The God Who Hears

God hears.  God: transcendent, all-mighty, all-knowing, ever-living, ever-present, unchanging, so different from us.  Yet this same big God is immanent, relational, approachable, and actively involved in our everyday lives – he knows your voice and listens to you.  God hears you.

Hagar and Ismael seeking water (Hermine F. Schäfer, 1964)
Hagar and Ismael seeking water (Hermine F. Schäfer, 1964)

Most of the Old Testament accounts have as basis “the people cried out in their suffering… God heard their cries” and then God saved them.  One such account is of Hagar, the servant of Abraham’s wife Sarah.  Since Sarah was barren she offered Hagar to bear a child for Abraham, but afterwards became resentful and mistreated Hagar.  The servant fled but was met by God who said “Return to your mistress… name the child Ishmael (meaning ‘God hears’) because the Lord has listened to your affliction” (Genesis 16:11).  Years later Sarah had a son and the jealous contention drove Sarah to send the servant and her son away.  Hagar and Ishmael ran out of water; she put the child to rest under a shrub and sat some distance away, not being able to watch her child die of thirst.  The Bible records God heard the voice of the boy” (Genesis 21:17) and saved them from their immanent death by providing a well.

God hears and saves.  God saved the the Hebrews slaves from Egyptian slavery and oppression because he heard them – “When we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent the Angel and brought us up out of Egypt…” (Numbers 20:16).  Years later in their Promised Land they forgot God and repeatedly fell subject to foreign domination, but “when the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer” (Judges 3:9) “for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning” (Judges 2:18).   More than ten times in the book of Judges the phrase “cried out” occurs in this book, and then God hears, has pity and sends a deliverer such as Gideon, Samson, Deborah, etc.  The people cry out, God hears and God saves.

In the psalms God is revered as “You Who hear prayer” (Psalm 65:2), and he invites his people to call on Me in the day of trouble; and I will rescue you…” (Psalm 50:15; cf Ps 91:15).  Many of the psalms were written in celebration of God’s answer to their prayers, with a familiar refrain in these songs “then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses” of Psalm 107.  A few sample texts will illustrate:

Psalms 40:1-3  “I waited patiently for the LORD; And He inclined to me, And heard my cry.  He also brought me up out of a horrible pit, Out of the miry clay, And set my feet upon a rock, And established my steps.  He has put a new song in my mouth– Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.”

Psalms 18:6-16  “In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His  temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; The foundations of the hills also quaked and were shaken… He sent from above, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.”

Psalms 66:17-20  “I cried to Him with my mouth… certainly God has heard me; He has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, Who has not turned away my prayer, Nor His mercy from me!”

The psalmists sing that God hears and heals (30:2), he hears and saves from distress (18:6), shame and entrapment (31:22), from troubles (34:6), from “miry clay” (40:1-3).  God answers by giving strength and courage (138:3).  Certainly, “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him” (Psalm 145:18), therefore one should Wait for the LORD, and He will save you” (Proverbs 20:22; compare Psalm 27:14).

Much of the history books retell the intervention and deliverance from God who hears and responds to the cries of his people.  He intervened when soldiers cried out to him from the battle ground (2 Chronicles 13:14-16; 14:10-14; 20:1-28).  When Elijah “cried out to the LORD” to resurrect a widow’s son, “the LORD heard the voice of Elijah; and the soul of the child came back to him, and he revived.” (1 Kings 17:22).  When king Hezekiah was sick and dying, Isaiah “cried out to the Lord” for his healing and God responded with a sign – the sun moved back 15 degrees on the sun dial (2 Kings 20:5, 11).  Even when Solomon consecrated the temple God made this well-known promise: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).  Therefore Hosea, years later, called unfaithful Israel to repentance saying “take words with you” (Hosea 14:2) with this promise from God I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely (v4).   God hears and responds to the prayers of his people.

