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A Listening Heart
Acts 16:14-15 

 

And a certain woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul. [15] And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us. 

In these two verses, Dr. Luke, the author of Acts, summarizes a life changing event in three sentences. In Acts 16:14, Lydia, a business woman from Thyatira, responded to the Gospel, in verse 15, she and her family were baptized and she initiated Christian fellowship with Paul and his companions. All cut and dry, right? Not so fast. There are a couple of questions I have as I read the text.

First, is it possible to worship God without knowing Him? Lydia, was known for two things, what she did at work (she sold expensive purple fabric) and what she did on the Sabbath day (she worshiped God). Yet, it is clear from the text that she hadn't responded to the gospel yet. How can that be? Why would she want to worship if she didn't know Him?

A good friend of mine recently told me about an incident that happened to him that explains why a person can worship, and yet still not know God. It all began before the plane took off. Roger Williams III was sitting in the window seat and was looking forward to thumbing through a magazine on a short flight from Sacramento to attend a National Youth Ministry Conference in San Diego, California. He'd fastened his seat belt, made sure his chair was in the full upright position, his tray table was locked and that his luggage was properly stowed when two well-dressed Ally McBeal look-a-likes sat down next to him.

Their conversation competed for attention with his magazine. They talked about the club scene-what they enjoyed drinking, who they were "dating," their intimate relationships with men, both single and married. Then it turned into a gripe session.

"Why do guys have such a hard time committing?" One asked. "And why don't they ever leave their wives like they promise to?" Another complained.

They talked about work for a while, and about the time Williams was tuning out, one of them said, "But you know, if it wasn't for church, my life would really be hell." By now, Williams was only pretending to read his magazine, they had his full attention. "Wow, you go to church too. I know exactly how you feel. If it wasn't for church, I don't know where I'd be." "Yeah, I know what you mean," the other lady said, "if I miss more than two weeks of church everything in my life goes nuts."

The plane started its descent into San Diego and everything got quiet, and Williams sat still--stunned by what he'd just heard. He concluded that worship, to these ladies, was just a "religious fix." 

It is possible you know, to build up an immunity to the gospel. Like a vaccine or inoculation, some people get just enough religion to insure that they go to hell.

But it is also true that we learn to have faith in the company of believers. Lydia was where she needed to be, in the company of those who worshiped God. In that environment, she listened to Paul, and God spoke to her.

The second question I want to explore, is this: is it possible to worship God without really listening? Verse 14, states she "was listening." 

Listening-I fear it is a lost art. The April 2000 Reader's Digest, included an article entitled "Lend an ear" by Roberta Israeloff. This article hit me right between the eyes and convicted me about some of my poor listening habits. I've read the article a half a dozen times by now-I just can't stop thinking about it, specifically I can't stop processing the introduction.

Roberta begins the article by sharing a recent phone conversation she had with her mother-in-law. Her in-laws were returning to New York after wintering in Florida when they ran into one car problem after another. Three times the car broke down, once on a bridge in the middle of rush hour. 

Right as Roberta was going to tell her own worst "break down" story, her mother-in-law had to hang up because someone was at her door, but before she said goodbye she said this to her daughter-in-law. "Thank you for listening, but thank you most of all for not telling me your worst car story." (p. 71)

How many times has that happened to you? You really need to talk to someone and you really need for them to listen. Maybe it is about a problem with your parents, or with a teacher, and before you finish your story, your friend interrupts and says, "Yeah, my parents did the same thing to me," and then they start their story. Inside you want to scream and say, wait a minute, I need to talk, I don't want your advise, I just want your ear. But instead, you patiently wait as they talk about ancient history while you are thinking about current events.

Or maybe you've just discovered a lump, or you've noticed your jeans are getting tighter, or you feel a wall building between you and your husband. And you really need to talk to someone, so you give a friend a call. But they interrupt your story with their story.

How many times have you done the same thing? Instead of really listening, you interrupt the speaker to talk about what is on your mind or tell a similar experience.

Is it possible to be listening to someone talk without really hearing what they are saying? Not only is it possible, it happens all the time. We miss the chance to "bear one another's burdens" or rub souls with each other because we aren't really listening.

Are you listening? No really, are you listening? Or are you thinking about what you will do after church? I'll not ask for a show of hands because I don't want to embarrass you, or me for that matter.

Are you listening right now, or are you evaluating? Are you trying to hear a word from the Lord right now, or are you grading the preacher?

Is it possible to worship without listening? Yes, I fear it is. It is also possible to listen to the preacher and soak up every word he says without listening to the Lord. 

Lydia was listening, and when she was, God spoke to her. Here's how Luke put it, "and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." Paul spoke to her through her ears, but the Lord spoke to her through her heart.

Why was Lydia's life changed? If you say because she listened with her ears until God spoke to her in her heart, you'd be right, but you'd be only partially right. There was another element. Look at verse 9-10:

"And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." [10] And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." (Acts 16:9-10 NASB)

Paul was listening too. In a dream, God spoke to Paul and told him to go to Macedonia to preach. Though Paul had other plans, he dropped what he was doing and went on a witnessing detour and he went to a place beside the river hoping to find some people praying and when he did, he shared the gospel. And Lydia was saved, and her household.

Today you've worshiped God, but I have a question for you, do you know Him? If not, why not come to know Him today?

Today, I've spoken and you've listened to me, but I have another question for you, did you hear God speak? With your heart, I mean, did you listen to Him. If not, why not commit yourself to come back next week with an open ear, an open mind, and an open heart.

Finally, are you, like Paul, willing to speak to others about Christ? Are you ready to respond to God's call? If so, why not begin praying right now for someone who you can share your faith with? 

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