“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:22)
It is not without reason that Jesus uses this phrase at the end of each of His letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor. What was true then is true today. Not always does everyone have an ear to hear. In fact, one could say that our ears are more “open” to hear some things than they are to hear other things. We are open to hear positive and complementary things about ourselves, but when words become corrective or critical, we tend to wax defensive. And yet, Paul said that the scriptures were profitable to us for “for doctrine (teaching), for REPROOF, for CORRECTION, (and) for instruction in righteousness” so that God might perfect us for Christian service (see 2 Timothy 3:16). If we are going to grow as disciples, or simply as people, we are going to have to be willing to change, because growth is change. If we’re not willing to hear constructive criticism, that should say something to us about where we are in our willingness to grow.
God loves us like we are, but He has no intention of leaving us that way. We’ve all got some changing to do in order to become conformed to the image of Jesus, which is God’s purpose for every believer (see Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 4:15). For that to happen, He has to deal with those areas of our lives that are out of sync with His character. I once wrote, “A message is powerless to change you unless it offends your indifference, challenges your assumptions, or informs your ignorance.” I believe this is why we go to church; not merely to worship God and fellowship with others, but to grow in our walk with God so that we might become more useful to the Master. The more conformed we become to the image of Christ, the deeper the impact we can make in our culture and our society for His glory.
For God’s sanctifying process to work in our lives, we must have ears to hear, because it is through His Word that He effects this work of holiness. Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples, and by extension for us, saying, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). We all know that the truth can be hard to hear, even if it is spoken in love from a friend we trust, but in reality we are passing up wonderful opportunities to recognize the truth about ourselves in the every day way we relate to others and to life’s challenges. I have seen disgruntled employees leave their job, angry at their boss whom they swear is an unjust employer, when in reality I can’t help but wonder if the Lord would perhaps have something to say to them about their work ethic and lack of diligence. I have heard pastors who complained about the people leaving their church, declaring them to be shallow and uncommitted, when perhaps the Lord might have had something to say to him about his type-A leadership style that demanded much from his congregation but was insensitive to their commitments to work and family. We justify ourselves and vilify those who leave us, cross us, contend with us, or disagree with us, too seldom considering that the issue might be more with us than it is with them. We can shout over the voice of God, ignoring our personal responsibility to repent and change, but we will do so to our own hurt and to the weakening of the Kingdom of God.
Life is not simple, and seldom will people do what we would like them to do. Things do not always fall our way, and that, as we say, is simply how the cookie crumbles. We can either get better or bitter, grow or pout. We can rise to be the better man or stay petty and remain small and insignificant, making little or no impact for the Kingdom of Heaven in the earth. God will sometimes place you alongside difficult people, not for the purpose of changing them, but rather to change you. Character is forged in life by doing the right thing when it is the hardest thing to do, and it’s only by hearing and committing to the truth that we grow into full maturity as men and women of God. It takes a real, genuine desire to grow to be truly self-aware and objectively honest enough to admit that we ourselves are the problem and not everyone else around us.
Years ago, I sat in church as my pastor preached a message. I was in the traveling ministry back in those days and seldom had the opportunity to simply sit in a service and enjoy the Word of God. As it turned out, I wouldn’t do much “enjoying” on this day either. The message wasn’t anything particularly strong or harsh, but each of the pastor’s words were finding soft spots in my defenses. The longer I listened, the more defensive I got, even getting somewhat perturbed with my pastor, feeling he didn’t really understand my personal situation and the reasons why I was perhaps not where I should be in regard to the subject matter. Needless to say, my pastor was completely oblivious to this internal monologue, and I myself as a minister had been in that same position many times, as my messages struck a sensitive nerve in the lives of others. Sometime later, when reading the scriptures, the Lord brought this incident back to my remembrance. The passage I was reading was in the book of Hebrews where the writer says, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him, for whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives’” (Hebrews 12:5-6). As I read these words and the verses that followed, the Lord clearly reminded me of that moment and more or less said to me, “That’s what you did that day while listening to your pastor. You despised the chastening of the Lord.” As it turned out, God didn’t see that sermon as my Pastor speaking to me so much as Him speaking to me. As always, He was giving me the opportunity to see some things about myself that were robbing me of His best. Instead of embracing the opportunity to change, I dug my heels in and justified myself. The only loser in that scenario was me.
If ever there was a time for believers to strive for authenticity in their lives and their walk with God, it is now. The stakes are incredibly high for those in our culture who are blinded by lure of secularism with its aversion to truth and moral accountability. They need an authentic witness of Christ lived out before them in the lives of believers who have counted the cost, taken up their cross, and truly decided to follow Jesus. Can you hear the Master’s voice appealing to you to answer the high call of God in Christ? If you will have ears to hear you can, and the first step in answering that upward call is to commit to the truth of God’s Word that you might be changed into the image of Him who calls us.