Participating in God’s Mission: Listening and Doing

            In this post, I want to start discussing what I believe are the two key necessary ingredients for Christians to participate in the mission of God.  Listening and doing.  That is, we learn to listen to God and when we hear God speak, we do what he says.  I hope to add some subsequent posts on this issue at a near future date (though I am not sure how many)  I also have been trying to drop some seed about this approach to God’s mission to Jesus’ people at the Randolph Church of Christ (so if you are an RCoC member reading this…read carefully).

            Let’s consider a small but potent passage of scripture that helps us get a grasp on the explosive potentiality of listening and doing.  Our passage is Luke 5.1-11 (you can read the entire passage here). 

            In this passage, Simon (whom we later know as the Apostle Peter) and his co-workers are just wrapping up after a very unproductive night of fishing.  Jesus hops into the boat with Simon and tells him to head back out into the deep water and throw his nets back in the water to try once again. 

            As a former grave-yard shift employee, I have had a few of those unproductive nights when as soon as the morning came all I wanted to do was go home and get some sleep.  So I would assume that Peter might come up with a very candid way of telling Jesus to get lost but he doesn’t.  Instead he replies, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v. 5, NIV, emphasis mine). 

            As the story goes on, Simon and his companions do as Jesus says and they catch a boatload…I mean a boatload…of fish…so much so that what no person on a boat wants to have happen, happened.  The boats were sinking because of the massive catch (v. 7). 

            So why did Simon listen to Jesus in the first place?  We, the readers, have the hind-sight of faith and know that Jesus is Jesus, the Son of God and not just some man named Jesus from the Galilean region.  That is to say, I believe we are pressing too much into this text if we force our doctrinal beliefs about Jesus into the thinking of Simon at this point.  Yet I don’t think when Simon heard Jesus speaking to him, he just saw him as any other ordinary Jewish person.  First of all, Simon addresses Jesus as having a certain religious authority by calling him “Master” (v. 5).  But earlier in our passage, Luke tells us that the crowds already recognized Jesus as someone from whom they heard “the word of God” (v. 1).  Whatever degree of respect and authority Simon had come to regard Jesus as having, I believe Simon recognized that as Jesus instructed him to go back out into the water and drop his nets down, Simon believed that it was God speaking through Jesus.  And so he did as he was told.

            So what about us?  I believe if we are going to be faithfully participating in the mission of God, we must learn how to hear God speak and then do what God says.

            Listening to God…  This is about letting God set our agenda rather than deciding how God ought to work ourselves.  However, this is the difficult one from a theological viewpoint because not everyone is convinced that God will speak.  Let me say that I have never heard God audibly speak to me as he did with people like Abraham, Moses, Elijah, etc….  But I also believe God speaks indirectly through people, events and circumstances, the leading of the Holy Spirit, and so forth.  I do not believe that God is only communication to us is through scripture.  However, I do believe that as scripture is inspired of God and authoritative, it is the measuring stick by which we discern if we are truly hearing God’s voice or hearing something else.  And that means, that God is not going to tell us to do anything that is incoherent with what he has already revealed to us in scripture.  So we need to learn how to listen for God’s voice.

            Doing what God says…  This is not theologically difficult but it will be even more difficult than listening for God’s voice because, if our passage is any indicator, when God speaks he does not conform his will to fit within our agendas or expectations.  No…God instead tells his people to do things that often are beyond comprehension and outside of the box we try to keep God locked in and for this reason, doing what God says takes faith…more faith…and more faith. 

            How this works out practically is that I will simply pray that God will show me how he is at work wherever I am at and how I can join him in that work.  Then I try to listen for God to speak (I am not always good at this but I am trying to get better) and when I discern that God has spoken, I try to do what he says (though I always try to make excuses to get out of it).  And so last week at our the RCoC blood-drive, after a teen-age blood giver became sick, there was something in me (the Holy Spirit) saying you need to get everyone together and pray for this girl.  Of course, I thought such a notion would just be bothersome to her two friends but after about ten minutes…I did what God said.  And so the three of us RCoC members and the young girls two friends gathered together and prayed.

            So as I leave this post, I should point out that it wasn’t until Simon showed Jesus that he would listen and do that Jesus invited Simon to join him in his mission (v. 10-11).  Perhaps before we can proceed in participating in God’s mission, God is waiting to see if we will first learn to listen to him and do what he says in faith.