God saved the sailors in the boat Jonah traveled in.
God saved the sailors in the boat Jonah traveled in.

But God does not only hear the prayers of the righteous or of the Jews – the promise is that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Joel 2:32 quoted in Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13).  God hears everyone.  The Old Testament book of Jonah reveals this truth as God saved the pagan fishermen from drowning because they called on him (Jonah 1:14), the rebellious prophet from drowning by sending a big fish (Jonah 2:2), as well as the inhabitants of Nineveh from impending judgment because they repented in fasting (Jonah 3:4-10).  God is merciful – he saves all who call on him.

The Bible clearly shows that God hears and saves all who calls on him.  How does this truth change our lives?

1. Secure in God’s intimate awareness

Firstly, I rest in the knowledge that God is intimately aware of me and hears my prayers as he heard Jesus’ desperate cries (Hebrews 5:7).  But God hears more than our prayers.  In Hagar’s account we see the Lord is a God who listened to the unjust treatment of the pregnant servant girl as well as a God who hears the cries of a thirsty boy and provides an outcome (Genesis 16:11, 21:17).  He is a God who took note of the Egyptians’ oppression of the Hebrew slaves and heard their groaning (Exodus 2:23-25) and their cries (Exodus 3:16).  The Lord took note of Leah’s desperate desire to be loved and have children and gave her first two sons: Reuben (literally “the Lord sees”) and Simeon (literally “the Lord hears”) (Genesis 29:32-33).

God listens to the conversations (and complaints!) of his  righteous people.
God listens to the conversations (and complaints!) of his righteous people.

God also takes note of conversations among each other: he listens when the righteous talk to one another (Malachi 3:16) and he God records it in a book, but also hears complaints and murmuring (Numbers 11:1, 12:2).  In another incident we read that God heard the threats of the Syrian military commander against Israel and responded by saving his people (2 Kings 19:6-8).  God is near; he hears and responds.

 2. You have not because you ask not

Secondly, I am aware that God ordained our relationship with him in such a way that he gives us what we ask in prayer.  Jesus taught us “ask, and you will receive!” (Matthew 7:7).  He taught us to ask for everything, from your daily bread and forgiveness (Matthew 6:8-10) to peace of for your city (Psalm 122:6 and Jeremiah 29:7).  Years later the apostle John wrote: This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us” (1 John 5:14).

Oliver Twist was brave enough to ask "Please sir, can I have some more...?" (Movie from book by Charles Dickens)
Oliver Twist was brave enough to ask “Please sir, can I have some more…?” (Movie from book by Charles Dickens)

God gives us what we ask.  I find that we tend to rely on our own efforts to satisfy our desires and needs, and do not ask God Our Father for these things. James wrote to a frustrated church in Jerusalem “You lust and do not have… Yet you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2).  We live life in relationship with God.  Our heavenly Father knows what we need (Matthew 6:32).  So ask – God hears you! You will receive.

3. God does not get tired of your prayers – he invites it

Sometimes we tire of asking God for the same things over and again, thinking God gets annoyed by our asking.  Yet God does not get tired of hearing our pleas – rather he encourages it.  Using two parables Jesus taught his disciples that persistence is necessary in prayer.  The first is of a man who knocks and asks for bread in the middle of the night until his friends gets up and gives him what he asks (Luke 11:5-13), and the second of a widow who pleads for intervention from a judge on behalf of her two sons until he gives justice (Luke 18:1-8).  In both teachings Jesus taught that his disciples should persist and persevere in prayer until God the Father responds in answer. Do not stop asking – God does is not worn out by your asking!

Watchmen awake at night
Watchmen awake at night

In another place God said: “I have set watchmen on your walls; all the day and all the night they shall never be silent… give him no rest until he establishes Jerusalem and makes it a praise in the earth (Isaiah 62:6-7).  Are some of your prayers unanswered?  Have you given up praying about finding a life partner, or your marriage, your financial situation or the will of God for your life?  Then you have need of endurance!  God would say to you today “Persist in prayer.  Do not stop asking!” – God hears and he will respond.

