My freshman year of college, we had a speaker come to chapel. It was shaping up to be just like any other chapel: obligatory opening songs, announcements that needed to be made, a guest speaker. When his time came, the speaker launched into a talk that was quite pointed, calling the audience to repentance (a change form his talk to the first group of students).
I was appalled. How dare a guest speaker come and declare that he knows us well enough that he can change his topic to direct a specific call to repentance to us?
To my shame, it wasn’t until this week that I have come to realize the value of that moment and let go of my bitterness. This week I read out of Matthew 3 when John the Baptist begins to call people around him to repentance. Yes, I thought as I read, this is good, this is what the kingdom of God is about. Yet then I tried to place myself in the crowd hearing John preach. It was like a flashback to that morning almost four years ago.
“Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Who are you to call us to repentance? How dare you show up out of nowhere and demand this of us without even knowing us? I found that despite my knowing the call to repentance is good, my own view of myself didn’t allow me to hear it. I’m fine, I’m good, and even if I’m not, who is this person to call me out?
As I reflected, however, I realized something powerful – that chapel speaker had spoken the very words of Scripture and I hadn’t heard them.
Unless I’m alone in my hard-heartednes (which the Bible suggests I’m not), many of us have this problem. We read the Scriptures and know they’re good, so we find ourselves nodding our heads, cheering in our minds and then failing to hear the Bible’s very words.
When Christ confronts us, he offers a very different experience. When he speaks with the voice that commanded creation into existence, we must listen. Of course, we must also learn to hear that voice in the first place. It is far too easy for me to get absorbed with myself, my knowledge, my ways until the Bible becomes about me and a verification that what I’m doing is right (including holding onto bitterness at a chapel speaker). When we are confronted by Christ, we must grapple with the very words and not just those self-created ideas that continue to add layers of stone to our already hard hearts.
Three years ago, that speaker gave a call that was true to Scripture and true to Christ himself. It was only this week that I appreciated that call as such. May God in his infinite mercy and wisdom, open our ears to hear his words and not just our own ideas.