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The Gift of a Listening Heart

April 22, 2012

Sermon:  The Gift of a Listening Heart
Text:  I Kings 3:5-15


Our text for today’s message, “The Gift of a Listening Heart,” is I Kings 3:5-15.  I would ask you to keep your Bible open to this Old Testament book because we will look at some additional passages in the course of the sermon.  Hear now the Word of God.

5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

7 “Now, LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

He returned to Jerusalem, stood before the ark of the Lord’s covenant and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then he gave a feast for all his court.

This is the Word of God for the people of God.

Two weeks ago on Easter Sunday, we completed a series of sermons entitled Questions Jesus Asks Us.  Last week we had a mission sermon, and next week is Children’s Sunday.  I knew at the beginning of the week that we would have a stand-alone sermon this morning but wondered what I should preach.

During the Children’s Sermon last week, Carrie challenged the children, as she always does, to listen to the voice of God.  Many of you will remember that one little boy said, “Boy!  That is really hard.”  I do not believe I have ever seen Carrie fall absolutely silent, but she did last Sunday.  The little boy had the last word.  Listening to the voice of God is hard.

Sunday night after our discipleship training service, a dear lady in the church asked me if I had read the recent May edition of Reader’s Digest.

When I answered that I did not believe it had come to our house yet, she informed me, “A reprint of an article from 1955 is included.  You need to read it.”

Our Reader’s Digest had not been delivered yet, so I looked on the internet and found the fascinating story the member had recommended.  The author, Jerome Weidman, had written an article in the magazine’s series called “The Most Unforgettable Character I Ever Met.”  Weidman described the time he attended a dinner at a large downtown Manhattan apartment.  After a wonderful meal the guests moved into a large drawing room, which contained many musical instruments.  He realized that he and the others were going to hear a chamber concert.  Weidman said that he sat there, trying to look interested, but he actually hated classical music.  Following the first selection he realized that the others around him were applauding, so he also applauded.

The man sitting next to him leaned over and asked, “Do you enjoy Bach?”

When Weidman turned around he was looking into the face of Professor Albert Einstein.  He thought How do I lie to Albert Einstein? but said, “Dr. Einstein, to be honest with you, I know nothing about Bach, and I do not like this kind of music.  I am absolutely tone deaf.”

With a concerned look on his face, Dr. Einstein directed, “Come with me.”

Weidman and Einstein went upstairs to a small study where a phonograph player rested in the corner.  Shuffling through some albums, Einstein asked, “What kind of music do you enjoy?”

Remember that this encounter occurred in 1955.  Weidman answered, “Bing Crosby.”

Dr. Einstein placed a Bing Crosby record on the player.  After a few bars, he turned off the record player and said, “Now sing that.”

Weidman hesitated, “I’m tone deaf, but I can sing that,” which he proceeded to do.

Then Einstein played a portion of another Bing Crosby song and again instructed, “Now sing that.”  Weidman sang.

A third time Einstein played a portion of a recording, this time from an opera by Caruso.

Then Einstein told Weidman to sing what he had heard and began waving his pipe in the air as if he were directing the music.

Though Weidman repeated that he was tone deaf, he did try to sing the portion of the opera he had heard.

Dr. Einstein announced, “Now, you are ready for Bach.”

Weidman confessed that the hostess was a little perturbed that he had taken Dr. Einstein away from the performance.  Once they returned to the concert, he heard “Sheep May Safely Graze.”  Weidman also confessed that from that day forward, every time he hears the piece, he thinks of the night Dr. Einstein taught him how to listen.

Every parent and every school teacher know that children must be taught how to listen, how to pay attention.

Our home was filled with children and grandchildren this past weekend.  I can now say that I finally understand why guppies eat their young.  Some of you clearly understand.  Grandchildren are a wonderful blessing.  One of the reasons that grandchildren and grandparents get along so well is because they have a common enemy.

The phrase – loco parentis – means that sometimes grandparents have to act in the place of parents. Grandparents need to keep quiet about matters that involve discipline when the parents are present.  It is really interesting to watch my children trying to discipline their children, my grandchildren.  It is fascinating to watch our children experiencing all that Clare and I went through in trying to get them to learn to listen, to pay attention, to obey.  In some ways, our children deserve what they are now getting.

