Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

August 30, 2015


The wisdom of learning to listen


          My dad used to say, “You can never learn anything while you are talking.” His point was that we learn by listening. He was right. Listening carefully is the way we learn from others – and from God.

Pride causes us to think we are smarter than others. We can even foolishly think we are smarter than God. Israel’s King David is a prime example. After building himself a fine palace David decided to build God a temple. But God had a better idea.

          David’s mistake is one we mimic all the time. He forgot to check out his ideas with God. David was talking when he should have been listening. Like David we do that too. Sometimes our motives are as questionable as David’s. We talk about doing something for the glory of God but subconsciously we are seeking glory for ourselves.

          God knows our hearts. Nothing escapes Him. God knew that David wanted to build a great temple for God so that people would say, “Look what King David did.”

          David’s friend Nathan thought at first that David’s proposal to build a temple was a good idea. But that was before he talked it over with God. Nathan did what David forgot to do; he sought God’s counsel in the matter. God then used Nathan to help David understand God’s better idea.

          God did not need a house or temple as much as he needed a man who would listen to him, a faithful man out of whose line Jesus would finally come. David thought he knew what he was doing but did not. God knew what He was doing. We know that now because generations later the Gospel of Matthew begins with these words, A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham” (1:1).

          God’s plan was for King Jesus to come from King David’s line. Despite David’s flaws God promised to make David into a house, a dynasty so great that a king of David’s lineage would be king forever. This was God’s unconditional promise, that his steadfast love would never be removed from David’s line.

          So, instead of saying “Thank you David for building me a splendid temple,” God makes this extraordinary, unconditional promise: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”  And “forever” is a long time!

          This story is a precious reminder of our worth to God. He desires to use each of us to accomplish his purposes. This dignifies our little lives and gives us a wonderful sense of worth. David would have never understood God’s purposes had he not listened to Nathan.

          Nathan took David to school. He showed him that he was not a self-made man. God made him what he was. Nathan spoke to David in language he could understand. We might paraphrase Nathan’s instruction like this:  “God told me to remind you that you would be still herding sheep had God not taken you out of that pasture and made you a king. Sure, you have defeated your enemies but not in your own strength. You won because God was with you. And about that temple you want to build for God, you can forget it. God is not going to let you do that. Instead he is going to build you into a house that will be established forever.”

           It helps to remember the kingdom principle underscored by the wisdom of listening. What matters is not what we can do for God but what God can do for us – in us and through us for his glory.

          Mother Teresa comes to mind. She was not perfect but her fame never caused her to presume she was smarter than God. She kept listening to God rather than telling God about what she wanted to do for Him. God told her to love the sick and the poor. Throughout her life she was faithful to God’s idea.

          She could have hired others to tend the sick and the poor while she toured the world speaking about poverty and suffering. She could have established the University of Mother Teresa where nurses could be trained to minister to the poor. Instead she left a remarkable picture of faithfulness.

          I love the story she told of walking down a street in Calcutta one day. Two other nuns were with her and a visitor from America. When they came upon three sick, suffering people, she cared tenderly for one who was desperately ill. Holding the dying woman in her arms, Mother Teresa tenderly wiped her face and simply loved her. With her dying breath the woman whispered, “Thank you.”

          Observing this scene, the visitor, a wealthy American woman, was so impressed that she offered to stay and help Mother Teresa. “No,” the saintly nun replied, “you go home and offer the love of Christ to the sick and the poor where you live.”

          The impact of that story on my own heart caused me to pray this prayer:

          Lord Jesus, help me not tell you what I want to do for you but listen as you tell me how to serve you. Save me from spinning my wheels in endless activities so that I miss the essential thing you want to do in me, for me, through me, for your glory. I surrender my foolish pride so you can teach me daily that your plans are always better than my own. Make me willing to get my hands dirty serving you wherever you put me. Deliver me from grandiose ideas of kingdom service and teach me to serve you in simple ways without fanfare or applause. When at last I lie down with my ancestors, grant me the peace of knowing that you used my life like you wanted to use it. Amen.   + + +