lot, I mean a lot, of reading. Also, the reading was not on the honor system. There were weekly quizzes over the reading assigned each week, so much for speed-reading cram sessions.
The amount of reading was not the only problem. The reading assignments included the writings of church leaders and others from the first centuries of Christianity. The professor warned that not all of the translations available were of great quality, and keeping up with the assignments could be a problem if one did not read the recommended source. As I found out, even that source was far from perfect. On the very first assignment, I made a mistake. I started reading at the wrong page of the book.1
I thought something was wrong almost immediately. Yet, I persevered. Even as I thought, “This is a strange way to start the semester.” You see. The piece I was reading was a letter from the Bishop of Antioch to Christians in Rome. Bishop Ignatius, now Saint Ignatius, was writing to church leaders in Rome, and it was not the kind of letter one writes to old friends or family.
Ignatius did write that he was looking forward to seeing the believers in Rome. He praised them for the strength of their faith, and urged them to continue to follow Christ in the face of Roman persecution. He also pleaded with them to cancel their plans concerning his arrival in Rome.
Ignatius was not going to Rome on holiday or simply to visit churches in Rome. The Roman emperor had decreed that those accused of or admitting to being a Christian would be punished if they would not disavow Christ and choose a Roman god to worship.
Christians who complied with the emperor’s demands were set free. Those who did not were killed. Ignatius had refused to recant his faith in Christ. He was sentenced to die for his faith, and some of the Christians in Rome had a plan to save him. He was pleading with them to let him die for Christ.
Believers often speak of being convicted by a sermon or a particular scripture. I have certainly felt that way, but there is convicted and then CONVICTED. Given the world in which we live today, I have wondered if I would give my life for my faith. Would I have the faith to claim I was a Christian if someone was threatening to kill me if I did not disavow Christ? Heck, given the way things are going, would I even have the faith to keep going to church if persecution here ever becomes as bad as it is in some other countries?
I know I can face the possibility of being killed. I was a police officer for many years. As a police officer I knew there was the possibility I would go to work one day and not make it home. I knew I might be asked to risk my life to save someone, prevent a crime or for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was a risk I thought I was willing to take, and I came close to serious injury or death on more than one occasion.
This was something different. I never faced a situation where death was a certainty unless someone intervened. If I had, I find it hard to imagine that I would tell my potential saviors to stand down. I can only imagine the strength, faith and love of God one must have to write a letter such as the one Saint Ignatius wrote.
I have prayed to God that I would have the courage to do whatever He calls me to do. I know it is possible He would call me to do something that might place me in danger. As I write this and you read it, missionaries are working in countries where they would be killed or imprisoned if their efforts came to the attention of the wrong people. Even they are not faced with the situation Ignatius faced.
I never thought to ask God if there was anything worse than facing the possibility of death because of my faith in Him. Now, I don’t need to. He gave me the answer.
- For the record, I am not stupid. The book is not laid out in a reader friendly manner. Sections will start in the middle of a page, and articles are haphazardly arranged within the sections.
© S. E. Jackson – 2016