Does this scenario sound familiar? You get out of bed. You shuffle over to the kitchen and make a bee-line for the coffee maker. Once you have your coffee, you head to the couch or kitchen table, and you pick up your Bible. You do this, because it’s what you do every morning. In your early morning stupor, you manage to mutter a few words in prayer, then you open up you Bible, because it’s what you do every morning. You take a few sips of coffee to wake yourself up a bit, and you start to read. Again, you do this every morning. But this morning, the words on the page seem to have the same effect on you as words on a billboard, or one of those inspirational posters. Nothing much more than, “That’s interesting. Time to go on with my day.” Or maybe it isn’t even interesting to you. It’s just nothing.
But maybe you don’t read your Bible in the morning, or your schedule doesn’t allow for a daily devotional time. Fair enough. Consider this scenario then: It’s a Sunday morning, and as you do every Sunday morning, you pile your family into the car and drive to church. You manage to find enough empty chairs to seat your family together. The music starts to play, you read the words on the screen, and you start to sing them, like you do every Sunday morning. You open your Bible to the passage being preached on. Pastor Tim is preaching his heart out. You hear his voice rise with intensity at the glorious truth that he is proclaiming. But the message simply doesn’t stir you nearly as much as he is being stirred. You know you probably should feel something, but you can’t feel anything.
Those are scary seasons. They are scary because the Bible warns about this. I have been reading in Luke about the effect the Gospel message has on its hearers. In chapter 8, Luke describes Jesus traveling with the accompaniment of his apostles and some women, and he is preaching about the kingdom of God everywhere he goes (Luke 8:1-4). Then Luke describes a parable that Jesus tells to a crowd of people, the familiar parable of the sower. The parable should be referred to as the parable of the soils. The seed gets scattered everywhere, but depending on the soil on which it lands, it yields different results (Luke 8:4-8). Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that the parable itself is intended to either impart revelation or harden the hearts of the hearers (Luke 8:9-10). And the content of the parable describes four different kinds of people who hear God’s word. The first kind doesn’t really “hear” anything, because the devil prevents them from hearing it. The second kind craves emotional experiences and get excited about the word of God at first, but then stop believing it when they realize that it brings unexpected trials into their lives. The third kind hear the Word, but it has no effect on them because their hearts are set on other things. And the fourth kind hear the Word, and it has a transformative effect on their lives, wherein they love God’s glory more, they love people more, and become more instrumental in the kingdom of God (Luke 8:11-15).
Jesus then tells them about the purpose of a lamp. No one lights a lamp just to hide it away. It’s put out in the open so that the whole house is illuminated (Luke 8:16-17). Many people use that illustration to encourage Christians to be more involved in evangelism and representing Christ. While that is a valid application of that text, I think that the primary purpose is to illustrate what God is doing. God’s message, His revelation to the world, is not something He is keeping hidden. His intention is to make the good news of the kingdom publicly known. That’s why Jesus says, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away” (Luke 8:18). God has given direct revelation of himself in a very public way. So in light of having received that revelation, we are to be cognizant of how we “hear,” because we will be held accountable to how we respond to the truth we have received. The person who “has,” that is, who has a receptive, open-hearted, submissive attitude to God’s word, and an eagerness to hear it and respond to it… That person will bear fruit for God and experience an increasing amount of joy in Him. But the person who has a dead, cold, stubborn attitude towards the Word will become harder and harder the more they hear His Word.
Luke next describes the attempts of Jesus’ earthly family to get to him while he is teaching. And Jesus gives this response: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). The sign of having the closest, deepest, most intimate relationship with Jesus is in submitting to God’s word and allowing it to change you.
The way we hear the word of God is of utmost importance. If you can relate to the scenarios described at the beginning of this blog post, know that you are not alone. Some of the godliest people I know have experienced that at some point in their life. But also realize that you can’t afford to sit in this and “wait it out.” This isn’t “just a season.” It is up to you to make an intentional effort to get out of that state of mind. Your soul depends on it.
But you might be wondering, what can I do? How can I get myself out of this? And the short answer is that you can’t do anything. But God can. Once you have recognized the danger of your situation, and you’ve been shaken to the realization that you need help, start by asking God to reveal any unknown sin in your life. The Psalmist cries out, “See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:24) For example, there is a good chance that you have unknowingly elevated someone or something into a place of worship in your heart, where an idol has taken the place of God as the thing you look to for satisfaction and joy. Ask God to cleanse your heart from idolatry.
The Psalmist also cries out, “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things in your law” (Psalm 119:18). If you can’t see wonderful things in the word of God, then this is what you need to ask God for. Ask that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of your heart to the Word of God. Ask Him to bring your heart a fresh sense of awe and amazement in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.
And most importantly, be grateful for what God has done for you in Christ. Jesus died on the cross for your unbelief and idolatry. Jesus has set you free from the penalty of sin, but remember, he has also set you free from present enslavement to that sin. Lift your eyes to Him and live, love, and rejoice as someone who is free! And the next time you open your Bible in the morning, or come to church on Sunday, remember what it cost God to redeem you. Remember the love He chose to set on you before you were born. Remember who you are. And hopefully, maybe, there will be something, even if it’s just a flicker, when God’s Word is delivered to you.
Zach Ilten is a member of Faith Community Church. He is working on his M. Div. at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the grateful husband to Becca and dad to Lucy and Micah.