Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at email@example.com.
I’m reading through Solomon’s book of Ecclesiastes and two thoughts grab my attention. First, it’s so depressing. Solomon says that everything is “vanity” or “worthless emptiness.” Second, I found it quite intriguing that in chapter five Solomon was adamant that we keep our mouths shut when we come before God in prayer.Could you throw some light on this?
Love, Mary Beth
Dear Mary Beth,
First, the term “vanity” is often translated as “emptiness” as if the world is completely worthless to me: however; I don’t believe that is what Solomon is saying at all.
This term, “vanity” is a translation of the Hebrew word that means “mist.”
Solomon is saying that the things of earth are like the morning mist. By 10 o’clock it’s all burned off. Things on earth are real, but they don’t last long, the sun is burning them up by the minute. Therefore, enjoy them while you can.
Since all things will ultimately dissipate, we need to listen carefully to God to know his plans for us, and for how we should choose to act and behave. In light of the dissipating mist, everything we say and do is important.
Mary Beth, there are many verses in the Bible about listening to God. I’m going to use the passage you mentioned in Ecclesiastes to be the guideline for answering your question.
Solomon’s thesis is: God is speaking. Listen carefully and take seriously what He says.
Here are 4 important elements to remember:
1. Draw near and listen–because God is speaking to you.
Ecclesiastes 5:1: Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know they do wrong.
In my experience I spend more time talking to God in prayer than I spend listening. I imagine that you are a lot like me.
Notice the proportion. It’s not equal. We are to listen much more than we are to talk. This means that we get quiet and listen for God deep in our innermost spirit.
Mostly, in this quiet state, He will share with us what he wants us to know and do.
Can you imagine that listening to God might give guidance to the things he wants us to talk about and about which He wants us to pray?
The “sacrifice of fools” that Solomon mentions is the perfunctory, careless observance of religion, enacted out of custom or habit.
The “sacrifice of fools” is the human tendency to complain about our lot in life. When we grouse about our circumstances, we are actually complaining against the plans God has made for our lives.
The “sacrifice of fools” is giving God the leftovers (Malachi 1:10-13).
The “sacrifice of fools” is giving God lip service without changed lives (Ezekiel 33:31-32; Genesis 28:20-26).
The “sacrifice of fools” is making decisions without carefully involving God (Judges 11:29-49).
Listen for God to speak in a variety of ways:
- The Bible (Psalms 119:105).
- Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-3).
- Sign and wonders (Acts 3:1-10).
- Putting out “fleeces” to discern God’s will (Judges 6:36-40).
- Godly People (Ecclesiastes 4:13).
- The Creation (Romans 1:18).
- Preachers and Prophets (Acts 11:28-29).
- In our inner-most human spirit during quiet moments (1 Kings 19:11-13).
- In the human mind by sorting out the “pros and cons” of a decision (Isaiah 1:18).
- Dreams (Joel 2:28-29).
- Visions (Joel 2:28-29).
- Failure (Matthew 26:75; John 21).
- In our inner-most-human spirit when we are consistently seeking God (Jeremiah 29:12-13)
- Circumstances (Proverbs 3:5-6)
2. When we finally listen to what He has to say, nothing will be the same again.
On the one hand, when we listen carefully, we hear God sharing all the good and profitable things that he’s both given and done for us: Forgiveness; Acceptance; Salvation; Eternal Life; Assurance; Security; Peace; Protection; The Indwelling Of The Holy Spirit; and Victory Through The Power Of Jesus Christ, just to name a few.
As we appropriate these gifts into everyday living, we find that our lives are changing in a positive way. We’re looking more and more like Jesus.
Jeremiah 29:1: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
Psalm 85:8: I will listen to what God the Lord says; he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants.”
However, listening to Jesus may well cost us our very lives.
God said to Jeremiah, (I will paraphrase), “Listen to me, I want you to be my prophet. But there’s a cost. The people will laugh at you, scorn you, hit you, beat you, and throw you in cisterns. They will never do one word that you say. Do you still want the job?”(Jeremiah 1:52).
In Exodus 20:18-21 while God was on Mount Sinai, Moses invited the people to come close to the mountain to listen what God had to say: “When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Truer words were never spoken.
It costs to be a prophet. Every Christian is called upon to listen for God as part of their kingdom responsibilities. Do you still want to listen for God to speak to you? As Christians, who are following Jesus, we have no other choice.
Dealing with God is serious business.
Luke 9:57-62: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you going proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied,” No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
3. Be quiet and stay calm—because God has the best perspective on our lives.
Ecclesiastes 5:2-3: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. As a dream comes when there are many cares, so the speech of a fool when there are many words.”
When we want to know God’s will, or perhaps what’s going on in our lives; we often do all the talking and thus can’t hear when God speaks.
Solomon might say it like this: “When you want to hear from God, shut up.”
When Elijah finally got quiet enough to listen, God was able to tell him what was really going on.
Elijah thought he was the only one left of God’s people; but when he took time to listen, God told him that there were over 7000 Israelites who refused to follow Baal.
Who can ever imagine what God might say when we quiet down and listen, listen?
From his earthly perspective, Elijah thought both he and his ministry failed. From God’s perspective, he was a great success.
We want to listen to what God is saying, but we won’t shut up long enough to hear
4. Make a commitment and keep it—don’t play games with God.
Ecclesiastes 5:4-5: “When you make a vow to God, do not delay in fulfilling it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it.”
Solomon is talking here about the Foxhole Prayer. “Dear Lord, if you just get me out of this alive, I promise to become a Christian,”or, “I will become a preacher” or, “I’ll clean up my life and never do bad things again,” and so forth.
In other words, don’t make any promises to God and then fail to follow up. Talk is cheap. We must be willing to do His will before He will speak to us.
John 7:17: “If any man is willing do his will, he shall know of the doctrine...Of God...”
James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves; do what it says.”
A man came to my office to seek counseling. He wanted to know God’s will in a particular situation. I asked him, “Are you willing to do what God tells you no matter what it is?”
“Not really. First, I want to know what He says so I can decide whether or not I want to do it.”
“Then,” I replied, “unless you’re willing to do His will whatever it may be, I am not prepared to help you find the answer. Jesus said that those who listen and are surrendered to do His will, are ones who hear His will.”
Ecclesiastes 5:6-7: Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore, stand in awe of God.”
My favorite “quiet down” passage is from David in Psalm 131:
Psalm 131: “My heart is not proud, O Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a child quieted at its mother breast, like a child that is quieted is my soul (RSV).
Mary Beth, I hope that I answered well your questions and that my answer will help you along in your spiritual growth!
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.
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