I love to whistle. It helps me celebrate life. Unfortunately, my whistling doesn't seem to provoke the same sense of celebration in others. I whistle in an unusually high pitch, so although I do a superb job of reproducing the tune, I also cause damage to ear drums. When I whistle, I hear a symphony, others hear pain. Same noise, different sound. This same dynamic also occurs in nature. When an eagle cries we hear look up at me!, but the nearby birds hear get outta here! When smaller birds chirp, we hear the beautiful background music of life, but their friends hear specific messages. Here in Florida, croaking frogs, barking dogs, belching gators, singing crickets, quacking ducks, cackling cranes, humming lizards and rhythmic cicadas all work together to create a pleasant white noise, but that noise is full of distinct sounds recognized by each species.
In one of our church services you are likely to hear the cooing or soft crying of a newborn. But, what you hear and what the child's mother hears is not the same. She will know the meaning behind each sound, whimper and cry. You may also hear a young man named Jesse. He often says something loudly during the sermon or after a song. You won't be able to understand what he says, but the Lord will. You will hear a confusing sound, but the Lord will hear a joyful noise. Jesse has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair but his heart soars freely in worship. Sometimes he weeps, causing him to snort, and some hear a young man struggling to catch his breath, but the Lord hears a broken and contrite heart. Same noise, different sound.
Those still outside the family of God can hear a Bible verse, testimony or sermon without necessarily hearing the truth. They might hear what they consider to be antiquated beliefs, ignorance, naiveté, or irrelevance. While believers are being edified, nonbelievers could be getting irritated, disinterested or bewildered. Even believers can hear different things from the same message. One may hear something new from the Lord, while another hears the same old thing. One thinks the Lord is speaking directly to him while another thinks the Lord is talking to others. One hears life-changing truth while another thinks none of it relates to his life. Even in church, we can all be hearing the same noise, but registering different sounds. Maybe that is what Jesus means when He said, he who has ears to hear, let him hear.
When we pray, do you think God might hear something different than what we say? James warned us, You ask, and receive not, because you ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. He hears our words, but He also hears much more. He hears our pride, our indifference, our self-centeredness, our vindictiveness, our facades, our fears and our lack of faith. He hears our hearts. Prayer is not a ritual endowed with inherent power. It is not a set of formulaic mantras through which we can manipulate supernatural powers. Prayer is the honest and humble expression of the human heart/spirit to an all-knowing and all-powerful God. He cannot be fooled and He will not be manipulated. When the noise of our prayerful words matches the sound of our broken hearts we pray with authenticity, and therefore, power. David wrote, the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart.
When we witness, what does the world hear? Often, that depends more upon our attitude and delivery than it does the content. The world often hears the noise made by Christians as nothing more than the sound of self-righteousness when it is the message of God's Word that needs to be clearly heard. We must speak the truth in love and with wisdom, or else we just become sounding brass and tinkling cymbals.
May the Lord hear our praise as a truly joyful noise,
PS - March is Missions Month at Faith Baptist and our special guests on March 11 are Dr. John and Kathy McCall. They are missionaries with Outreach to Asia Nationals now, but they led our church for 26 years. I hope you will join us on that Sunday to welcome them back to Sarasota.