January 2019 is an interesting month in that it is the first time in a long, long time that I have no speaking engagements on any of the Sundays. I have an itinerant ministry and I have the privilege of preaching at various churches on any given Sunday. But no church has invited me to speak on any of the Sundays in January. God is serious about me speaking less this year.
Readers of this column will know that I ended the year very tired. I have felt for some time now that 2019 will have to be a year when I take fewer speaking engagements and focus more on mentoring and writing. Clearly the Lord is making sure this happens.
2019 is also to be a year I do more listening. Recently, my quiet time has been in the book of Isaiah and once again I encountered one of my favourite passages — Isaiah 50:4–7:
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
awakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears;
I have not been rebellious,
I have not turned away.
I offered my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard;
I did not hide my face
from mocking and spitting.
Because the Sovereign Lord helps me,
I will not be disgraced.
Therefore have I set my face like flint,
and I know I will not be put to shame.
If I am to be effective in ministry, if I am to know “the word that sustains the weary”, I must first have a “well-instructed tongue”. And to have that I must have an awakened ear that is committed to listening to God’s instructions.
Two things must be borne in mind. First, that God is a God who desires to speak. He has a word for us. He opens our ears. The responsibility is on us to listen and that includes living life at a pace that makes listening possible. It means creating spaces of quiet and attentiveness in my life to enable me to hear what the Lord is saying. Second, it means obeying what I hear.
The word “listen” carries with it the meaning that we will obey what we hear. Listening to the Lord is not just receiving some information download from God. It means we obey what we hear even if it is costly. Hence Isaiah did not rebel against what he heard.
. . . the openness of the ear has to do with complete obedience. This becomes especially clear when it is remembered that “to hear” in the OT is virtually synonymous with “to obey.”
(John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 40–66 [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1998], 324.)
In a year when I will turn 64, the Lord is calling me back to the most basic of stances: to hear and to obey. This passage from Isaiah will be my life passage for 2019. With God’s help I will “set my face like flint” so that I will not be distracted from a commitment to hear and to obey, and to sustain the weary.