16 responses to “Participating in God’s Mission: Listening and Doing

  1. That’s it, of course. But still, it is not all. St. Ignatius the God-bearer said, “those who know the words of Jesus must go on to know His stillness so as to be perfect.
    Knowing the voice of Jesus and acting on it involve us experientially in the Son and the Spirit, but they are always conspiring to draw us back to the Stillness and Reat that is with the Father, who no man has ever seen. Three stages to prayer as listed in the Johannine Esistle; children, young men, and fathers. Fathers are those who have gone on to know the Father.
    The Word and the Spirit are invovled in the Experience of the Divine Energies, and are the Experience of the Death and Resurrection to which we have been united in our Baptism, and in which we participate, as we live the Life. The Stillness is an Entry into the Unknowing of the Divine Essence, first explicated by Dionysios the Aereopagite, whom revisionist scholars call Pseudo-Dionysius.
    The Stillness in the West is pointed to in Centering Prayers; in the East the pursuit of Theosis and the descent of the nous into the heart.

    Forgive me.

    • I have no objection to the notion that as Jesus followers we are at times called into the wilderness or a quiet place in order to be in prayer. But that is not all the time. So when we are not called into those quiet places but instead are in spaces of our home, neighborhood, work, social, etc… how do we participate in the mission of God? That is the question I am getting at.

      Grace and peace,


  2. Entry into the Stillness enables the Spirit to access us at deeper levels so that we are more deeply transfigured, thus enabling us to enter into the ‘mission’ that God has for us in a more profound way. The whole creation awaits the manifestation of the sons of God. Being cannot be separated from doing. The Apostle Paul was called but then spent 14 years in Arabia being Still.

    I bring up the Stillness because most believers do not have an inkling. They experience peace , forgiveness of sins, and consolations while praying or reading Scripture, and a cessation of outward activity and think they have entered into the Stillness. Those are precursors but not the same thing.

  3. Here is my take on communicating with God:

    1. God has given us everything we need to know for life and Godliness. I love the written Word, we read in the Bible, because I believe it is of God; that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. I believe that God’s Word is as true as the law of gravity which no one can deny. It is an unchanging rock that I can hang my soul on. I believe that God’s Word, that we read in the Bible, is truly the gospel and the New Testament that Jesus came to die on the cross for in our behalf, sealing it in His own blood. It is true that the Word does not tell us how to brush our teeth in the morning, drive a car, or dictate all of our ways. What it does do is provide Godly principles, teaching, wisdom, understanding and examples that we can filter our daily lives through. But, God has not just given us the written Word to read and study, –and then moved on. No,–He has given us the indwelling of His Spirit.

    2. I believe that to get a two-way conversation going with God, we need to be God conscious in all the things we say and do as we go about our lives. Sin itself is the barrier to a good communication. God knows not sin. “I never knew you.” Would God bless us and encourage us to keep on sinning? Remember that we have been baptized into Christ, and have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, –for a purpose. God will, or is able, to guide us –in various ways– wherever we are at, and deepen our understanding, according to our heart, will, thanksgiving, recognition and faith. In talking with another, we need to know something about them and understand their language. That is also true in talking with God. I do believe, along with the principles I think that Rex pointed out, that God talks to us in many ways and experiences and happenings in everyday life, and also through nature, through the animals, etc., people we come in contact with, and such. God is alive! –and WITH us! To me, God’s physical earthly communication is the written Word; but the written Word translates what is physical into that which is spiritual. and more real; thereby guiding us LIVE. The more we know the written Word of God, the easier it is to have a two-way exchange of thoughts, and to know for sure what thoughts are of God, and those which are not of God. Just relying on our own “feelings” is a road to disaster. And of course, lifting God’s Word out of context is another road to disaster. Or just depending on what someone else tells us about God and God’s will for our lives, is also a road to heartache and disaster. That is what I believe the scripture is talking about in: “working out your own salvation.” –it is not talking abour EARNING your salvation. It is talking about being like the Bereans, –checking to see if what you have been taught is TRUTH or not. (Acts 17:11).

    Thank God for the Holy Spirit that resides within us. What does the Holy Spirit DO?

    The Holy Spirit: SPEAKS, (1Tim. 4:1); REVEALS, (1 Cor.2:10); TEACHES, (Jn 14:26); GUIDES, (Jn. 16:13); MORTIFIES, (Rom. 8:13); TESTIFIES, (Jn. 15:26); INDWELLS, (1Cor. 3:16); STRENGTHENS, (Eph. 3:16); HELPS & INTERCEDES, (Rom. 8:26); HEARS, (Jn. 16:13); COUNCILS, (Jn. 14:16-17); KNOWS THE FUTURE, (Acts 21:11); FORBIDS, (Acts 16:6); MAY BE LIED TO, (Acts 5:3-4 *Ananias & wife Sapphira); MAY BE GRIEVED, (Eph. 4:30); INTERCEDES, (Rom. 8:27); LOVES, (Rom. 15:30).

