He was still speaking, when lo, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased; listen to Him.”
Today has been dubbed “giving Tuesday.” There is never a pitch from the “Prayer Team” for anyone to offer anything but prayers. I do wish to acknowledge those who donate to the Prayer Team. Your contribution helps get the message on different platforms and enables publications to be completed and marketed. While I do not have time to acknowledge every gift, I read every email and I am grateful for your support. More than this, I am grateful for your prayers, because I feel them, and I feel strengthened and inspired by them. Hearing that these messages are beneficial to many people and are a part of many people’s daily routines is both humbling and encouraging. So on this giving Tuesday, thank you for the gift of your prayers and your gift of encouragement to keep writing. Thank YOU!
The word “obedience” has a bad connotation to many people. People associate being obedient to losing freedom. If I am simply obeying something, then there seems to be no room for my own thoughts. I would disagree. I think there is actually more freedom in obedience.
Let me give two examples. The first is obeying the law. Laws and rules are put into place to provide for the safety of all people. If there are no rules or laws, or if no one obeys them, the result will be chaos and anarchy, not freedom. Imagine if there were no stop-lights at intersections, nothing to indicate when it was time to stop, or safe to proceed. It would be a “free-for-all,” which ironically would mean, “free for none.” Or more likely it would mean, freedom for the most aggressive driver or the one with the biggest car. We need rules and laws in order to be free.
The second example comes from school. In high school and college classes, on the first day of the term, the teacher or professor hands the students a syllabus for the class, which provides the scope of what will be studied, the assignments and tests that will be given, and what is expected of the students if they want to attain a good grade. When I was a student, years ago, I went into every class hoping to earn an “A” grade. I appreciated the teachers laying out exactly what I needed to do in order to get one. I knew that if I “obeyed” the syllabus I could earn the “A” grade I wanted. Now imagine that there is no syllabus. The teacher doesn’t lay out any specific expectations. If the teacher randomly assigns homework, gives surprise tests, doesn’t say what information will be covered in class or what a student would need to know for the final exam, this would be like mental torture to the serious student. Again, there is freedom in having it all spelled out for you and just staying obedient to the path. In some ways, obedience makes us the most free, because we know that if we stay on the path, we will make it to the destination.
Imagine in the college class that a student attends class only occasionally, does only a fraction of the assigned work, learns only a cursory bit of the material and heads to the final without having studied. He or she is probably not going to get a very good grade. Plenty of people do that, especially in college, and find that after four years of partying and having fun, they didn’t earn a degree. Most people figure out how to manage their time so that they earn the degree and still have some fun along the way.
In the same way as following a syllabus leads to a good grade, listening to God leads to eternal life. God has provided the syllabus—you can find it in the Bible. The good news is that you don’t even have to read the whole Bible to find it. You can choose even small amounts of Scripture and if you follow what you read with obedience and consistency, you will be well-prepared for the final exam, to stand at the awesome judgment seat of Christ and have a “good account” prepared, as we pray for in the petition in the Divine Liturgy. For instance, in Luke 6:37, Jesus says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven.” Imagine if this was the only verse of the Bible we knew, and we went through life without ever judging or condemning someone, if we forgave everyone who ever wronged us. I know, it’s hard to imagine because this is virtually impossible to do. A person could choose to “major in Luke 6:37” and that would provide a path to eternal life.
A person could “major” in four words of Scripture if those four words were Matthew 6:10, “Thy will be done.” In fact, these four words that are part of the Lord’s Prayer, if we really meant them, would be the only four words of prayer we would ever need to utter. Because if we followed God’s will every moment of every day, we would forgive, be patient, use our talents, and would do all the things God would hope for us to do in our lives.
God does not make our course of study difficult to understand. It is difficult to do, but not difficult to understand. Our overall success in life is dependent on obedience to the commandments, which correlates to trust in God, faith that His words are true and that the things Jesus did two thousand years ago are true. Listening to God’s voice through the Scriptures, and listening for it in prayer and worship are essential to understanding and to obedience. Taking time is also critical—we won’t hear the voice of God if we are not listening, and we can’t listen unless we slow down and focus which comes with time.
If we don’t take time to listen, we will not hear. If we do not hear, we will not know. If we do not know, we cannot obey. And if we know, but do not obey, we will not do well in God’s syllabus for our lives. His desire is for us to get the “A”, to end up in His heavenly kingdom. He doesn’t tell us “you start with an ‘F’ and have to dig yourself out of that hole.” He tells us “you start with an ‘A’ and it’s yours to lose.” Just like being obedient to the syllabus in class leads to a good grade, staying obedient to God and His syllabus is what leads to everlasting life.
Come, O Christ-bearing people, let us see a miracle that amazes and perplexes every mind, and in pious adoration let us sing praises with faith. Today, a pregnant Maiden is coming to Bethlehem to give birth to the Lord; and choirs of Angels go before her. When Joseph, her betrothed, saw this, he cried out, “What is this strange mystery I see in you, O Virgin? And how will you, the unmated heifer, give birth?” (Doxastikon, 6th Hour, Royal Hours of the Nativity, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: How can you best listen to the voice of God?