“As for you, son of man, your countrymen are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the LORD.’ My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to listen to your words, but they do not put them into practice. With their mouths they express devotion, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice.” Ezekiel 33.30-32.
The “son of man” here is Ezekiel himself — the prophet God had raised up to speak to the exiles from Israel living in Babylon and to warn them of what was about to happen to Judah and the city of Jerusalem. Ezekiel was a powerful speakers and used every means at his disposal to gain people’s attention, including making models out of clay (Ezekiel 4.1-3), producing mono-dramas (Ezekiel 4.4-12; 12.3-6), describing dream-visions, telling parables, quoting proverbs, reciting poetry, and singing dirges. There was never a dull moment when Ezekiel got up to speak, so he got the audience he wanted … but here’s the tragedy; they didn’t do anything about what he said! As The Message paraphrases the last of this morning’s verses: “To them you’re merely entertainment — a country singer of sad love songs, playing a guitar. They love to hear you talk, but nothing comes of it.”
Oh dear! How often could that indictment be directed at me? I do love to hear a “good word”, listen to a fine sermon, read insightful books and articles … but how often does anything “come of it”? How often do I allow it to change my life in some way? I find myself being taken back (see “Faith and Works” 12 September 2008) to the letter of James again: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1.22).
This is terribly simple stuff, I know, but what strikes me this morning as I get back into my post-holiday routines is that I need to add a new “discipline” to my life, and it is this. Before I settle down to read the Scriptures or listen to a preacher or Bible teacher, or to read the latest spiritual best-seller, I need to ask myself, “Why am I doing this?” Is it because I want to be changed … to grow in grace … to press on to maturity … to lose those aspects of the old me that still drag me down? Or do I merely want to be entertained … to have my ears tickled?
When I hear Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7, I am happy to see myself as the man who has built his house on the rock and not on the sand, but I need to take note that, according to Jesus’ own words, the person who builds his or her house on the rock is the person who “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” (Matthew 7.24). And that is true whether the words of Jesus come to me through the Scriptures, a sermon, a Bible study, a spiritual book, a blog, a magazine article or whatever. Any word from God calls for its own application and outworking in my life, and if I am not prepared for that or do not want it, perhaps I should not be listening at all?