How well do we listen to God?

Read: 2 Kings 4, 1-37
Elisha and the Widow’s Oil
Now the wife of a member of the company of prophets cried to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead; and you know that your servant feared the Lord, but a creditor has come to take my two children as slaves.” Elisha said to her, “What shall I do for you? Tell me, what do you have in the house?” She answered, “Your servant has nothing in the house, except a jar of oil.” He said, “Go outside, borrow vessels from all your neighbors, empty vessels and not just a few. Then go in, and shut the door behind you and your children, and start pouring into all these vessels; when each is full, set it aside.” So she left him and shut the door behind her and her children; they kept bringing vessels to her, and she kept pouring. When the vessels were full, she said to her son, “Bring me another vessel.” But he said to her, “There are no more.” Then the oil stopped flowing. She came and told the man of God, and he said, “Go sell the oil and pay your debts, and you and your children can live on the rest.”

Elisha Raises the Shunammite’s Son
One day Elisha was passing through Shunem, where a wealthy woman lived, who urged him to have a meal. So whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for a meal. She said to her husband, “Look, I am sure that this man who regularly passes our way is a holy man of God. Let us make a small roof chamber with walls, and put there for him a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp, so that he can stay there whenever he comes to us.”

One day when he came there, he went up to the chamber and lay down there. He said to his servant Gehazi, “Call the Shunammite woman.” When he had called her, she stood before him. He said to him, “Say to her, Since you have taken all this trouble for us, what may be done for you? Would you have a word spoken on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?” She answered, “I live among my own people.” He said, “What then may be done for her?” Gehazi answered, “Well, she has no son, and her husband is old.” He said, “Call her.” When he had called her, she stood at the door. He said, “At this season, in due time, you shall embrace a son.” She replied, “No, my lord, O man of God; do not deceive your servant.”

The woman conceived and bore a son at that season, in due time, as Elisha had declared to her.

When the child was older, he went out one day to his father among the reapers. He complained to his father, “Oh, my head, my head!” The father said to his servant, “Carry him to his mother.” He carried him and brought him to his mother; the child sat on her lap until noon, and he died. She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, closed the door on him, and left. Then she called to her husband, and said, “Send me one of the servants and one of the donkeys, so that I may quickly go to the man of God and come back again.” He said, “Why go to him today? It is neither new moon nor sabbath.” She said, “It will be all right.” Then she saddled the donkey and said to her servant, “Urge the animal on; do not hold back for me unless I tell you.” So she set out, and came to the man of God at Mount Carmel.

When the man of God saw her coming, he said to Gehazi his servant, “Look, there is the Shunammite woman; run at once to meet her, and say to her, Are you all right? Is your husband all right? Is the child all right?” She answered, “It is all right.” When she came to the man of God at the mountain, she caught hold of his feet. Gehazi approached to push her away. But the man of God said, “Let her alone, for she is in bitter distress; the Lord has hidden it from me and has not told me.” Then she said, “Did I ask my lord for a son? Did I not say, Do not mislead me?” He said to Gehazi, “Gird up your loins, and take my staff in your hand, and go. If you meet anyone, give no greeting, and if anyone greets you, do not answer; and lay my staff on the face of the child.” Then the mother of the child said, “As the Lord lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave without you.” So he rose up and followed her. Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the face of the child, but there was no sound or sign of life. He came back to meet him and told him, “The child has not awakened.”

When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and closed the door on the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. Then he got up on the bed and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and while he lay bent over him, the flesh of the child became warm. He got down, walked once to and fro in the room, then got up again and bent over him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. Elisha summoned Gehazi and said, “Call the Shunammite woman.” So he called her. When she came to him, he said, “Take your son.” She came and fell at his feet, bowing to the ground; then she took her son and left.

2 Kings 4, 1-37

Read: Act 16, 1-15
Timothy Joins Paul and Silas
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went from town to town, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in numbers daily.

Paul’s Vision of the Man of Macedonia
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.

The Conversion of Lydia
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

Act 16, 1-15

How well do we listen to God? Do we listen when what he says fits in with our own longings? Do we listen when we think what we hear Is what we think is right? Do we listen just when its convenient – or do we even bother to listen?

