There are two directives here, one of which may surprise. In this the 11th of thirty wise sayings grouped together in Proverbs 22:17–24:22 we are told;
1) Apply your heart to instruction.
2) Apply your ear to words of knowledge
This at first can be surprising because in our age of information, content and knowledge. One might expect it to say “apply our mind to instruction” but it doesn’t. Why?
One of the themes throughout Scripture concerning who we are and how we’re made by God, is that the heart is the centre of our being not our minds. I speaking of the heart Scripture here is not merely taking about your and my “blood pump”.
The heart is spoken of in Scripture as the center of the physical, mental, moral and spiritual life. The heart is the place of the will, of motive, conscience and it is the spring from which life or death flows. Elsewhere in Proverbs 4:23 Scripture declares that the heart is the wellspring/fountain of life.
In the fall, men and women’s hearts were corrupted and so because the heart is at the root of the problem, this is the place where God does His work in the individual and so salvation is rooted in heart transformation so that we believe with our hearts, and as a result are declared justified by God and therefore are saved! (Romans 10:10)
So, the heart is of primary importance, and this is why this saying tells us to apply our hearts to instruction. But what does that look like?
How can I apply my heart to instruction?
First we need to use our ears, open them, we need to listen. Listening to words of knowledge in itself is a heart lead action. In order to hear properly we need to humble ourselves, not be proud or arrogant or unteachable but actively give our ears to knowledge being shared with us.
Then, having heard we need to apply our hearts to what we have heard. I think the best way to do this is to train ourselves to become ‘self-aware’ – to learn to identify how we are feeling, thinking, reacting and why so?
We need to ask questions that go beyond content, what have I received? What have I felt God say to me? What reactions have I had and why?
Applying our hearts to instruction will help us to hear what God is saying to us which allows us to then discern, to obey and to be shaped by what we’ve heard.
Are you like me? Sometimes thinking; “If only God could speak to me audibly, then I’d follow or obey!” But then I read the account in Luke leading up to Jesus’ birth and I realize that’s probably not true. I am not sure about you but I sadly tend to give myself more credit than I should – assume I’d have more faith would be more obedient than is the case in reality.
Luke 1 is an account of ordinary people with very ordinary responses to an extra-ordinary God and His dealings with us.
In Luke 1 we read about a guy called Zechariah, he is one of the priests in the temple, he is advanced in years and he and his wife have not been able to have children up to this point. One day while serving God in the temple the angel Gabriel appears to him in response to his prayers.
I identify with Zechariah maybe more than some might as you could say that like me, Zechariah was “in the ministry”. So he should be a man of faith, prayer, should expect God to answer prayer, to be present when we seek Him…
But that is not the case in Luke 1. Zechariah is serving God in the temple, there are a multitude of people are outside praying, he is making sacrifices to God – which is all good. But then God does something! God actually shows up. God shows up in His temple of all places, in response to the prayers of a His people, of all things!
Zechariah is flawed, shocked, even “troubled” Scripture says. He clearly was not expecting this manifestation of the presence of God.
I am slow to criticize Zechariah though, because I see myself in him. Maybe you are like me, often no different from Zechariah? I know that I can easily slip into “low expectation mode” – and I have to fight it off. I pray for healing but do I actually anticipate God responding and healing, I along with others pray for His presence in our meetings every week but would we be shocked if He sent an angel to represent Himself?
Although I have never served in the temple like, Zechariah I do spend my days ministering to God’s people. There are many times that I have prayed for people and they have sadly not been healed but there have been quite a few times that I have prayed for people and they have been healed. And in those moments my response often has been similar to that of Zechariah’s, I have been surprised, even doubtful in the moment of this other persons rejoicing of pain that is gone…!
I wish it were not so but it often has been.
Or we will be driving home from a Sunday meeting where God was tangibly present in some way, and while reflecting on the morning yes we are grateful but sometimes I catch myself in conversation together with Nadine and there is a hint of surprise in the conversation, “wow that was unexpected”, even though what we had just witnessed is what we pray for weekly…!
Are you like me? Like Zechariah?
Have you ever thought, “I will believe if God speaks to me audibly”?
Reading Zechariah makes me wonder whether we will in fact believe in those moments. Zechariah is in the temple, people are praying, an angel of a God appears and makes some monumental and good promises to him and his response is to be terrified, his response is unbelief and a request for more confirmation please.
“And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”
“How can I trust you?” – that is essentially what he asks. “How can I believe you?”