 4. Come closer

The Almighty God invites me and you to approach him with our needs and desires, to “boldly approach the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).  Do not keep silent but “let your request be known to God” (Philippians 4:6).

You can pray with the confidence that God does hear you and he will respond with compassion and power.  So close the door, switch off your phone and talk to your Father in secret who will hear and reward you openly (Matthew 6:6).  As you start praying let this last Scripture be an inspiration to talk to God Who Hears.

Isaiah 64:3-4 “you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence… for since the beginning of the world Men have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, Who acts for the one who waits for Him.”

vulcano
God responds powerfully on behalf of those who pray to him (Isaiah 64:1-4).
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It took ten plagues…

It took ten plagues for God to deliver the Hebrews out of Egypt.  I remind myself of this truth often.  Imagine with me: Moses meets God at the burning bush, takes off his shoes and falls on his face in fear of this Great I Am.  God sends him to Pharaoh to command the release of his people (he tries to get out of the job, unsuccessfully).  (See Exodus 4, 7)

Moses walks into Pharaoh’s palace (where he grew up and from where he fled some 40 years earlier) and stands face to face with the ruler of Egypt who believes he is a god; Moses’ confidence is in Aaron his spokesperson and the two wondrous signs in his hands, given by God.  “Let God’s people go!” says Moses.  As a sign that he is sent by the One True Living God, he throws his shepherd-staff on the ground and it becomes a snake.  But then the court magicians did exactly the same with their sticks – what an unexpected surprise!  The magicians could do the same sign God gave as proof of His divinity and supremacy!

When Pharaoh did not let God’s people go to worship the Lord, Moses performed the first plague by turning all the water in Egypt to blood (Exodus 7:20-21).  Yet Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and unwilling to let God’s people go.

10plagues_cartoons

We know the history.  It took nine more signs before Pharaoh let the Hebrew slaves go.  The one sign was not enough.  Two plagues could not do the job either.  Did Moses miss God when he turned the water into blood and Pharaoh did not release the slaves?  No.  Did he do something wrong that caused the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? No.  Moses had to go to Pharaoh ten time and instruct him to release the slaves ten times and call down ten plagues upon the Egyptians.  It simply took ten plagues for Israel to be delivered from Egypt – Moses needed to be persistent in obeying God.  There is a need for endurance.

This Biblical account is not unique in illustrating our need for persistence.  During Israel’s battle with the Amalekites they had the militant advantage for as long as Moses kept his hands in the air (Exodus 17:11).  Noah was persistent in obeying God to build an ark for 120 years and preach repentance to his generation, yet only his household was saved (Genesis 6:22; 2 Peter 2:5).    Abraham’s persistent faith for an heir is commended by God, so that he was called “friend of God” (Genesis 22:18; Romans 4:17).

More contemporary examples of persistence, its needs and rewards are captured in the memories and legacies of William Wilberforce who dedicated his life to the abolition of the British slave trade, and Thomas Edison for his persistence in the design of the light bulb.  Persistence pays off!

The Bible has much to teach us on a need for persistence.  It is fueled in prayer before God and results in faithful acts of obedience.