    So in conclusion, I think that between the three of us here, we probably have a pretty good understanding of this subject, though we never stop learning, growing and maturing. That is what this life on earth is all about. What remains is LOVE. –dc

    • Don,

      Thanks for your comment. I think we are coming at much of the same conclusions, just from different routes…which is ok. One thing I believe about scripture is that when we read it…and by that, I mean reading as a whole story unfolding…over time we get a better grasp as to what is near and dear to the heart of God. And on that basis, we are much better equipped to discern whose voice we are hearing.

      As a metaphorical example, I can use my relationship with my mother. My mother lives 900 miles away from me and I do not have her around to tell me yes or no to everything I do. But I know my mother so well that I can know exactly how she would feel about what I am doing. I believe the more Christians know God…which comes through what he has told us about him in scripture…the more we ought to know (if we’re honest with ourselves and God) what God thinks. On that basis, when we believe God is telling us to do X, Y, and Z, we ought to be able to determine if that is really of God.

      And when we are not sure…that is when we ought to ask other Christians that we trust to have the things of God in mind to help us discern.

      Any ways, thanks for your comments.

      Grace and peace,


      • Hi Rex, Yes, I agree with you. That is a good analogy of what I believe also.

        If I had come across as disagreeing with you, it was not intentional. I was just adding my own two cents. Actually, I think what prompted me to add on was the reply post by benmarston. I don’t think I disagree with him either, but I think in more simple and scripture direct ways. He sounds like a philosopher, taking a very long and laborious path –kind of difficult to understand– only to find that the same thing could have been stated a lot simpler and straight forward. When I was young I remember listening or watching Eric Severied, a popular news commentator of the day. I liked to hear him talk, because he sounded so profound and educated, like the smartest man on earth. After listening to his long commentary, sometimes I would ask myself, “Now, what did he say? What was his point?” We also had a philosophy professor in our congregation. Whenever he answered a question, or made a comment during one of our studies, it would be analyzed to the max to the point I don’t think anyone knew what he was talking about. Sometimes I would strain and listen to what he was saying with all my might, –only to discover that it was really a very simple point. I’m not sure benmarston fits that description here, but it seems, in my own mind, like he might be delving into uncharted areas; but then as I read along and try to figure out what he is actually saying, –I don’t ‘think’ I have any disagreement. In your reply to him, you made a simple summamry of what he had said, which was clear and easy to understand. I agreed with your summary and reply. It appears to me that we all agree.

        I enjoy talking with other believers, but there is so much darkness out there who really need our attention. I usually shy away from the Christian web-sites, because of so many in need in this world who really need to hear, and there are so few with good answers to share. Jesus came to reach the lost. I don’t think many un-believers go to Christian web sites, or religious programs. I picture a TV show or program, dedicated to sorting out TRUTH, –not on a paid religious network. I really believe that if done properly, it could be sponsored and become a top rated program in prime time TV. It could begin on the free access public TV channel, and evolved and developed into something people everywhere would really want to watch. NOW is the time for the world to grow up and start thinking about TRUTH. Christians need to put on the armour of God and stand up for God. God is truth, …and love. TRUTH, –NOT BOMBS! –is our only hope towards lasting peace. Jesus prayed, showed us how to pray: “…Let it be done on earth, as it is in heaven…” –dc

      • Don,

        I did not read anything you said as being disagreeable. I was just carrying on the dialogue.

        Ben’s comments come from an Eastern Orthodox viewpoint. I don’t think such viewpoint is any more complicated than ours is, it just different.

        Any ways, thanks for your thoughts and your faith.


  4. Hmmm…Did I get off topic? I don’t know, but upon re-reading the posts, I’m wodering if I missed parts of the original question or subject, by Rex.. –the DOING part, or how do we know WHAT to do? How do we know for sure exactly what God wants US, or OURSELVES to do? What is God’s will at THIS moment?

    I will share my own thoughts and experiences here:

    I think that we have to realize that God made each of us unique, and also in His own image. That means that we have to think, be creative, and to make our own decisions, not wishing to be robots programmed without life, heart or thought. What God’s will is for one member of the body of Christ, may well not be what God’s will is for a different member; however we all come together in one body (Christ’s church) in order to be fed and to be whole, and to love God and one another. One thing I love about the church, is that nobody can force me to do anything I don’t want to do. That means we can act and do what we do entirely on FAITH; in fact that is what God’s Word tells us “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
    (Heb. 11:5)

    One immediate example, in my life at this moment, is what I am doing RIGHT NOW: I am drawn to these posts like a MAGNET! Is THIS God’s will? One might think, ‘How can this be GOD’S WILL, when I enjoy it so much?” Surely, this is God’s will for me. Do I see any signs that it isn’t? All I see are signs that it IS! …and I have come to realize that this does not seem to be the course for most Christians. I know better than to tell other Christians that they should do what I do, and evangelize on the internet. It just fits with who I am, and how I was made, and how I have lived, and what I have learned in the sea of life. (My comic strip character is “Seaman Deuce.” just out of ‘boot camp’ on the sea of life; –a people (and God) watcher. I have always been a people watcher (with an inferiority complex when younger, thinking everybody was smarter than I was), –but now I have come to know that most people aren’t as smart as I thought they were or are. Some of the brightest, and most highly educated, people cannot see God who is everywhere.

