The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016 - Amos (4)

The Book of the Twelve for Lent 2016

The Rhythm of Life - Amos (4)

Lent 14

          Amos has sketched Israel’s life from its beginning as a nation due to God’s gracious intervention and rescue of them from Egypt. And his equipping and preparing them for life as his people through whom he will bless the rest of the world. And his promise of his own presence and power with them. Further, has detailed the manifold ways in which the people have failed him and their mission. These failures have occasioned the threat of a “day of the Lord” and the people don’t seem to realize the trouble they are in:

Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord!
  Why do you want the day of the Lord?
It is darkness, not light;                                                                       as if someone fled from a lion,
  and was met by a bear;
or went into the house and rested a hand against the wall,
    and was bitten by a snake.                                                          Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light,
    and gloom with no brightness in it? (5:18-20)

          The rhythm of life, the way Israel is called to live, is stated by Amos as “hear” (3:13; 4:1; 5:1) and “seek” (5:4,6,14). The Hebrew word shamah (“hear”) is more than a mere hearing of what someone is saying. It also carries the sense of “heeding” what is heard. It means “hear/heed.” Amos picks up on this aspect with his call to “seek.” Both of these words, then, call attention to the importance of listening. If we listen and how we listen usually determines whether or not we respond properly to what is heard. Therefore, I want to look today at this business of listening.

Adam McHugh describes listening this way: “Listening is never passive, a stall or placeholder until doing steps in and saves the day. Biblical listening is a whole-hearted, full-bodied listening that not only vibrates our eardrums but echoes in our souls and resonates out into our limbs” (The Listening Life).

But (as in Amos’ day) many obstacles to such listening today.  

1.    We’re fragmented – as fallen human beings we’re alienated from our center and source (God). We do not truly know ourselves or what is best for us. This is really the root of our difficulty in listening to God. The rest are exacerbating factors.


2.    Too much noise – the 24/7 365 wired and connected world we live in means the possibility of “wall to wall” noise. This is a reality for many in our culture.

3.    Loneliness, which can lead to self-absorption – loneliness leaves us alone with ourselves with no one to buffer the central place of the “I” in our lives.  When thus focused on our “self” we hear only our own voice and its echoes.


4.    Fear of change – none of us change easily or often. I mean really change in the sense of transforming our lives or some aspects of them.


5.    A visual culture stimulates by images – listening is some respects less important than it was in less imagistic settings and contexts.

Good listening, for those of us nurtured in the culture described above, has to be learned. And it can be. It begins by making ourselves available to hear what God says at the place where he says it. And that means the Bible. And the willingness to believe that God wants to talk to us and has through these ancient words. And we can find no better guide to teach us than Dietrich Bonhoeffer (adapted from

1. Good listening requires patience.

Bonhoeffer warns us to avoid “a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say.” This, he says, “is an impatient, inattentive listening, that . . . is only waiting for a chance to speak.” Full attention is necessary for genuine listening.

2. Good listening is an act of love.

True listening, according to Bonhoeffer, “despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.” Poor listening rejects and diminishes others; good listening embraces others and invites them to realize their existence and that they matter. Hearing God begin with such listening that tends to his reality in his speaking.

3. Good listening prepares us to speak well.

“We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” A person who listens to God without defensiveness or trying to deflect the significance of God’s word to them will be better able to know what to say to others when the time comes.

4. Good listening reflects our relationship with God.

who can no longer listen to his brother or sister will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life . . . . Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies. (Bonhoeffer)

          May the Spirit teach us such listening and may we thus hear God’s word to us in Amos, the hard words that so easily put us off but which are absolutely crucial to a faithful practice of Lent.


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