Sermon Text for October 6, 2013"Listening to God" #81-05
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on October 6, 2013
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(How Do I Pray?)
Copyright 2013 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: Habakkuk 2:1-4
Christ is risen, He is risen indeed and He is faithful to answer all who call on His Name. Amen.
It's tough to wait on things isn't it? Well it was for Doug White one day in April, 2009. White was a passenger on a small twin-engine airplane that took off from the Marco Island, Florida airport that day. He was with his wife and two daughters as they traveled back home to Jackson, Mississippi. Their pilot took the plane to 9000 feet and notified air traffic control of its position. He completed a verbal flight checklist, but then suddenly the pilot grew silent. Doug had headphones on and was listening to the verbal exchange. He looked over at the pilot when the chatter stopped. He saw something no passenger ever wants to see: the pilot was slumped over, unresponsive. He was dead!
Trying to stay calm, Doug did the one thing he knew how to do, call for help on the radio. That was the only button he was familiar with on this plane. So, he located the button and he radioed air traffic control. Now the folks at air traffic control were shocked to hear a different voice--a voice telling them that the pilot was unconscious and that they needed help.
Doug was relieved to have made contact, but was still very much concerned. He turned to his family and he told them to pray hard. Now, he had some experience flying a small, single-engine plane, but that hardly prepared him for the larger and faster aircraft they were in. Air traffic control was scrambling to find an expert on that particular plane, the pressure was mounting, the tension growing; it was a dire situation. But the one thing that Doug would really need to do; ready, he needed to be prepared to wait, to listen to get the job done.
Wait and listen! That wasn't easy for Doug. And that's not an easy thing for you and me to do either, is it? Wait and listen? I don't know about you, but I'm a person of action, or at least I think I am. If I'm in a situation that challenges me, I do at the very least what every courageous and capable man does. I turn to my wife and say, "Honey, please help."
But seriously, when under pressure, I do like to get busy. I like to try to figure my way out of things. My mind races. I make plans. Ideas course through my brain. And, frequently, I'll jump into action.
But sometimes you can't do that. Sometimes, you just have to wait. You have to listen.
One of the air traffic controllers had a friend who was certified in the King Air type of plane that Doug and his family were in. He got him on the phone. The friend pulled out books, manuals, and a cockpit diagram. Doug waited. The King Air-expert relayed information to one air traffic controller, who in turn, handed off the instructions to the controller speaking with Doug. Doug listened. They walked Doug through disengaging the autopilot and leveling off. Then they helped him redirect his flight path toward the airport.
Doug asked plenty of questions; but, after each inquiry, Doug waited for instructions and listened very carefully. He waited, he listened because his family's lives depended on it. And so it happened on that day, Easter , patiently listening and responding, Doug White courageously brought the plane in for a safe landing at the Southwest Florida International Airport. The air traffic controllers did a magnificent job too. In the final report, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association called the incident "an Easter miracle."
Wait and listen; then act. Think about it, Doug White didn't need to come up with his own solutions as he and his family sat in that airplane. He didn't need to develop a keen imagination or brainstorm strategies about his very dire situation. He needed to listen to the people who knew how to help him, and to do what they said, trusting that they were telling him what he needed to know.
Wait and listen. There are times in life when that is the answer. You may not be flying in an airplane right now, but you might be feeling the same tension and fear for other reasons. Do you have a deep need in your life that seems unsolvable? Are you wondering where God is and if He will respond? Friend, let me assure you that you're not alone. You have an expert in your corner and people didn't have to go looking for Him to come help you. He came for you before you even called for His help. God is faithful to you. He loves you and responds to your needs. As the Bible tells us in Romans 5, "While we were weak sinners, even enemies of God, Christ died for us!"
You can wait upon God because He cares for you. You can trust in Him in all things. And you can listen to Him for answers and for help.
But you may be thinking, "It was easy for Doug White to listen to the help and guidance from air traffic controllers, but how do I listen to God? How can I hear Him during my times of trouble?"
You know, there was a man, many years ago, with an odd name who was wondering the same thing. He was an Old Testament prophet with the name Habakkuk. His name probably means "one who embraces or clings." Habakkuk had to cling to God for help during very difficult times. He wasn't flying an airplane, but life around him seemed to have no pilot, no direction, and no control. In the first chapter of the brief book of the Bible he wrote, Habakkuk raises these issues. He cries out to God:
O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4).
Habakkuk was lamenting the real condition of the world he lived in. Things were not going well. His heart was breaking as people he loved were taken advantage of by wicked leaders. His friends and countrymen were victims of violence from the people who were supposed to defend them! Widows and orphans were cast aside. The ill and needy were marginalized. Constant arguments and power struggles created havoc, instability, and uncertainty in life. Fear held hearts hostage. It was a dire time, a time much like today, wouldn't you agree?
And Habakkuk didn't sit idly by in his prayers. He wondered aloud where God was in the middle of this mess. You can hear him ask the big questions: "How long? Why? When will you come through? When will you answer, God?"
You may have asked those questions in your life. You may be asking them now. That's okay. God can handle our questions. But, too often, when we ask these questions, we really don't let God answer. Instead, we jump in with our ideas, our anxiety, our fear, or our anger. We cry out to God, but we really don't give God a chance to respond. We don't listen.
What if Doug White asked the air traffic controllers where the landing gear switch was, but, instead of waiting for their answer as they processed the information through their King Air expert, he started flipping random switches or screaming at them to hurry up? It would have been counter-productive for sure; perhaps it would have been deadly.
