To whom do we listen?

March 9, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 6
Phil Wagler |

The real driver of our lives—and even our churches—is whose voice we hear and obey. We make decisions to listen to and give authority somewhere. We quote, footnote and reference. We point to a source, and usually one that agrees with us.

“As you have lived, so have you believed,” said philosopher Soren Kierkegaard. Our manner of living depends on who we believe has authority to speak to and for us. The voice we ultimately heed shapes our values, action, community and decision-making. It is this need that is at the root of an authoritative canon for faith and life.

We disregard Scripture to our own demise. The Hebrew and Christian Scriptures—our Holy Bible—has been communally discerned for millennia to be God’s speech to us. Scripture reveals the nature and character of God, his plan and activity to save and redeem humanity through Jesus the Christ, and carries transformative power for individual and corporate life that is the mark of the Spirit’s work. Where this Word of God is heard, discerned and heeded, it is often disruptive, for it points a way forward while calling the community of faith back into covenant-keeping and the freedom of following.

Scripture is to be honoured, received, heard—not simply studied—and obeyed. On the other hand, Scripture is not to be worshipped. The book is not God, but it tunes our ears to hear him and opens our eyes to identify his work in every time. Sometimes this Word inspires new direction, as in the Acts 15 discernment of salvation by grace for gentiles, and sometimes it leads back to firm foundations, as in Jesus’ call to the Ephesians to come back to their first love. The lesson is: If we are to be Christian and the church, we need to hear from God.

In Mark 4, Jesus tells multiple parables that essentially contain the same seed of truth: The Word of God seeks good soil and will do a fruitful work wherever it is received. We need to be good soil for this Word—doing some cultivating of hard paths and clearing out the rocks and thorns—and we also need to marvel at the power of the Word to do good work and produce good fruit without fancy feats by us. We need ears to hear.

Mark 4 ends in a marvellous way. Jesus is asleep in the boat as the waves rage, and the disciples are confused and sure their ship is sunk. They wake Jesus in a panic, he calms the storm and they can only question: “Who then is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). The point, in the context of the parables and the seafaring adventure that all happen on the same day (Mark 4:35), seems to be unsettlingly blunt: If the wind and waves listen to him, shouldn’t we?

So if the real driver of our lives is whom we listen to and obey, who is really worthy of such authority? Is it not he who speaks in this way? What is it that stands in the way of our hearing him?

Phil Wagler ( lives in Surrey, B.C. He serves in pastoral and global mission work, and still marvels at the power of the Word to transform.

See another reflection by Phil Wagler: “The beautiful mind of Christ”

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