You know those times when someone says “how are you?” and you know they don’t want to hear the real answer, so you put on a smile and say “fine” and move on?
Or, if you’re like me – someone who has had to learn these lessons the hard way – you might know the awful sinking feeling when you’ve mistaken someone’s “how are you?” for a real inquiry, only to find them looking at you as though you’ve come from a different planet or something, because they totally weren’t expecting anything beyond “fine, thanks” and they’re wondering how they can extricate themselves from this awkward situation now…
So we learn not to do that. We learn to look for clearer signals before opening up – we might say “I’m ok” and see if the other person shows an interest in hearing more, if they say “but how are you really?” and if their tone of voice and facial expression and general body language indicate: I’m interested in hearing your answer.
We were looking at the Parable of the Sower in church last night and there’s the bit where the disciples ask Jesus what the parable meant, and he says “to you it has been granted to know” and he explains the parable to them. Why was it granted to them to know? Because they asked. They showed a real interest, a sincere desire to know what Jesus meant – I expect it was clear from their tone of voice and body language that they weren’t just asking out of idle curiosity, not just making conversation or looking for an interesting topic for debate, but really wanting to know.
And interestingly, that’s what the parable was about – the different ways people react when hearing what God says.
With some people, it’s as if they didn’t hear – a bit like the classic caricature husbands hiding behind the newspaper and saying “yes, dear” at intervals but not really paying attention in the slightest. Or like when you read a blog post and think: yeah, whatever… and move on.
Others hear and react with joy – yay, Jesus loves me, isn’t that great! – but when things get difficult they don’t stick around. They were excited about part of the message but I guess they didn’t pay attention to stuff like take up your cross and follow me…
And then we come to the thorny ground – that’s the one I can identify with, it’s where I was at for a long while, and it’s where we can all so easily get to. There are so many different kinds of thorns ready to choke your enthusiasm and your determination to follow Jesus. “The worries and riches and pleasures of this life” is how Jesus summed it up – see, it’s not just negative things, it’s also things that seem good, but distract us from focusing on him. Life can get busy and full of things that seem good and valuable and important and when can we fit in stuff like Bible reading or going to church…
And Bible reading can be hard – not only because of God’s habit of using it to challenge us about stuff, but also because it’s not always clear and obvious what the text we’re reading means. That’s when we’re tested like those who heard Jesus telling that parable: will we take the trouble to find out what he meant? Do we care enough, do we love him enough? He’s not playing silly games with us, he’s ready to grant to us to know – if only we sincerely ask him. For those of us who have been born again through faith in Jesus, we have the Holy Spirit living in us and available to guide us – and we’re also part of Christ’s body, the church, and the way the Holy Spirit teaches and guides us includes sermons and group Bible study and conversations with fellow believers. Church isn’t some kind of optional extra – it’s part of God’s plan for our nurture and growth.
If you’ve heard the Gospel and responded by putting your faith in Jesus, the one who loved you so much that he died for you, do you now love him enough to make the effort to really listen to him?
Don’t be like the caricature husband hiding behind the newspaper, muttering “yes dear” now and again but not really paying attention. That’s not love. Loving someone means you do pay attention, it means you do listen, it means you do want to understand.
And Jesus is the one who is always worth listening to. He has the words of eternal life.