Hearing the Truth in Love
Hosea 11:1-11 or Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23, Psalm 107:1-9, 43 or Psalm 49:1-12, Colossians 3:1-11, Luke 12:13-21
Can you think of something you’d hate to hear more from the mouth of your Father in Heaven?
Of course, you and I would cover over His pain and compassion as He says it with layers of condemnation and judgment. We can’t hear Him describe our foolishness without adding something that separates us from Him.
It is foolishness to set our hearts on anything but Him! It is foolishness to find our security in anything but the shadow of His wings! It is foolishness, and He wants us to know it!
Hear who it is that He wants to be for us from the reading for Hosea for this week:
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more I called them, the more they went from me; they kept sacrificing to the Baals, and offering incense to idols. Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.
How could we want anything more than that?
Yet we do. We go off to make our own way, we turn from the source of our strength and try to survive on our own.
And God knows it will cost us. When we go our own way, it may work for a while. It may work for some, but eventually, the price of our foolishness comes due:
They shall return to the land of Egypt, and Assyria shall be their king, because they have refused to return to me. The sword rages in their cities, it consumes their oracle-priests, and devours because of their schemes. My people are bent on turning away from me. (also from the first chapter of Hosea)
Paul says it this way in Colossians:
Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.
Paul doesn’t have language for this consequence, except to describe it as the “wrath of God.” And perhaps there is wrath, but God has, since the beginning of time, absorbed the cost of that wrath Himself. As it says of Jesus in Revelation, He is “the lamb slain from the foundation of the World.” God has always taken this upon Himself.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost for our foolishness. There is, and it breaks the heart of God to see us bring it on ourselves.
But God’s heart is to restore us to Himself. He isn’t like us. He tries to tell us how foolish we’re being, and when we ignore His guidance, he may boil with wrath but His love for us triumphs every time.
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel? How can I make you like Admah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender. I will not execute my fierce anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim; for I am God and no mortal, the Holy One in your midst, and I will not come in wrath.
His passion for us is costly. It costs Him dearly, but it always prevails.
It is this passion for us that I want to hear as we listen to Him say, “You fool!” It is the cry of the parent whose pain at His child’s choice is beyond expression. It’s the shout of the parent, reading a letter from a distant child whose choices have landed him in prison or the hospital. Of course help is coming, but the first cry, the one directed at the wall is “Oh, my foolish child!”
What kind of love would it be that didn’t feel this kind of pain? What kind of Father would not be filled with wrath at the thought that His child was suffering unnecessarily? These words, “You fool,” these words come from a heart burdened with love.
Has anyone noticed that our reliance on our own strength hasn’t been getting us anywhere lately? Apparently the terrorists we set out to destroy in Afghanistan have re-organized themselves and are as strong as ever, maybe stronger. The sword is “raging in our cities.” Flooding and drought are taking turns destroying lives, due at least in part on our inability to rein in our consumption of hydrocarbons. Families are routinely split into pieces, and our economy continues to force parents to choose between time with their children and money for food or rent.
Can we hear the Father’s voice? Can we hear His heartbreak as He points out to us our foolishness? Can we bear hearing His pain long enough to hear His love?
He wants to take us back, to restore us, to clothe us and put new sandals on our feet, but before he can, we need to see our foolishness and its cost. Listen. He’s calling us back to Himself.
In an earlier reflection, I tried to talk about the difference between “discipline” and “condemnation.” God disciplines, but it is the enemy who accuses and condemns. If we are going to listen for the Father’s voice, we’ll need to be willing to admit that we need to be disciplined. I know we talk a good game during the season of Lent, but how many of us are willing to listen when our Father says to us, “You fool!” Not with condemnation, but with immeasurable sorrow. This willingness is an irreplaceable piece of the process of learning to listen. If we block out part of any part of His voice, we dull our ability to hear every part of it.
Today, as you ponder what it means to open your ears to the Voice that cannot stand by and let you live foolishly without naming it, take a moment to remember what you would do for a child, or spouse, or dear friend, if you saw him or her doing damage to themselves. Could you be gentle if gentle wasn’t getting through? Then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, thank you for loving me enough to speak the hard words into my life. Help me to love You enough to hear them.
