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January 19, 2020

The Glory of God in Listening

Kenny Stokes (Downtown Campus) | Psalms 4:3

The Lord hears when I call to him.—Psalm 4:3b


This Psalm is most likely linked to the previous one, in which David states he wronged when he was fleeing from his own son, Absalom. It’s a psalm in which David’s confident trust in God is sure. And an expression of that confidence is these the words, “The Lord hears when I call to him.” 

That confidence in God is all the more assured to us by the new covenant. God hears our prayers in Christ.

Q: Have you ever seen a mother or father discern the cry of their child from out of the chaos of many playing children? It’s like that. God predestined us in love to be become his very own children in Christ. And, as his children, he has given us his ear. He hears when we call to him.

Think about it. The God who is awesome in glory, who made the world and everything in it—the Lord of heaven and earth. The God who is awe-full in his holiness. The God who rules the universe by the word of his power. The God who sovereignly knows every bird that falls from the sky, knows everything with perfect foreknowledge, listens to us. The God who is intimately full and happy in relationship with himself as Father, Son and Spirit—that God, hears us.

God the Creator, immortal, invisible, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-wise, unchanging, eternal, God over all—hears us. Christ Jesus, the Son of God, sympathizes with our weaknesses and the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us as we pray. It takes your breath away! God hears our prayers, our laments, our hearts, our anxieties, our requests and wishes. Even our wordless groans. 


I’ll save for another time reflection on our listening to God. We know God speaks. It is ours to hear him and believe his word. Our relationship with God is built upon his word, his gospel, his promises, his truth, his self-revelation and communion with us through his word. As Bible people, it is fitting that we think and talk a lot about God speaking and our listening. And yet, one of the things God actually says is that he hears us. 

Obviously, reflection on the truth that God hears us would be fitting for Prayer Week. But I think also it’s fitting for Ethnic Harmony Sunday because of its implications on our love to one another. Here is why.

Since, on this Sunday in particular, we aim to help one another love more and more across ethnic, racial and cultural barriers, it seemed fitting to me. The original plan for this weekend was that Pastors Jason and Ming-Jinn were to teach a five-hour Ethnic Harmony seminar on Friday and Saturday morning. In that seminar, they would cover the topic more broadly scripturally, historically, and in our current context. In light of that, it seemed best to me that perhaps my contribution should pursue complementary approach, without being redundant.

Often, the call to love one another is not simply motivated in Scripture by the need. There are texts where that is the case, such as the Parable of the Good Samaritan. But, it seems more common for the motivation rise up, not merely from seeing a need, but more compellingly from seeing the glory and grace of God to us in Christ and then to live in like manner reflective of that glory. A few examples of this are:

[Jesus said] A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.—John 13:34

[And Jesus said] Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.—Luke 6:36 

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.—Ephesians 4:32–5:2 

So what I want to do in this message is to direct your attention to the glory of God in listening. And in seeing God’s grace in listening, my prayer is that you might be transformed from one degree of glory to love people by listening to them. To become more like him and bring glory to him as someone who loves other people by listening to them. We need this change of heart and attitude if we are to really love people—especially in our pursuit of ethnic harmony.

The gospel truth that God listens to our prayers will renew our worship, shape our reliance on him and empower our love for others as we reflect him to others—especially helpful in areas where love must overcome the obstacles within the church of race, ethnicity, and culture.


  1. Renew – Worshiping the glory of God in listening
  2. Rely – Pondering together how this affects our reliance on him
  3. Reflect – Considering together how being heard by God shapes our approach to loving one another in reflection of the glory of God 

And then, we will close with a few focused comments on ethnic harmony in the church.

1. Renew: Worshiping the God Who Listens

From all eternity, I infer that the triune persons have always heard and understood one another. The Bible says that the Spirit “comprehends the thoughts of God” (1 Corinthians 2:11). And Jesus says, after praying for the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11:41–42,

Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me.

In the Old Covenant, before the death and resurrection of Christ, God’s normal way of working was to turn his ear toward his covenant people Israel and away from the wicked. See Psalm 34:15–16. 

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. The face of the Lord is against those who do evil.

But this changed with Christ’s death and resurrection, such that the good news of gospel proclaims the promise: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

So marvel at the fact that, when you heard the good news of the gospel as a Gentile unbeliever and you prayed, “God save me!” that God heard you! We often take this for granted without stopping to marvel at this grace. As a sinful enemy of God, you prayed for salvation, “God, forgive me. Save me by the work of Jesus.” And God heard (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:2) your call saved you by his sovereign grace.

And so, as a brand new believer, this is clearly one of your earliest experiences with God. Therefore, what is one of the most basic experiences a new believer has upon being reconciled to God? God hears us. 

