Friday, July 01, 2005

To Whose Voice are You Listening?

Remember the story of Peter Rabbit? You know, the one where Mother Rabbit encourages Peter and his siblings to go out, but cautions against two things: losing or destroying their clothes, and entering into Mr. McGregor's garden. Mother Rabbit had her reasons for warning against entering Mr. McGregor’s garden, as Mr. McGregor had killed Father Rabbit in that very garden years before. (Father Rabbit had gone there
to eat some of Mr. McGregor’s vegetables). So, off Peter Rabbit and siblings went with Mother's warning ringing in their ears. Most of Peter's siblings were determined to follow Mother's admonition, but, Peter didn't. He decided to go into the garden anyway. And at first, all was well as he feasted on all sorts of fresh produce such as carrots, lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, and the like. Munching happily away, Peter sniffed the cucumbers, and boy did they smell good. Allured, he hopped over to the cucumber patch, when suddenly he and Mr. McGregor came face to face. Surprised and irritated, Mr. McGregor immediately picked up his rake and pursued Peter round and round through the cucumbers, the tomatoes, radishes, lettuce and the carrots. What mayhem they caused in the process. But try as he might, Peter could not find the entrance into the garden, nor a place to hide from Mr. McGregor. Frantic now, Peter kept looking, when up ahead he saw a light. At last he'd found the garden entrance. Hopping as fast as he could, Peter squeezed through the small opening and at last was free. Momentarily relieved, Peter sat down to catch his breath, and that's when he noticed that he had lost his clothes hopping madly through the garden. "Now, I'm in big trouble," he thought, "mother is going to be so mad at me." "Why didn't I listen?" he asked himself.

In this version of the story, isn't it interesting that Peter Rabbit asked himself, "why didn't I listen?" and not "why didn't I obey?" To young children, the Peter Rabbit tale is just a fun story, but older children and adults perceive that the story is really about obedience. In the English language (and in many others), the word obey means "to do what you're told." Therefore by our definition, Peter Rabbit was disobedient the moment he did not do what his mother told him to do. But is this really getting at the heart of obedience? At its core, obedience is about hearing the right thing to do, whether it be an inward, silent persistent thought, or an audible external voice, and then choosing it. A wise man has said, " First there is the mental creation, then the action is taken." So obedience involves not only our outward actions, but our motives and attitudes prior to the doing. A literal translation of the word "obey" in the Hebrew, is to listen willingly, eagerly, attentively (sitting or standing on the edge, straining to catch the slightest nuance) of the one who is speaking. Its opposite meaning would be, hearing while preoccupied, resisting the one who is speaking, reluctantly paying attention, and finally, listening to find the disagreeable.

In most biblical passages where the author (through Christ) is encouraging the reader to hear, he is actually saying: ponder these words, consider deeply their meaning and import, and then choose to give your will to the Master on this matter, that He may DO it in / through you. Christ Himself has said, that of Himself He could do nothing, and that without abiding in Him (the Word) we can do nothing. To more effectively illustrate the concept of obedience as listening and hearing willingly and attentively, let's review the story of Saul of Tarsus / Paul. In Acts chapter 6 verses 1, through Acts chapter 8 verses 1-3, the text records Stephen's sermon, and his stoning in which Saul consented. Of this, Sister White says:

The Saviour had spoken to Saul through Stephen, whose clear reasoning could not be controverted. The learned Jew had seen the face of the martyr reflecting the light of Christ's glory--appearing as if "it had been the face of an angel." Acts 6:15. He had witnessed Stephen's forbearance toward his enemies and his forgiveness of them. He had also witnessed the fortitude and cheerful resignation of many whom he had caused to be tormented and afflicted. He had seen some yield up even their lives with rejoicing for the sake of their faith. All these things had appealed loudly to Saul and at times had thrust upon his mind an almost overwhelming conviction that Jesus was the promised Messiah. At such times he had struggled for entire nights against this conviction, and always he had ended the matter by avowing his belief that Jesus was not the Messiah and that His followers were deluded fanatics (Acts of the Apostles, 116).

Sister White further states (on page 113), Saul's mind had been deeply disturbed
by striking evidences of God's presence with Stephen. And, this led him to doubt
the righteousness of the cause he espoused with the followers of Jesus. Perplexed,
he appealed to those in whose wisdom, and judgment he had full confidence. The
priests' and rulers' arguments finally convinced him that Stephen and Christ's followers were blasphemers and Christ an imposter. But not without severe trial did Saul come to this conclusion.

The reason Saul was able to stifle the conviction of the Holy Spirit's voice to him, was because a voice louder, and more insistent filled his thoughts. He chose to heed
and believe that voice of prejudice, pride and Pharisaical teaching. Therefore whenever the Holy Spirit spoke, Saul hardened his heart, and refused to pay attention for he did not want to hear. As we can see from Acts 9:3-6, it was not until Saul was halted by the revelation and words of Christ Himself, that he relented of his stubbornness. In relenting, he became willing -- to listen attentively, for there was no competing voice, and eager to hear, for the words of his Lord and Saviour brought light.

How many of us are walking around in darkness, frustrated with life. We're pursuing what we think is right, but we're uneasy, as if something is not quite, well -- right. Perhaps its that in our choosing, we've listened to the wrong voices and are merely reaping the consequences of uneasiness to call us to repentance. Its possible to repent you know, just as Saul did. We don't have to continue on running round and round in the proverbial garden of temptation, as did our little Peter Rabbit. Yes, there are so many voices which compete for our attention and resources, and sometimes
we don't know which one to listen to -- yet, "in the stillness of the soul, the voice of the Saviour is heard speaking."

So the question comes to us today while we are multitasking, "who are you listening to?" In the case of Peter Rabbit, he chose to listen to the clamor of his appetite. In the case of Saul before conversion, he chose to listen to the various members of the Sanhedrin, as well as his education and pride. Mark 4:24 states: "Take heed how (what) you hear ... and unto you that hear shall more be given." Do tell friend, which voice are you listening to?
Raul Diaz & Maria Greaves-Barnes

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