    So, I think I’ve learned, along the way, that we need to recognize ourselves; that is, our own uniqueness, and be free to go with the grain that we are individually made. For example; why would someone stive to make their living working indoors, when they are more comfortable working outdoors? Why try to be an arm, if you are a leg, and like being a leg? Just go with the grain, and don’t try to go against it.

    I have my own ideas about how to grow the church, that is, in evangelizing; only because I came from a congregation that was super successful at it. But this post is getting long. To make it short, I would say that we really have to sit down and study with our friends and neighbors; to learn and acquire the skills to do so, or be an aid to that end. Personally, I think that should be our GOAL. All the rest sounds good, but it is really a re-hash of our old “mission statement,” which really wasn’t a mission at all, but more about just being a good Christian. It is not enough to just be good Christians. Once equipped, Christian’s have been given a Mission, to DO and to carry out. (Mat.28:19-20). –dc

  5. At work 12 hours and thought much about your passion for mission. Praise God. Yes, seek the Lord and when you’ve discerned His voice, obey best you can. The poor ole apostles- often heard His voice but misinterpreted what He said. St. Francis did the same. His communications are such that we must grow to understand them. There have been times I’ve heard the Lord and misinterpreted what He said.
    They say it helps to have a spiritual director, though that is often not possible. As a pastor in a congregation that is new to you, there is much in the way of advice- do nothing new for three years, until you know the people and begin to love them, and they you. Follow your entrenched compassions.

    God will sometimes speak through Balaam’s donkey.

    Pray for me as I deliver a carving of the San Damiano Cross to some monks in the Ozarks.

    • The story of Balaam’s donkey always makes me laugh because he actually spoke back to his donkey.

      So just out of curiousity, are you a pastor or priest in the Eastern Orthodox tradition?

      Grace and peace,


  6. Okay Rex, –‘sorry Ben. Now I understand where you are coming from. I find these posts interesting. I hope I don’t drive you all crazy. 😎 –dc

    p.s.: I came across what I think is an excellent article on the Muslim situation in this country, by Newt Gingrich, (posted on his web site). I’m going to ask him if I can post it on my blogs. it expresses my views exactly. For a long time now, I have been wondering if any of our politicians,(or citizens at large) have ever read a true copy of the Qur’an. –dc

  7. Hi Rex, I am perusing your site, getting a little more familiar with it. I think I may have been guilty of getting off topic, and now realize that I need to keep my comments focused on the subject of the original article, and not drift over to what I read posted on a different subject. I haven’t got time to read back over all the comments posted here, but what jumps out at me now, is that I agree with your original post here, and believe it was on target. “July 28, 2010: Participating in God’s Mission: Listening and Doing, by K.Rex Butts I should have just replied as such.

    Obviously, by drifting all over the place, and people responding on such, –makes for a big confusing mess. I realize that, now. I repent! (*gulp) I hope I haven’t lost my salvation. 😎 Note here: –that the Spirit pointed this out to me, before you did! So what we have here is another example of “listening and Doing.” –dc

    • Don,

      That last comment shows a lot of humility on your part which is evidence of God’s Spirit always at work within you. Thank you for your faith!

      Grace and peace,


      P.S., Sometime I ought to read through the last 4-5 years of blog posts I have made and see where I still agree with myself and where I now disagree with myself. One thing, I think I have changed in is my approach to blogging…when I started, I was very willing to just “sound-off” with a lot of my opinions and rants. I no longer enjoy that and hopefully that change would be evident in any chronological reading of this blog. One other thing…my hope is that one day when my children are old enough to understand, that this blog will sort of serve as a journal record of my own faith-development for them.

  8. Rex,
    hello again on this topic. The best book I’ve ever read by anybody on Hearing God is “Hearing God’ by Dallas Willard.

    That having been said, there is a life-long challenge of becoming dispassionate enough to hear Him and not misinterpret Him; our minds stilled enough of our own thoughts that He can get a Word in edge-wise. It is easier said than done, and is a life long learned discipline.

  9. Pingback: How to have a personal revival | personal Revival Fires God's way | 2Ultra Christianity

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