I stand at the door and knock – if your heart is open to hear my voice
and you open the door within, I will come and feast with you”
– Revelation 3:19, 20 (amplified translation)
What is the Lord saying to you? For many of us that can be a challenging question to answer, especially in a time of turmoil, shaking, and uncertainty. When you find it difficult to hear the word of the Lord, it is a good principle to go back to the last time you heard the Lord speaking to you.
Several months before the Covid pandemic began, while I was on retreat, I was reflecting on a Scripture passage from the first letter of Peter:
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.(1 Peter 4:12-13)
And then I vividly heard the Lord say, “I am going to strip you of everything that is not of me. I will strip you so that you have nothing but me, nothing but my grace, nothing but my love, my power, and my Holy Spirit. Let me strip you and wean you from all that you rely upon for comfort, ease and consolation so that I may give you my strength, my comfort, and my consolation, and more besides.”
When various difficulties and trials began to flare up around me, and the covid pandemic began to take its toll, the Lord brought his word back to my attention: “Do not be surprised when various trials and difficulties come your way, you must keep your eyes on me, and not allow the circumstances to rob you of faith, trust, and reliance upon me. My strength will be sufficient for you. And my Spirit will be your comforter and consoler.
The Lord uses various trials and difficulties that come our way to draw us closer to himself. And he uses these same difficulties to train and discipline us when we steer from his path.
God’s living word in the Scriptures
The primary way the Lord speaks to us is through his Word in the Scriptures (also described as the Holy Bible and Sacred Scriptures) which contain both the Old and New Testament writings. The Scriptures are not a dead letter from the ancient past. It is a living word of God for all times and seasons and for all eternity as well.
“Earth and sky will be destroyed, but the words I have said will never be destroyed”.(Matthew 24:35)
The same Word that spoke and created the world out of nothing, and that sustains the universe, is the same Word that God the Father speaks through his Son, Jesus Christ, the eternal Word who became flesh for our sake and for our salvation.
“All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and that one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ”.(quote from Hugh of St. Victor, De arca)
Through the Scriptures Jesus Christ speaks to us and shows us the way to eternal life and union with the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Do you listen to the Word of God in Scripture as if your life depended on it?
Jerome, the Bible scholar and translator from the 4th century, wrote:
“You are reading (the Scriptures)? No. Your betrothed is talking to you. It is your betrothed, that is, Christ, who is united with you. He tears you away from the solitude of the desert and brings you into his home, saying to you, ‘Enter into the joy of your Master.'”
Heart speaks to heart
The Lord wants to speak to each of us from the depth of his heart to the very core of our own. He invites us into an intimate dialogue of love – the love of an eternal Father who yearns for the reciprocal love of his sons and daughters. He is always ready to speak – at any moment, any season, any place – he only waits for us to open the door of our heart to welcome and receive him.
In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, we hear the invitation which the risen Lord Jesus speaks to all his disciples throughout every age. Every day Christ stands at the door of our heart and he longs to enter.
“Behold I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me”.(Revelations 3:21)
In biblical times the invitation to join someone in a meal was considered the most gracious and intimate sign of friendship and communion. When God speaks to us, he treats us as his beloved sons and daughters – he draws us into intimate communion with himself. God made us to know him – not simply to know some things about God – his greatness, glory, and majesty – but to know him personally as our God and eternal Father. That is why he speaks to us – day after day – to communicate his great love and care for us.
Hearing and obeying
Hearing the Lord involves more than simply listening to his word. The Lord wants his word to also form and shape us into the kind of people who please him in the way we think, speak, and act. Tellingly, the biblical words for “hearing” and “listening” are closely connected with “obeying” and “following” the Lord’s instructions.
The word obedience seems out of fashion today, but Scripture presents it as a key part of our relationship with God. Two examples. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word “shama” literally meant “to hear, listen, and obey.” When the Lord made a covenant with his people at Mount Sinai, he said: ”If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my possession …a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5).
The Apostle Peter in his First Letter explains how we have been “sanctified by the Spirit for obedience to Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2) who has made us “living stones built into a spiritual temple, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5).
We know from experience that hearing and obeying does not come naturally. We have to learn through instruction and example. How can we grow in hearing and obeying the voice of the Lord? The Lord Jesus is our model. When the Father sent him into the world, Jesus had to listen and obey, and to learn what his Father wanted him to say and do. Jesus understood that the prophecy of the suffering servant given to Isaiah applied directly to his mission as the one who would lay down his life as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of the world.
“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught… Morning by morning he wakens, he wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward.”Isaiah 50:4-5
When Jesus described to his disciples his relationship with his Father, he emphasized his attentive listening and obeying of his Father’s instructions.
Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him” (John 8:28-29).
Hard hearts and dull ears
What can hold us back from hearing the Lord speak to us? Three big obstacles are indifference, lack of faith, and being preoccupied with other things. They stop our ears and hearts from listening. While Mary sat attentively at Jesus’ feet to hear his words, Martha was preoccupied with an anxious concern to get the meal on the table (Luke 10:38-42). She was too busy to stop and listen – even for a moment.
Shortly after Jesus had miraculously fed 4,000 people with the multiplication of seven loaves (Mark 8:1-9), the apostles anxiously discovered that they had forgotten to bring enough food for their journey across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus chided his disciples for their “hardness of heart” – their inability to hear and understand what he had demonstrated to them about his desire to provide for their needs.
Jesus said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” (Mark 8:14-21)
What does the Lord mean when he says, “Are your hearts hardened?” Well, it seems from the testimony of Scripture that God’s word cannot take root in us if we allow fear, anxiety, or indifference to take control. We must overcome fear with faith and doubt with trust. If we do not want fear, doubt, or anxiety to rule us, then we need to believe and obey God’s command to us. The psalmist says, “Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22). And the Apostle Peter in his first letter takes up the phrase, “Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7). A key question we could ask ourselves is, “Whose word do we listen to and trust?” The Lord Jesus invites us to put our trust in him and in his unfailing love.
The Lord opens our ears to hear his voice
If we find it difficult to hear the Lord, we do not need to lose hope. The Lord himself will open our ears if we ask. Even when the Lord seems distant at times, he is, in reality, very close. And in this learning process we are in good company. The early disciples were also learning how to hear and believe.
After the Lord Jesus had died on the cross and was laid in the tomb, his disciples lost hope of ever seeing him again. They had forgotten that he had foretold not only his death on the cross but his rising again as well. When Mary Magdalene went to the tomb on Sunday morning to pay her respects to a dead body, she discovered to her surprise an empty tomb (John 20:11-18). But when she saw the risen Lord standing near her and addressing her, she did not at first recognize him. When Jesus called her name, she knew beyond a doubt that it was truly his voice. She ran to tell the apostles that she had seen the Lord and heard him speak to her.
When two other disciples that same day were walking on the road to Emmaus, Jesus appeared to them and began to walk with them as well (Luke 24:13-32). They did not recognize the risen Lord at first, until he had explained the Scriptures to them and sat at table and broke bread with them. Then they exclaimed, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24:32)
The Lord is always ready to receive us and to speak his word to us, to teach us how to listen.The Lord Jesus stands at our door each day and he knocks. Will you open your heart to his voice and sit for a while and listen as Mary did in her home at Bethany and the two disciples did when they stopped for dinner on the road to Emmaus?