So, we have come to know God as our heavenly Father. And what do we learn as dearly loved children of God? God hears us. Not as if we were his counselors, but he hears us as his beloved children. As our Father, although he knows exactly what we need, he still hears us when we ask (cf. Matthew 6:8). His Spirit within prompts the cry, “Abba Father” (Romans 8:15–16, Galatians 4:6), confirming the fact that we are legitimate children calling out to our Father God. 

And so, as one of God’s blood bought people, we have the shared Christian experience of knowing that God hears us.

In our anxieties, God hears us. “In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears (Psalm 18:6). So Paul urges, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6–7).

In the morning, God hears us. “O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice.” (Psalm 5:3). And all the day long, God hears us, “Evening and morning and at noon I utter my complaint and moan, and he hears my voice (Psalm 55:17).

In our suffering, God hears us. “O LORD, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear” (Psalm 10:17).

And when our experience of suffering pushes us to despair and doubt, we have the testimony of the psalmists and the saints through the ages, assuring us that God hears and helps. Testimonies, such as David’s: 

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.Psalm 34:6[1]

Praise God, he hears and give him glory because he heard you when you called out to him in faith to be saved.

2. Rely: Trusting the God Who Listens

Q: So, what impact does it have on us that God hears us as we rely on him? 

  1. Knowing that God hears us … gives reason to speak to him:

Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.—Psalm 116:2

“Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.—Psalm 50:15  

  1. Knowing that God hears us …gives us cause to love God:

I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.—Psalm 116:1

  1. Knowing that God hears us … assures us that God knows and understand us.

    Jesus puts it this way in Matthew 6:7–8, 

And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

  1. Knowing that God hears us … assures us that God Cares and loves us.

    Peter urges us to humble ourselves,

    … Casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.—1 Peter 5:7

  2. Knowing that God hears us … reminds us that we are kept and not abandoned.

When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.Psalm 34:17–18

One unforgettable scene from the autobiography of John Patton, the great 18th- century missionary to the New Hebrides islands in the south Pacific, is his remembrance of the night he spent high in a jungle tree. Patton recalls …

I climbed into the tree and was left there alone in the bush. The hours I spent there live all before me as if it were but of yesterday. I heard the frequent discharging of muskets, and the yells of the Savages. Yet I sat there among the branches, as safe as in the arms of Jesus. Never, in all my sorrows, did my Lord draw nearer to me, and speak more soothingly in my soul, than when the moonlight flickered among those chestnut leaves, and the night air played on my throbbing brow, as I told all my heart to Jesus. Alone, yet not alone! If it be to glorify my God, I will not grudge to spend many nights alone in such a tree, to feel again my Savior’s spiritual presence, to enjoy His consoling fellowship.[2] 

  1. Knowing that God hears us assures us that God will answer. 

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”—Matthew 7:7–11 

  1. Knowing that God hears us assures us even when he does not answer as we expected or with what we asked.

    He will give us more of himself in the all-sufficient grace of Christ—the treasure, the indescribable gift. 

But he said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.—2 Corinthians 12:9 

3. Reflect: Displaying the Character of the God Who Listens in Our Relationship With Others

Let’s now reflect on the implications that has on our relationships with others. The fact that God hears us in Christ shapes our willingness to listen to others. 

I believe that—while some of you may have the gift of listening—many of us do not. Rather than listening when others speak, we are thinking of the next thing to say, checking our phones, or checking out in one of a thousand other ways. Consider these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.[3] 

Too often we forget that there is an inseparable connection between listening and love. Have you ever “tuned out” the very people you ought to love with your listening ears? Think about it. When others listen to you, you interpret it as a form of love. However, when you are not listened to, you interpret it as not being loved. We know that when friends, or spouses or parents do not listen to one another, love is strained and conflict is inevitable. This is true in every relationship—especially trans-racial relationships. Consider again words from Bonhoeffer:

There is also a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. This impatient, inattentive listening really despises the other Christian and finally is only waiting to get a chance to speak and thus to get rid of the other. This sort of listening is no fulfillment of our task. And it is certain that here, too, in our attitude toward other Christians we simply see reflected our own relationship to God.[4] 

The call to listen is implicit in the command to love one another and is clearly reflective of the glorious grace of God we have received. Think about it. We are called to …

1. Be “imitators of God as dearly loved children” (Ephesians 5:1). Q: Since God lovingly hears us do you think our imitation of him might include lovingly listening to others—and thereby glorify God who lovingly hears us?

2. “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). Q: But isn’t it true that we will not know the burdens of others if we do not take the time to listen to them.

3. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10). Isn’t it true that we listen to those for whom we have affection? And when we listen to another person we show them honor and respect?

4. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Q: Can this be done without taking the time to listen to the deep affections of the human heart—the causes for rejoicing and weeping?