We live in a culture where attention deficit disorder has become the flavor of the month or the flavor of the decade of childhood problems.  The truth is that many of us suffer from attention deficit disorder.  Many of the older population have never learned to pay attention.

How do we learn to listen to the voice of God?

You might ask me, “Kirk, why did you select this prayer of Solomon?”  Solomon admitted that he was like a little child.  He prayed that God would give him a discerning heart, a heart of wisdom, an understanding heart.  If you look at the Hebrew language, Solomon really asked for a heart that was trained to listen.  He prayed for the gift of a listening heart.  If we are going to hear the voice of God, we must have a listening heart.  So many are hard-of-hearing.  So many more of us are hard-of-listening.  Barriers often prevent us from listening.

Moses wandered in the wilderness of Midian for forty years, leading sheep.  Who knew that this wandering was basic training for leading the people of Israel through the wilderness?  One day Moses saw a bush that was burning but not consumed.  He turned aside, and the bush spoke to him, “Moses, take off your sandals.  You are standing on holy ground.”  Maybe from curiosity or maybe from compulsion, he walked to the bush and listened.  Eighty years old at the time, Moses thought his life was at a dead-end.

God, however, had other plans:  “Listen.  I am not through with you.  I need you to do something, and you are exactly the right one to do it.  For the first forty years of your life, you had a silver spoon in your mouth while living in Pharaoh’s household.  During the last forty years you have been wandering around in the wilderness leading sheep.  I have you right where I want you.  You are ready now to return to Pharaoh.  You are going to lead my people.”

Moses did not like what he heard.  Many people, like Moses, think that somewhere a statute of limitations states that when we get to be a certain age we do not have to listen to God anymore.  Not so.  Moses offered all kinds of excuses about why he could not do as God directed.  One excuse Moses gave was that he had halting speech.  He stuttered.

Early in my ministry, I counseled with a fellow who had a bad stuttering problem.  Impatient and wanting to help him communicate, I found myself rushing ahead and completing his sentences.  Terribly frustrated with me, he said in that stammering voice, “Dr. Kirk, you are doing a very unsanitary thing.  You are putting words in my mouth.”

Moses tried to use the excuse that he had a halting speech, but God would have none of it.  God said, “Moses, this is what I expect of you.  Take Aaron with you.  He can do the talking.”

Moses listened and obeyed.

Four hundred prophets of Baal were defeated by the hand of God when Elijah hosted a great contest on the top of Mount Carmel.  Elijah proved that God, not these prophets, was the one true God.  Elijah won the victory fairly, but a grand rascal named Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, decided to get even with Elijah.  Learning of their evil plot, Elijah ran for his life down through the Jezreel Valley and finally hid in a cave on the holy mountain Horeb, or Sinai as it is also named.  On this very mountain Moses had received the Ten Commandments.

While on the mountain, Elijah experienced an earthquake with the whole mountain shaking.  A strong wind and fire followed.  The Bible says that God was not in any of those forces of nature.  Instead, God came to Elijah in a still, small voice, in a gentle whisper, and asked, “Elijah, what are you doing here?”

Discouraged, Elijah complained to God, “I am the only prophet left.”

God called Elijah out of the cave and said, “That is not so.  Seven thousand prophets have not bent a knee to Baal.”

When Elijah answered that he had given up, God countered, “No, I am not through with you.  You have more work to do.”

Elijah listened and obeyed.

Sometimes our own agenda, our own plan, interferes with our listening to God.

Solomon prayed that God would give him a discerning heart, a listening heart, and God granted that request.  I Kings 4:29-34:

29 God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore. 30 Solomon’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the people of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. 31 He was wiser than anyone else…And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. 32 He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. 33 He spoke about plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also spoke about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. 34 From all nations people came to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.

Consider I Kings 10:23-24:  “King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.  The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God put in his heart.”