When we pray, most of us spend most of the time telling God all the problems he already knows more about than we do, and more than often we continue by suggesting how we’d like to see them fixed.

We all know what it’s like when someone is talking to us and doesn’t give us space to join in and create a conversation. I just wonder sometimes how God feels when it appears that so many people don’t want to hear from him what is actually the greatest wisdom and truth we could ever want.

There’s some interesting examples of how people did and didn’t listen to God in both the readings given above.

The wealthy woman in the reading from Kings was clearly aware of God’s nudges when she recognised that Elisha was a holy man of God. She even acted on her belief and provided generous hospitality whenever he came by.

However, when Elisha promised that God would give her a much-wanted son, she, like Sarai Abram’s wife, before her, couldn’t or wouldn’t believe in what God was promising to her. She effectively boxed God’s power within the limitations of her human understanding – only to be shown by God her how amazing his love is.

The tables turn again when her beloved son died and she urgently sent for Elisha, the man of God. At this point her emotions and beliefs are in turmoil. There is something about her resting her son on the holy man’s bed, which obviously meant something to her, then in natural anger at her grief she takes it out on Elisha that the son God gave has now been taken away from her. Yet she still clings to Elisha as they travel back to her home and her recognition of Elisha as a holy man of God
comes full circle as she bows before him as her son regains his life.

Just like us, this woman did recognise God’s voice in her life, but she also let her own beliefs and fears come in the way of having an ongoing conversation with God in the events of her daily life.

In the reading from Acts, Paul, as we might expect, listens closely to God and obeys. First, he changes his plans to visit Bithynia when he is nudged by the Holy Spirit not to go there. Then God speaks to him through a vision – God has many ways of speaking to us if we will only be aware of his promptings.

As a result of Paul’s immediate obedience in changing track and visiting Macedonia, he was led to meet a certain woman called Lydia which led to her entire family being baptised in Jesus’ name.

And on this occasion, we’re told that God opened her heart to listen to Paul’s words through which God was calling her to believe in him.

So, while we might think “well, Paul was a strong leader with a strong faith, no wonder he found it easy to listen to God’, what is really interesting here is that we have a woman, for the second time in our readings tonight, being shown to hear and respond to God, and by coincidence both offering hospitality to men of God.

The Bible was written by patriarchal writers, and although women are mentioned, generally their role is far less predominant than that of men. When women are mentioned, they tend to be shown as decisive and capable – as indeed they were, as they had control over large households including extended families.

That aside, it is clear that God speaks to everyone will hear him. Jesus said:

Everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened… If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him.”

Matthew 7 v7

And he taught us to pray: “give us this day our daily bread”.

God gives to us, and we are often amazed by his outrageous blessings in our lives. He blesses us with everything from the God-incidences the coincidences which can only have come from him to the unbelievable which is outside our human understanding.

Our God loves us more than we can possibly imagine, and he wants to talk to us just as we want to talk with the people we really love. Just think how our lives would change if we stopped to listen when he’s trying to get a word in edgeways as our thoughts and words overtake each other in prayer.

A colleague of mine put into words what is often accepted as the norm: that it takes 3 days on a silent retreat to let go of our own ramblings and make space to hear God speaking. Few of us get 3 days or more, let alone one, for that luxury, but maybe we could become more aware in our daily lives of when God is trying to get through to us and give him a chance to bring about good things in our lives.

If the wealthy woman hadn’t responded to that first call and welcomed Elisha into her home, she would neither have had a son in the first place or seen him subsequently recover at God’s hand.

If Paul hadn’t responded to the Holy Spirit and his vision, Lydia and her whole household would not have heard the gospel message of Jesus and been baptised.

In our busy world, too much of our listening to God can come over much as an out of tune radio station, like an unclear static sound that we just tune out. It’s only by allowing ourselves to tune into God that we can set aside our own longings, prejudices, beliefs and limitations, and allow him to work wonders in our lives and in the lives of those around us. A challenge indeed, but I believe a worthwhile one.

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