Here we have the extra-ordinary (Zechariah is speaking to an angel of God) and a very ordinary response (How can I believe?). We know that Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth had not been able up to this point to have children, we know that Elizabeth was considered barren, so we can empathize with the struggle for faith but Zechariah is speaking to the angel Gabriel after all.
Will we believe even when faced with the extra-ordinary and God speaks to us audibly with a visible manifestation of His glory?
The good news is that a God is very patient and gracious in His dealings with guys like Zechariah, yourself and myself. God could have changed His mind, chosen someone else who was “performing” better, had more faith than Zechariah – but God didn’t!
God is so gracious and forbearing, His work in our lives is always by grace, never by our works our good effort. In my 30+ years of following Jesus, I have had so many “Zechariah moments”, even in the past 11 years of serving God as a pastor, I have still had and still will have so many “Zechariah moments”, but my Father is gracious, He is patient and He loves me very much even though I and my faith are so ordinary.
And for that I am so grateful.
Having said that, my Father and your Father does want us to believe, He does want us to have expectation and faith in Him and for His in-breaking power, and faith is always better than unbelief or just low expectations…
After all, Zechariah’s stumbling faith did cause him to loose his voice for nearly a year! Our unbelief does have consequences, but this is the amazing thing…
God used even that unbelief for a His good plans. God doesn’t waste anything, uses all things to work all things according to His good plans and purposes for us.
I can’t say for sure, but I have a feeling that Zechariah being mute all those months probably ended up being used by God to prepare people for the extraordinary work God was going to do through John in preparation for Jesus Himself. Word would have gotten out about Gabriel’s appearance, even if it was the genesis moment for a game we now call Pictionary. Word would have spread of Zechariah’s being struck mute and sudden burgeoning art career as he tried to communicate with Elizabeth and others about what happened to him and what had been promised. And once John was born to this couple who were previously barren, and Zechariah could speak I have no doubt that his account and his experience prepared the hearts of people for what was going to be an extra-ordinary ministry.
So God can and does use all things for His purposes, even our unbelief, our very ordinary faith. God is so good and gracious, He does not waste anything and can even use our weak faith and low expectations, our being so ordinary to work in extra-ordinary ways to fulfill His amazing purposes for us and for His glory through simple ordinary people like you and I.
I identify with Zechariah, do you? In his story I see the ordinary of my life and the extra-ordinary of God colliding and I am encouraged that God is not shy of ordinary people like me, God is not limited by our weak faith, God is not impatient with us but works through us to bless us and to use us in His amazing purposes, to bring glory to His Son, Jesus.
If one wants to hear “well done” on That Day we need to hear God today – so that we can obey.
If my children don’t hear me they can’t obey what I have asked of them.
Yet many, including myself, will testify that at times they battle to hear God’s voice.
Just the other day I sat with a man in my offfice who needed to hear God for a workplace decision, last weekend good friends needed to hear God’s guiding voice again to make a decision about their future and that of the church, just today a young woman I know asked for prayer that she’d be able to hear from God and that He would guide me in the direction He wants me…
And yet in John 10 Jesus has an expectation that those who are His will not only hear His voice but will know it, recognise it as His.
John 10:3-4 & 27 ESV
…The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (4) When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice…(27)My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
So what do we do when our experience doesn’t line up with the clear reading & interpretation of Scripture?
Two options present themselves:
1) Alter our interpretation of Scripture to fit our experience or
2) Believe Scripture and so pray for our experience to change.
God does speak, I believe He’s speaking all the time, so why not start today by deciding in your heart that you are desiring to hear God your Father so that you can obey, why not start praying daily that you’d recognise His voice.
God speaks in many varied ways (creation, Scripture, other people, a peace or unease in our spirit or conscience, through something that happens or something we experience, through something written, sung, painted…) how exciting to go into every day with a sense of anticipation knowing your Father is speaking, you just need to discover & discern His voice!
Do you find your default, when you think you might have heard God, is to disbelieve that it was God?
If you believe God your Father wants to speak to you in everyday life, why not decide now to err on the side of belief rather than unbelief. Next time you feel like God’s speaking, why not believe that He is?
Hearing God, is essential for daily living, we need to get out of the bad habit of only seeking God, trying to hear God when facing big life decisions. If developed a practice of hearing God in the daily little things, we’d surely find it easier to recognise and therefore hear God’s voice in the big moments of life.
Join me in this adventure of hearing God & obeying what He says, not doing more than He told us to, not doing less but obeying quickly.
Imagine that life… It’s your inheritance as the child of God.