Solomon gave God credit for this wisdom:  “It is the fear of the LORD that is the beginning of wisdom.  It is reverence for God” (Proverbs 9:10).  Solomon said, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge the LORD, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Then something happened, and the wheels absolutely fell off for Solomon.  Look at I Kings 11:1-6:

1 King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the Lord had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love. He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray. As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been. He followed Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. So Solomon did evilin the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done.

It does not take a rocket scientist to see that Solomon was in trouble.  With  a thousand women under one roof, he had real problems.  He had bitten off a lot more than he could chew.  On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh, the detestable god of Moabites, and for Molech, the detestable god of the Ammonites.  He did the same for his many foreign wives who burned incense and offered sacrifices to their gods.  The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from Him.  That listening heart, that heart tuned to listen to God, no longer listened, no longer paid attention, no longer obeyed.  Solomon’s failure to listen to God was his undoing.

Our failure to listen to God can also be our undoing.  We learn to hear His voice.  We learn to listen to the Lord, but somewhere along the line we think that we have done enough.  We think we age out, so we quit listening and create our own plan.

If you want to see the perfect example of someone who has a listening heart, look at three characteristics of Jesus.  First, Jesus has the heart for the his God, and God gave Jesus incredible affirmation.  At Jesus’ baptism God asserted, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17).  At the transfiguration, God again said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him!” (Mark 9:7).  God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, feel the same way about you.  You are a beloved child.

Could God bless a child like Solomon, the child of David and Bathsheba?  Absolutely.  God loves every child, and He wants you to know that He loves you.  I want my grandchildren to know that I love them.  When grandchildren come into the world, we immediately tell them that we love them.  Once they get a little mileage on them, once they begin toddling, we say, “We love you, but we want you to know that we expect some things from you.”  We want them to trust and obey.  There is no other way.  Children have to be taught.  God wants us to know that He loves us, but He also wants us to know that He has some expectations.

Second, Jesus knew the importance of having some solitude, some time alone with God.  The Scriptures say that he often went away by himself to the mountains where he spent time alone with God.  If the Lord Jesus needed that, we also need that kind of time.  I know you are busy.  Make an appointment with the Lord.  Spend time with him.  Let a big portion of that time be silence.  Noise interferes with our ability to listen to the Lord.  It is not just the noise of the radio, the computer, the television, or the world around us.  The noise that interferes most is the noise of our own hearts.  Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God.”  If we are going to listen to God’s voice, we have to fall silent and to pay attention.

Dr. Carlyle Marney, one of my mentors, told me, “Kirk, God will not say anything new to you until you listen to what He has already said.”  Then he held up his Bible and said, “This book is the Word of the Lord.  Pay attention to what He has already told you in here.  Start here if you expect to hear the voice of God.”

I have discovered that God never contradicts Himself.  He never contradicts what He has already said in the Bible.  Learning to listen to His voice and the words of Scripture is so important during our time of solitude.

Third, Jesus learned to listen.  He knew how to listen, but sometimes he did not like what he heard.  Listen to his prayer in an olive grove, in a place called Gethsemane:  “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Mark 14:36).  Jesus did not want to hear God’s answer of “No,” but God had another plan.  Jesus added to his prayer, “Yet not my will but Thine be done.”

Jesus listened and obeyed.

If we are going to listen to the voice of God, we need to listen to the affirmation.  We need to take the time to turn aside and pay attention.  Sooner or later we must surrender.  If your heart is tuned to listen to God, you will know you cannot lean to your own understanding.  With all his hardheadedness, Moses understood.  With all his discouragement, Elijah learned.  Sadly, Solomon’s failure to remember was his undoing.  God wants us to know how much He loves us.  He wants us to take time to be with him, and He wants us to surrender.

Are you listening to the voice of God?  Are you paying attention?  Have you surrendered?  You may not want to hear God’s words every time, but you must follow His way every time.  I know that He has worked in some of your hearts.  If you have never made the decision to accept Christ as Savior, I invite you to make that life-changing decision this morning.  Others of you here know that God wants you to make another decision.  You know what God is leading you to do.  On His behalf, I extend this invitation to you.  Respond as God leads.

Kirk H. Neely
© April 2012

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