5. Listen to one another when we speak the Word to one another: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19).

6. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Q: Is it possible to confess sin to another brother or sister in Christ if he/she is not listening?

7. “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12). So, as Christ laid down his life for us, so also we are called to lay down our lives in love for one another. Yet, most often, the expressions of humble, self-denying love don’t actually involve dying for each other. (How many of you have died for another?) No, more often the call to love one another looks more like this: 

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Philippians 2:3–4

I do believe that when it comes to loving people by listening Jesus would approve of this paraphrase of the golden rule: “Listen to one another as you would have others listen to you.”

Polarization and Ethnic Harmony 

My greatest concern at Bethlehem, and the gospel believing church as a whole, is polarization.

About 20 years ago, the Bethlehem tradition began of two annual topical sermons each January—one on racial/ethnic harmony and the other on the sanctity of human life—to bring biblical truth to bear on these two pressing issues in our nation. Looking back, many, I trust most, at Bethlehem in those days embraced both of these as two practical convictions grounded in our biblical understanding of all human beings created in God’s image. 

Yet, there were always some who made it clear that they were more interested in one emphasis over the other. There was a steady minority with comments like these:

  • “I’m so glad we highlight racial harmony, but to make much of sanctity of life is too political, too right-wing.”
  • “I’m so glad we highlight the sanctity of life human life, but to make much of ethnic harmony is too political, too left-wing.”

If you were to graph it on a bell curve, there was a big bulge of Bethlehem members who embraced both convictions and a few on each end who struggled with one or the other. In the forced-choice world of two-party American politics this was remarkable, because it admitted that in our two political parties both got some things right, and both got some things wrong. Unlike the politics of that day, we were more apt to admit—even if reluctantly—that each of our political parties reflected some portion of biblical concerns and values. Sure, there were differences, but somehow it felt easier to stand together as citizens of the church on biblical convictions and values and implications—even when it conflicted with our preferred political party.

It seems to me our current context at Bethlehem is different now and reflects the current polarization of America. Today, America is as polarized as I have seen in my life time. Pick an issue and you know what I am talking about. You can see it more sharply since the 2016 election—people across America tend toward one political worldview see the other as dangerously wrong—even purely evil. We now have polarized news. Polarized books. Polarized entertainment. Polarized websites. Polarized podcasts. There are a few exceptions to this, but the exceptions prove the rule.

The American evangelical church is split along ethnic and racial lines. Racially speaking, there is a gulf between many the white believers and minority believers. It may have begun before 2016. But in the 2016 election year, the gospel believing Christian church experienced a serious fracture. The church experienced polarization between churches and within churches. Bethlehem is no exception. The bell curve we used to enjoy with its bulging common ground in the middle began flattening out as American culture became more and more polarized—and so, too, have we.

Truth be told, there are a 1,000 things we are united upon, but that does not seem to matter in a polarized culture. In the polarized culture, if you are not with me, you are against me. If you are against me, you are evil. If you are evil, you must not be a real Christian or you have no regard for biblical truth. If you are not in my corner, I don’t need to listen to you at all. 

I told you all that, to call you to this: God listens to you. Imitate him, by listening to others. God help us to labor in the church to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. May God grant that as we love others by listening we might be moved forward in our pursuit of ethnic harmony as never before. 

Concluding Resolutions

In his little book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes most insightfully about the ministry of listening among believers. His insights into Christian community are inextricably linked to the years he spent leading an underground seminary while living in community with his students.

The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives us God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.[5]

So, in order to reflect the glory of God and his grace to us in Christ, would you join me in this resolve especially as it relates to ending the polarization in our church and making progress in the cause of ethnic harmony? It is a resolve to love by listening to others:

As God hears my prayers and in reflection of his love to me, I resolve to listen to the words, the stories, the experiences, the concerns, the interests, the teaching, the successes and the sufferings of others in the church—even when it might be uncomfortable—in order to know them more fully and love them as I have been loved by Christ. 



May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5–6).

[1] cf. “Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free” (Psalm 118:5).

[2] John G. Paton, Missionary to the New Hebrides: An Autobiography Edited by His Brother (1889, 1891; reprint, Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth, 1965), p. 200.

[3] Page(s): 93–93, Life Together Prayerbook of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Augsburg Fortress, Publishers. NOOKstudy (Kenneth Stokes, ). This material is protected by copyright.

[4] Page(s): 93–93, Life Together Prayerbook of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Augsburg Fortress, Publishers. NOOKstudy (Kenneth Stokes, ). This material is protected by copyright.

[5] Page(s): 93–93, Life Together Prayerbook of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Augsburg Fortress, Publishers. NOOKstudy (Kenneth Stokes, ). This material is protected by copyright.