Turning a Cold Shoulder

One of the most frustrating things about parenting is when a child won’t listen. I was talking with two moms last week who are in the throes of raising teenagers, and each shared a story about their kid not listening. It is hard to know if it is due to inattention, selective hearing, rebelliousness, stubbornness, distraction, or a combination of all those things. If you have raised a teenager, you know the struggle!

I know a mother of a four-year-old who contends with the same issue. She has developed a unique strategy that seems to work. She gently takes her son’s chin in her hand and gets down to his eye level. Then she says, “Ryan, look me in my eye.” Works every time. Unfortunately, that won’t work with your teenager when she is walking away from you, and it definitely won’t work when they are taller than you, but it does point to the necessity of ensuring that you have the child’s full attention.

I bet there are many times in my life when God wishes he could stoop down in front of me, hold my chin gently in his mighty hand and say, “Betsy! Look me in my eye.”

Our passage from Zechariah is a cautionary tale about what happens when we don’t look God in the eye and pay attention to what he is saying. His law, his instructions, and his will for our lives are clearly spelled out multiple times in Scripture. But too often we are walking away and not listening.

Zechariah 7 (Common English Bible)

 8 The Lord’s word came to Zechariah:
The Lord of heavenly forces proclaims:

Make just and faithful decisions; show kindness and compassion to each other! 10 Don’t oppress the widow, the orphan, the stranger, and the poor; don’t plan evil against each other! 11 But they refused to pay attention. They turned a cold shoulder and stopped listening.

Neglecting to show mercy the way God shows mercy to us has negative consequences. As we talk about God being our refuge and our deliverer, we sometimes forget that we can anger God if we don’t offer those same things to other people who are hurting. When we steel our hearts against his Word and do things our way, there indeed is “hell to pay.”

1They steeled their hearts against hearing the Instruction and the words that the Lord of heavenly forces sent by his spirit through the earlier prophets. As a result, the Lord of heavenly forces became enraged.

13 So just as he called and they didn’t listen, when they called, I didn’t listen, says the Lord of heavenly forces. 14 I scattered them throughout the nations whom they didn’t know. The land was devastated behind them, with no one leaving or returning. They turned a delightful land into a wasteland.

Modern readers, take heed. God distanced himself from Israel when they gave him the cold shoulder. Left to their own apostasy, the beautiful Promised Land they had been given turned into a wasteland whose borders are still in dispute today.

This warning from an Old Testament prophet is a wake-up call. What is God calling you to do today that you are resisting? Pay attention. Look him in his eye. Ignoring God comes with a great price, so listen, trust, and obey.

Pay Attention by Wende Pritchard

If You Have Ears

Our foray into Matthew’s gospel today brings us to a familiar parable. If you spent any time in Sunday School or VBS, you may recall the well-known “Parable of the Sower.” It is a cautionary tale about seeds, soil, sowing, and harvesting. But mostly it’s about listening. If you have ears, pay attention.

I love the scene that Matthew sets in the first paragraph. He describes the cool lake in Galilee, the excited crowds eager to hear Jesus speak, and how Jesus turns a boat into a pulpit to deliver his message.

 Matthew 13 (The Message)

That same day Jesus left the house and went out beside Lake Galilee, where he sat down to teach. Such large crowds gathered around him that he had to sit in a boat, while the people stood on the shore. Then he taught them many things by using stories.

Pandemic pastors can relate. We have had to turn desks, kitchen tables, office studies, empty sanctuaries, pick up trucks, and back yard picnic tables into instant pulpits. My colleague and I even turned a graveyard, a beach, and a staircase at a baseball field house into instant pulpits. When God’s message needs to be heard, any pulpit will do. If you have ears, pay attention.

He said:

A farmer went out to scatter seed in a field. While the farmer was scattering the seed, some of it fell along the road and was eaten by birds. Other seeds fell on thin, rocky ground and quickly started growing because the soil wasn’t very deep. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched and dried up, because they did not have enough roots. Some other seeds fell where thornbushes grew up and choked the plants. But a few seeds did fall on good ground where the plants produced a hundred or sixty or thirty times as much as was scattered. If you have ears, pay attention!

One of the things I appreciate about this particular parable is that you don’t have to try to figure it out. Jesus is very clear and straightforward in how he wants us to interpret its meaning.

18 Now listen to the meaning of the story about the farmer:

19 The seeds that fell along the road are the people who hear the message about the kingdom, but don’t understand it. Then the evil one comes and snatches the message from their hearts. 20 The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it right away. 21 But they don’t have deep roots, and they don’t last very long. As soon as life gets hard or the message gets them in trouble, they give up.

Does this describe you at any point in your life? Hearing, but not listening? Things got hard, so you gave up? I know it describes me. God calls us to listen to his Word deeply enough that it takes root in our hearts and especially our actions…which speak louder than words.

22 The seeds that fell among the thornbushes are also people who hear the message. But they start worrying about the needs of this life and are fooled by the desire to get rich. So the message gets choked out, and they never produce anything.

Or maybe you’re in the thornbushes. You know what God is saying to you, but your concern over your day-to-day life, your worries, or your desire for more material comfort chokes out the message.

 23 The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted.

The message is simple. Be the good ground. Hear, understand, grow, and plant seeds in others.

If you have ears, pay attention!

Rocky Road by Becca Ziegler