Skyward Words

“Are you listening to me?”  I’ve asked this question hundreds of times throughout my years of teaching and parenting. The response “I heard you” is clearly not the answer for which I was hoping.

There is a definite difference between the two: hearing someone is simply perceiving the sound with your ears; listening takes notice of and acts on what someone says. Very few of us simply want to be heard. We long for someone to listen.

Psalms 116: 1-2 says “I love the Lord because he hears and answers my prayers. Because he bends down and listens. I will pray as long as I have breath!” What an intimate picture this brings to mind. Not only does God hear our prayers, he bends down and listens. He leans into us as we cry out to him. David knew that his God listened because he had answered his prayers over and over.

Somedays my prayers feel like whispers to the sky. I watch them flutter away and wonder where they will land. When I read David’s words in Psalms, I’m encouraged with a clear picture of what happens to those word wisps. God grabs them in his hand, puts them up to his ear, listens, and makes a plan to answer them. (If you want to be doctrinal, God already has a plan before my words are uttered.) It’s as if in that moment, the plan is unleashed and God begins moving the universe to answer. Oh, it might an imperceptible change that I cannot see, but a domino effect begins as the answer makes its way back to me.

Over the past few years, I’ve begun to look wholeheartedly for any hint of answered prayer. Usually, we look for one giant answer to arrive – like a package in the mail. God can answer that way, but often doesn’t. In fact, the answers most often come in bits and pieces.

Answered prayers aren’t only meant to met my earthly needs. They are radically important to my spiritual development. Learning to accept God’s answer even when it isn’t the one I formulated in my head is a huge part of spiritual maturity. Knowing God listens makes it so much easier to send those petitions skyward and wait confidently, which makes me agree with David: “I will pray as long as I have breath!”

 

With Us

The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel — ” God is with us.”  Isaiah 7:14b

When Isaiah penned these God-breath words, I wonder if he had any inkling what God meant by the idea of Immanuel. Did he realize that God in the flesh would leave heaven and come live among us — share our meals, walk our streets, hug our necks? Did Isaiah understand that not only would we know Christ in a new way, but God would understand us, his creations, differently?

Isaiah 53 reminds us that it was our weaknesses he carried, our sorrows that weighed him down (verse 43); he was despised and rejected, a man acquainted with sorrow and the bitterest of grief. The weaknesses, sorrows, and grief we’ve known Christ knew too.

So many times we feel alone in our pain or discouraged because of our many weaknesses. This isolation is a tool used by Satan. If he can isolate us, make us feel lonely and alone, we are more apt to give into his ways and abandon the truth we know. But the truth is this: We are KNOWN by God and he loves us in the middle of all our foibles and follies, sins and setbacks. Immanuel destroyed the lie of isolation. God is not “way out there” with little-old-me stuck here alone on this complicated and angry earth.

He came as a baby to fill our loneliness, not by just being our friend but by experiencing the same loneliness. His birthplace — a lowly manger— automatically set him up for rejection. The Jews wanted a king, a royal fanfare; yet Christ came in as quiet as a snowflake. Not what his people wanted.

Repeatedly, Christ said, “This is me, know me, know God.” Yet he was continuously rejected. We’ve done the same, offering ourselves in friendships and love saying “Here I am. Know me, see me, value me.” Yet we are rejected as well. But that same cry is answered with a resounding yes by God. He does see us! He knows us! What a glorious comfort in simply being known, and in spite of or because of that knowledge, God loves us and cares for us. He never grows weary of our weaknesses and constant mess-ups.

The simple truth of Immanuel is clear. God in flesh came to earth to be with us, to experience our joys and pain, and live an ordinary life so we could truly know Him. Even now, he is with us, even when we aren’t lovable, and because of Immanuel we are known and loved—truly the best gift we ever received.