Persist in prayer

woman_kneeling_prayer

I have heard many people teach and encouraged demotivated individuals to pray once, believe and “leave it with God”?  Yet the Biblical text is full of examples and instructions regarding persistence prayer.  Jesus himself once prayed for a blind man, but afterward he could not see clearly.  So Jesus persisted in prayer and the man’s sight was fully restored (Mark 8:23-25).  He instructed and encouraged his disciples likewise to persist in prayer, saying that they always ought to pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1).  He taught them “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9).  Although less clear in the English, this instruction in petitioning, acting and persevering for a desired outcome is given, implying persistence until the desired outcome is achieved.  His own life was one of persistent, passionate prayerfulness (Hebrews 5:7; ).  The disciples followed Jesus’ example of persistent prayer and modeled it to the early church (Acts 1:14; 2:42), also instructing them to “persevere in prayer” (Ephesians 6:18), “be steadfast in prayer” (Romans 12:12) and to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Examples of persistent prayer also abound in the Old Testament.  Abraham persisted in prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:23-33).  Jacob’s persistence in wrestling with the Angel of the Lord secured him with the blessing of God and a changed identity (Genesis 32:24-31).  Moses persisted in prayer on behalf of God’s grumbling, unthankful people for forty days so that they were spared (Deuteronomy 9:25).  Hannah was shamelessly persistent in her petitions for a son, and Samuel was born (1 Samuel 1:10-12).  Likewise Zacharias’ and Elizabeth’s persistent prayers were heard, and John the Baptist was born (Luke 1:12).  Simeon persisted in prayer for Israel’s Savior and he was rewarded to lay his eyes on Jesus before his death (Luke 2:25-32).  Elijah persisted in prayer and the draught over Israel was broken (1 Kings 18:42-45).  Daniel had a disciplined prayer life (Daniel 6:10-11) and persisted in prayer for the restoration of his nation until he was heard (Daniel 9:1-3; 10:2-3, 11-12).

But persistent prayer must be accompanied by persistent faith in action.  In the Psalms and elsewhere in Scripture, “waiting on God” and “hoping in God” are typically used as synonyms for persistence in prayer and obedience while waiting for God’s intervention (e.g. Psalms 88 and 130; Isaiah 26:8 and 40:30-31).  There is a need for persisting in doing good as well.

Persist in doing good

Persistence in doing  the will of God
Persistence in doing the will of God

Jesus’ life is the perfect example of persistence in doing good (Acts 10:38), of doing the Father’s will (Matthew 26:36-45; Philippians 2:5-8).  His disciples followed his example and instructed the church to do the same, and “not grow weary of doing good” (Galatians 6:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:13) but remain “steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

Joseph’s life is an example of someone who persisted in doing good, even though he was victim to much betrayal an suffering. (Genesis 41:43, 44)  Although he suffered unjustly at the hands of his brother and as slave to Potiphar and as prisoner in jail, he persisted in doing good, and God continued to bless him, until later he was appointed as ruler in Egypt. (Genesis 39:10, 12, 23).  Because of his persistence and faith God entrusted much to him.

Nehemiah’s life is one of persistence and faithful endurance.  Amidst great resistance from without and within (Nehemiah 2:19-20), even in the face of war (Nehemiah 4:7-9), he obeyed the burden of God to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, to remove the shame of his people and to restore true worship in Israel (Nehemiah 8:1-3).  Likewise, the lives of the David, prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, and Hosea as well as the early church serve as inspiration to us of persistent faithfulness to God, suffering ridicule and rejection, imprisonment, beatings and even fatal martyrdom in faithful obedience to God.

Is there something you are “waiting” or “hoping” for in God?  Have you tried but failed, even though you did what God commanded you?  Then remember: it took ten plagues to deliver the slaves from Egypt.  Don’t give up!

So what are you trusting for?  Do you have unfulfilled dreams or unanswered prayers?  God has not forgotten you – he cannot (Isaiah 49:15).  He hears your prayers and is willing and able to intervene (Isaiah 59:1), but you have need for persistence, so pray and work until your bucket is full (Revelations 8:4-5).

Follow the example of our Biblical heroes.   Remain determined in your dream.  Do not wobble due to residence, do not yield to pressure.  Be not spineless in the face of the impossible nor waver when the wait is long.  Are you weak or battle-worn?  Then “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14; see Isaiah 40:31)

But be steadfast in your faith, tenacious in your pursuit, unshakeable on your course.  Be relentless in your prayers and unremitting in doing good.  God honors persistence!