When I was growing up in Nigeria, there were parts of the country so remote that people would have to travel several hours to get to a church. In these places, church services were so infrequent because there was a shortage of ministers too. Furthermore, very few could read, so giving them religious materials was of little use. As a result, these people rarely heard the word of God. There are many today, who either through geography or persecution, have limited access to God’s word.
This is hard to imagine in the West because there are so many Bible teachers and gifted preachers. You can download a Bible in most languages from any app store. Videos of sermons are easily accessible on social media platforms and we are surrounded by churches. We may take that for granted, but no generation has had as much access to sound Bible teaching as this generation. As a result, most of us hear great Bible teaching and profound life-changing messages on a regular basis.
While there may be differences in doctrines across church denominations, the fundamentals of the Christian faith are clear-cut. Less we forget, Jesus did not present the gospel to the learned of the day. He preached it to common people, some of whom were illiterate fishermen, and they understood it. In fact, we have that gospel today because these men and women went on to share it with others. While we will never fully comprehend God or His word [1 Corinthians 13:9, Romans 11:33], there is enough which is easy to understand. The question is: are we practising those bits we understand?
Ensuring we live out God’s word is something the Bible warns us about repeatedly. A Christian is someone who makes every effort to do what God says. Quite frankly, anyone who claims to be a Christian but ignores God’s word and doesn’t make a serious effort to apply it is deluding themselves. James reminds us that it is the doer, not the hearer that is blessed [James 1:22-25]. The strongest warning though comes from Jesus. At the end of His Sermon on the Mount [Matthew 5–7], He tells His listeners: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!’ [Matthew 7:21-23 NIV]. This is a clear warning to all of us Christians. It would be a real shame to be denied by Jesus after spending our lives in Church
Like most people, I find that shortly after hearing a great message, I am inspired to change the aspects of my life it has resonated with. However, before I can put what I learnt into practice and make it a habit, I hear another message and my focus changes to something else. This cycle repeats itself quite often and so I don’t apply enough of what I hear. Jesus touches on this in the parable of the sower [Luke 8:4-15]. He lists four categories of hearers: those who hear but don’t believe. Those who have no foundation and don’t practice what they hear when trials come. Those who are distracted by life and have prioritised the things of this world over God’s word. And lastly, those who hear, believe and retain it, and then practice it. This is evident in their lives because the fruits are visible. Have you ever reflected on which category you fall into? The answer has eternal consequences.
I desperately want to be in that last category. It starts with a concerted effort to hear God’s word. This is not just hearing a sermon on a Sunday (none of us would do too well if we ate once a week), we must become students of God’s word and feed on it regularly[Matthew 4:4] because, in the same way, our bodies will starve without food, we will die spiritually without God’s word.
When I was a student, I took notes during lectures and whilst studying. The notes helped me to remember what I learnt. In the same way, we should always take notes when we hear a great message. As I found out in school, it is very difficult to remember everything you hear or read without notes. I once heard a wonderful anecdote about taking notes. A speaker at the end of a sermon asked the congregation to write down one thing from the sermon they were going to apply to their lives. After they had done this, he asked them to put a start date next to the one thing. Then he said something like, “make a covenant between you and God that you will you do everything in your power to apply that one thing in your life”. We could all benefit from practising this.
As someone who blogs about the Christian faith, this is a tough post because of its implications for me. It would be dreadful if after writing all this, Jesus says to me “I do not know you”. I am grateful our God is benevolent. He doesn’t leave us to figure things out ourselves. As long as we commit to obeying His word, He promises a sufficiency of grace. However, we must combine that grace with an uncompromising determination to ensure that the faith we profess is evident in the life we live [James 2:14-26]. Most of us are blessed to have God’s word readily available, but to whom much is given, much is also expected.