I don't know about you, but there have been plenty of when times I've brought God a serious issue in prayer and immediately after I said "Amen," I started to brainstorm all the possible solutions on my own.
It's easy to send many questions, complaints, and cries God's way, but it's not as easy to stop and listen. It's easy to create strategies, plans, and personal action, but it's not as easy to wait on God and let Him lead the way. In our sin we always want to take control. In our sin we always want it all right now.
And that's why the prophet reminds us.... Though it linger," he says, "wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. See, the enemy is puffed up; his desires are not upright-but the righteous person will live by his faith."
There are so many today who think that they can handle the big things in life on their own terms. But, when it comes to the big things, the basic things, abundant life and salvation, that's not the way it works at all. In fact, it's more of a wait, listen, and believe type of thing.
I wonder if you've ever heard of "Just in Time Learning". It's a method of teaching that provides exactly what the learner needs at the moment instead of providing large amounts of information that won't be used right away. It's as simple as a carpenter teaching an apprentice how to trim woodwork while they're doing it instead of having the apprentice take a class on all aspects of carpentry and then expecting him to remember the woodwork unit when they get to that point in the building of a house. Just in Time learners don't know the whole picture yet. They haven't read the "end of the book," but they are brought faithfully along the way by caring leaders.
You are God's Just in Time learner. He gives you just enough when you need it. Of course, He does promise you life everlasting and He made that a certain reality when He lived, died, and rose again for you. That's the big picture. But for each day, He gives you just what you need. You may not know what the next step is, but you do know that you are being led by a faithful and caring Savior.
With a just in time merciful Lord and a wait, listen, and believe type of attitude, we can take our lives one day at a time in grace.
So, how do you do that? How do you wait for God? How do you listen to Him? How do you take each day, one at a time, in the Lord?
The prophet Habakkuk helps us. After he asks his big questions, he said: "I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me..." (Habakkuk 2:1).
Did you catch that? Habakkuk made a commitment to watch, to look out to see how God would answer. Habakkuk became a listener. When he mentioned his watchpost, he was talking about watching for God like a sentry scans the horizon and intently looks for activity. This watching is diligent and careful. It takes time and discipline. When Habakkuk said he would look out to see what God would say to him, it indicates anticipation, waiting expectantly for God to come through because God is faithful.
That's how you listen to God. First, you get connected where He promises to speak to you and me. You listen to the Bible. Colossians urges: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Colossians ). By being in that Word you become familiar with the way God works, you grow in understanding the truth, and you allow the Holy Spirit to work in you through you in that living and active Word of God.
Second, empowered by the truth of God's Word, you take time to watch and pray. Before your own conclusions and ideas take over, God invites you, calls you to give Him time and opportunity to answer. You need to wait with your eyes wide open to see how He might respond. Sometimes it's in ways you never expect. Your job isn't to jump to conclusions or to make things happen. God even said in Psalm 46: "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalms 46:10).
Finally, listening to God means inviting the wisdom of fellow believers. Proverbs says, "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed." One reason the church, God's people on earth, exists is to help you bear your burdens in community with other graced believers, receiving together God's Word and rejoicing in that Word by serving others. Wait, pray, believe, and act; well there are a lot of people out there who know that this is true!
But, I do need to remind you that this doesn't mean you'll get all your answers right away. It doesn't even mean you'll get all your answers to your satisfaction! In this life, there are some things we may never know or understand. But even that doesn't change the truth. God hears you. He responds to you! He loves you! And even if you never know all the answers, His answer of comfort, peace, and strength in the crucified and risen Christ will always lift you up, it will always be sufficient for you in every need.
With that true, I do want to make sure that you realize God answered Habakkuk's questions! In fact, when it comes to the things that you and I really need to know, God is crystal clear! Hear what the prophet said:
The LORD answered me: "Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end-it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith" (Habakkuk 2:2-4).
Did you hear what God said? He would give Habakkuk an answer, but it may come more slowly than he wanted. He was instructed to wait for it. To wait for it. "It would surely come," God said. "It will not delay."
God isn't ignoring you. You can wait for Him. In fact, you can wait for Him in faith. God didn't say that the righteous live by sight. God didn't say that as you trust Him and believe in Him, you'll have all the answers. God said that His redeemed people live by faith. In fact, we couldn't fathom the depth of all the things that God has and is doing for us in His Son Jesus, without faith.
I know of this person who works at SeaWorld. She's a friend of a friend. She helps with overnight camp for guests. During those events, the campers get to see what goes on behind the scenes. Regular visitors to SeaWorld Parks, they watch the shows, they ride the rides, and enjoy the park atmosphere. Campers get to see how the animals are fed and cared for. They get to see animals that are not on display. They get to see all the work that goes into a great SeaWorld experience. After this young woman saw these things herself, she said, "You wouldn't believe all they do over there!"
Well, the same is true of your Savior, dear friend. There is a lot going on behind the scenes. You can live by faith in Him. God is trustworthy. After all, He did speak the most beautiful and meaningful answer to all our needs and questions. In John chapter one we hear that "The Word became flesh, dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John -15).
This is the ultimate answer of God to everything we ask. He is doing so much behind the scenes for you right now. In Jesus, He carries your burdens, embraces you with His eternal love, washes your sins away, and shows you the way into your future. The Bible even says in Romans 8 that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are interceding, praying for you right now. Wow! You can trust Him.
So let me say it as plainly as I can; yes, God is speaking to you today, dear friend. Can you hear Him? Are you listening? God's been doing that from the very beginning. So, wait, listen, and believe. And remember God's promise from Isaiah 40: "They who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not be faint" (Isaiah 40:31). Amen.