In Jesus’ Name,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Ps. 139:23)
We know, or think we know, most of our foolishness. I’ve discovered that there are more ways of living as a fool in me than I could have imagined, certainly more than I knew. This isn’t a condemnation, just an admission of my blindness to the way that I’ve been entangled in a lot of my destructive habits of doing and thinking.
The more I have come to trust the Savior, the more willing I have been to go with Him into the dark corners of my heart to let him show me what it is that He wants to heal. I don’t hear “You fool” as condemnation any longer, but as a deep and wounded love pouring forth, and so I can let Him point to me the storehouses where I’ve laid up my false sources of security or strength.
Today, risk asking Him to show you your own foolishness. Don’t worry. He won’t dump it all on you at once. In His mercy, He’ll show you just what you can manage, and what you can stand to let Him touch today. Pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I want to take the next step to get nearer to Your heart. Show me one of the things that I’ve built that keeps me from You so that I can lay that at the foot of the Cross.
In Jesus’ Name,
There is a terrifying and wonderful scene in C. S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace, trapped in the body of a horrifying dragon, is visited by Aslan, the Great Lion. Aslan takes Eustace to a healing spring of water, but Eustace can’t get in until he sheds the dragon skin. So Eustace, who is a very intelligent young man, figures out that, since he’s like a reptile, he can shed his skin. He scratches off one skin, but there’s another under it. He scratches off another, but the next dragon skin emerges. Only by submitting himself to Aslan’s terrible claws can the skin come off for good. He permits Aslan to tear the dragon from him, and, though the water stings like crazy at first, he immerses himself in the healing bath.
You will be tempted, when God shows you things in yourself that you need to shed, to scratch them off yourself. Don’t waste too much time on that. Aslan’s claws dig deep, and they hurt something awful, but they’re the only way forward. Let God remove your sin from you. And know this. The pain you experience is His pain too, the pain He suffered on the Cross for your redemption, and the pain you caused Him as you turned away. The only pain you’ll know here is the pain He suffered for love of you.
Today, invite the Father to remove from you whatever He’s been showing you. And pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, whatever it takes, I want to walk closer to You. Please remove from me whatever it is that gets in the way of that.
In Jesus’ Name,
What good is learning to hear from God if we don’t learn to hear before we get to the “You fool” stage? (At least some of the time?) If we’ve come to a place where we’re really willing to let God search us and show us our foolishness, we’re also in a place where we can acknowledge that our thoughts are not His thoughts, our ways not His ways, and that our thinking is tainted, bent by sin.
Today, begin to entrust your decisions to Him before you make them. I began trying this with simple things, like what clothes to put on in the morning, or what to eat. You may find that silly, but I found it helpful to recognize that He has an interest in every moment of my life, and that He can influence my life for the better in small ways as well as large ones. So, what decisions will you make today? I’ve talked about ways of listening in earlier segments. It may be a sense you get. It may be something you feel in your body, it may even be a voice, or words. But pick a decision that you’ll make today and commit yourself to waiting for an answer, then pray something like this:
Heavenly Father, I know that I will always decide foolishly if I don’t draw you into the process. Please speak to me today.
In Jesus’ Name,
I hope you’ll take up the practice from Day Four and make it a daily discipline. Each day, turn more and more of your decisions over to Him. It’s amazing how much easier hard things get when you’re doing them in obedience to a word you receive in prayer, rather than as a result of some decision made in your own strength.
But there are Days Five for me when I don’t get an answer that I can discern. It used to drive me nuts until I began to see that in this moment of surrender the Father was pointing me at something else that needed more attention. Sometimes He won’t let me have an answer on one thing until I’ve dealt with some other area in my life that’s out of order. (I should add that sometimes I hear His laughter as he says, “Oh, Jeff, you pick today…”)
That doesn’t mean to give up quickly if you don’t get an answer on a question you’ve brought before Him. After years of this, I still struggle sometimes to still my own habits enough to hear what He’s saying, so it can take a while. Persist, but if you find yourself repeatedly led to some other thing in your life that is troubling you or someone near to you, then pay attention. Come humbly for a word concerning that part of your life, and the other will follow in time. Try praying something like this:
Father, I didn’t know this was a problem, but I’m bringing this to You seeking Your wisdom. Lead me.
In Jesus’ Name,
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