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September 1, 2010
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This summer Neil and I had the decidedly unhappy task of admitting to ourselves that the shrubs to one side of our front door were dead and must be removed. A small team of people with hatchets and shovels made relatively quick work of the removal. Then we had a lovely, empty patch of dirt, all raked and ready to be replanted. But we were interrupted by the daily afternoon downpour. When the rain ceased and we came out to resume the work, there in the dirt was a perfect illustration of my latest biblical rumination…

The water had poured off the roof in sheets, creating in the un-mulched dirt a distinct, deep line along that side of the house, under our front windows, as if someone had drawn it precisely with a stick. I wish I had taken a picture of it! That morning, I had been thinking of the places in the Scriptures where God seems to be eavesdropping. It is a crazy idea, I suppose, since he is omnipresent and even hears all our thoughts. But still, there are Bible stories that suggest the idea, so I had looked up the word. The root, as you can guess, is that someone stands at your window, as close as the line where water drops from the eaves of your house, and therefore hears all you say inside.

Remember the wonderful scene of mutual eavesdropping in Genesis 18? The Lord, through three visitors, meets Abraham outside his tent and promises that Sarah, his wife, is soon to become pregnant. Abraham and Sarah were about a hundred years old at the time. Sarah is eavesdropping from inside the tent and has a good laugh at the thought. “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”(v.12, RSV) But God is eavesdropping on her eavesdropping! He challenges her for laughing. In what I have always heard as an affectionate conversation, Sarah denies laughing, but God insists that he heard her, and promises both Abraham and Sarah that He’s not joking!

2 Kings 6 records another great eavesdropping scene. The king of Syria makes plan after plan to attack Israel. But each time the Lord warns the prophet Elisha, and Elisha tips off the king of Israel. Furious, the king of Syria accuses his leadership of spying for the enemy. “Which of you is the traitor?” (v.11, NLV) Desperate, they reply, “It’s not us… Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in the privacy of your bedroom!” (v.12, NLV)

Why do these scenes intrigue me? Several times over the years God has gently challenged me that even though I can be assured that he hears my every thought, he would still like me to direct my cries to him. As well, the Scriptures have taught me that we have the power to encourage the Lord, and even the saints and angels, as they eavesdrop on us!

Years ago I faced a stressful time in ministry work. I lacked the skills I needed. I lacked the people I needed. I lacked the money I needed. I began to awaken in the middle of each night, coiled with anxiety. One night I gave up trying to sleep and made my way to the kitchen to make herb tea. One of my daughters had brought a box of Christian tea home from college. Though I detest the idea of selling tea for twice its value because it has a Bible verse on each teabag’s cardboard dunker, still I reached for it. As I steeped my tea, I absent-mindedly read my teabag. I was taken aback. Here is what it said: “My people wail on their beds in the middle of the night, but they don’t cry out to me from their hearts!” (Hosea 7:14) I would have told you that I was praying as I tossed and turned each night. But it was not prayer… only a vague awareness that God was eavesdropping… that I was somehow struggling in His presence. He was challenging me to direct my angst specifically to him, even if it meant crying out! It is a subtle, but a fundamental distinction. Chastened, I directed my cries to him, and within hours in the next work day, my situation changed radically.

Confirming this lesson is a now favorite scene in the book of Malachi, chapter 3. The people of God are complaining to each other that their faithfulness to him seems to be doing them no good. The passage implies that they are suffering in some way, while the arrogant and faithless ones ‘get rich’! What’s up with that? God is eavesdropping and he challenges them: “‘You have said terrible things about me,’ says the Lord.” They deny it, just like Sarah! But the Lord persists, playing their conversation back to them. He provokes them to complain to his face. What is the point here? God can hear our grumbling to each other, even our inner wrestling. But he wants us to direct those comments to him. Only then can we receive his answers and appreciate his purposes.

But the best part is still ahead. Malachi continues, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him.” (v.16, NLV) Imagine! Not only is God listening, but our thoughts toward him and our conversations with each other about him have the power to encourage him. He makes a list! He promises to reward them!

There’s more. The writer of Hebrews tells us (12:1) that we are surrounded by a huge crowd of saints who have gone before us.The saints of the Hebrew Scriptures longed to see our day, when the Messiah, Jesus, had accomplished the redemption they could only see from a distance. Like onlookers who have been part of a relay race, they cheer us on, encouraging us to keep our focus on Jesus, our savior and bridegroom, as we all await our final reunion with him. Peter tells us “that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen.” (1 Peter 1:9 NLV) Along with the Lord, they watch and listen until we are all at the wedding banquet together.

God, and the heavenly hosts with him, is listening to us! The heavenly pencil is sharpened and the list of those who treasure him and turn their faces toward him has begun. Let’s turn our thoughts, and even our cries of complaint, to him, and make sure our names are on that precious list.