Let’s Try Really Listening

(by Tank Tankersley)

Dana, please forgive this woefully inadequate synopsis of your most recent sermon. It falls far short of doing your message justice. I only hope to make a point.

God is gracious, loving, merciful, and patient. He desires a relationship with his creation. He calls out to us, no less than to Israel so long ago. And we, no less than Israel, all too often reject his entreaties. We imagine, as so many have always imagined, that we are in no need of God, that we can “do it ourselves”. God, though rebuffed, continues to plead. He is patient, and in that patience is our hope, for he gives us not merely a second chance, but a third, and a fourth, and… In love he pleads, but in defiance we say “no”. It’s an ancient story, and one of infinite sadness. He waits with open arms, today, tomorrow, and beyond. He pleads, but he will not force us to embrace him. He offers his love, but we must say “yes”. In our folly we imagine that this is something that we can tend to later, something that we can defer to a more convenient hour, to a time when we’ve dealt with those priorities that beset us. School now. Career now. Family now. Success now. Money now. Recognition now. God later! A dismissive attitude toward God, man’s ultimate arrogance. But no one lives forever. And when death comes, and who knows when that will be, God’s offer lapses. Or perhaps long before death claims us, our hearts become so hardened that a “yes” is no longer possible, having said “no” to God so many times before. God’s ultimate plea, the very best he has to offer, is Jesus, of course, God in the flesh and the redeemer of mankind. If we say “no” to him, as millions have, and do, and will, what else, who else, is there? There is nothing else, no one else.

Well, there you have it, my feeble effort to summarize the most recent in a long line of meaningful sermons with which God has favored his people at Park Avenue. But let me ask you this: What was the sermon topic on Sunday morning three weeks ago? What points were made? What scriptures were cited in support thereof? What encouragement offered? And how did you respond at work or at school the following week to what you heard from the pulpit on Sunday morning? Yeah, I thought so! We have short memories, don’t we.

Students often ask me, “Do we need to buy the book?” I reply that I’ve been instructed by the powers that be to not tell students that they don’t need to buy the book. But, I continue, no one has told me that I cannot tell you this: “If you come to class and pay attention, you’ll hear everything that you’ll need to know to answer the test questions, every single one. Now, if you conclude that that’s the substantial equivalent of saying that you don’t need to buy the book, I cannot fault that logic”. They get it. The word is out. They know that they can do well in my class if they show up and listen.

Dana and Dwight might be, quite literally, the last two people in the world who would tell us that we “don’t need the book”, the emphasis being upon the “the” here. God’s book is that upon which their preaching is based, and they know that their preaching would come to naught, or worse, were it otherwise. No, they are constant in sending us to the book and in proclaiming its truths to us.

Even so, listening has its advantages, and I confess that I do not always listen as I ought. What about you?

When I lecture, the classroom is full of students taking notes. They are wise to do so. But when preachers preach, is the auditorium full of note-takers? It is not. I sometimes observe a few people “taking notes”, and they are almost always ladies. Why do you suppose that is? Are the ladies more eager than men to grasp spiritual truths and reduce them to writing for subsequent reflection, or are they simply less trusting of their memories. My experience disinclines me to suggest the latter.

Well, I’m not suggesting that we all break out our notepads next Sunday morning, but neither am I suggesting that we not. I am suggesting, nay, asserting, that the proclamation of the word of God is a serious undertaking and deserving of our full attention, far more so than the proclamation of Business Law principles or some other equally trivial subject matter. Let’s try really listening.

– Tank Tankersley