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May 22, 2021

Day 16, Chapter 16: The Stretch

I love nature and the outdoors. Sunrise, sunset, mountains, oceans, rivers, streams, trees – I just find God to be a pretty good artist. I also love to check out the animals. I’ve watched squirrels gather nuts, rabbits nibble leaves and veggies, and woodpeckers bang away at trees – how do they do that without rattling their brains out? Have you ever watched a hummingbird up close - their wings go a gazillion times per second - or observed the unmoving wings of an eagle as it soars. How did God think up all this stuff?

I love observing elk, and listening to them. The sounds they make are fascinating. You’ve never heard all of nature’s wonders until you’ve heard a bull elk bugle. When you hear this up close, it’s one of the greatest rushes you could ever imagine. In mating season, you can actually call in a bull elk using calls that mimic the sounds of a cow elk in heat. Attracted like moths to a flame, they come running. When they approach, it is with tenacious and fierce determination. They grunt, bugle, and snort, both to alert the cow that they are coming and to warn any other bulls in the area that this is their date - back off.

The bugling begins from hundreds of yards away and continues off and on as they approach. The first time I heard this, I became more “wired“ with adrenaline with every bugle. I was convinced that the arch-angel Gabriel was coming through the woods with his trumpet. We were hiding in some brush and the expert caller was luring him in, ever closer. Finally, Mr. Elk was no more than ten yards away. Still unable to see us but believing his “date” was close, he grunted, let out an ear-piercing bugle, slung some slobber (evidently, this is a turn-on for cow elk!) pawed the ground… and I made my peace with God! Talk about scary.

If you’ve never heard the bugle of a bull elk, put it on your bucket list.

Contrary to what you might think, an elk’s eyesight is not that great. They rely mostly on their senses of smell and hearing. I was observing a small herd of these majestic creatures one evening just before dark. One of the things that intrigued me most was the twitching of their ears. Ever vigilant, each time they heard a sound, their ears would prick up in order to hear it even better. Whether eating, drinking, or taking a step, they were always diligent to listen for a potential threat - their lives depended on it.

As I watched them, the pricking up of their ears reminded me of the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for listening (qashab). This word literally means “to prick up the ears like an animal coming to alertness.” This live picture painted by the elk, was indeed worth a thousand words.

One of the places qashab is used is Proverbs 4:20-22, a fairly well-known passage of scripture:

“My son, GIVE ATTENTION to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart. For they are life to those who find them and health to their whole body” (emphasis mine).

My understanding of “giving attention to” God’s words went to a whole new level as I watched the ever vigilant ears of the elk. Always listen diligently for His voice, as though your life depends on it, I thought. Regardless of what else you happen to be doing, remain tuned in to Him.

Spending time with God through prayer, worship, and quiet meditation tunes in the soul and awakens the heart, enabling us to hear Him. Life is loud - make it quiet down once in a while. Everything else will scream for your attention, but not the Lord. Holy Spirit refuses to shout above the clamor and dissonance created by other voices and activities. For those who have grown to love the pleasure of His company enough to make time for Him, however, the still small voice of Holy Spirit becomes easily discernible.

Life gets fast. Too fast. The Economist contributor Dan Montano rights,

“Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run

faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a lion

wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve

to death. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle; when

the sun comes up, you’d better be running.”1

This is true on the African plains, and it certainly is true in the business world, as well. Just don’t let it describe your devotional life. Speed has its place, and at times is necessary. But when listening for the Holy Spirit, listen slowly. He is patient but won’t be trivialized by casual glances and cursory conversation. Like any lover, He wants to be valued.

Turn aside and listen for His voice. This is one of the meanings of the word “incline” (natah) in proverbs 4:20. Moses saw a bush on fire while not being consumed, and decided to “turn aside” and see it (Exodus 3:3). When he did, the Lord spoke to him. If we’ll turn aside, He will speak to us, as well. But He won’t speak until we are captivated enough to turn aside.

The word natah also means “to stretch toward, as in craning the neck in order to see or hear better.” The long-necked bird we call a crane provides the genesis for this colloquialism. “Stretch” your neck toward God in order to easily and clearly hear His sayings. Show Him worth; assign Him value; demonstrate interest in His words. If you do so, He will speak.

Interestingly, however, these same two words, qashab and natah, describe not only listening to God but also His listening to us. He, too, pricks His ears and cranes His neck, listening for the voices of His kids. Like the attentive ears of a doting mother with her newborn baby, God is listening for the sounds and stirrings of His little ones. Malachi 3:16 tells us,

Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord

GAVE ATTENTION and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem His name (emphasis mine).

“Gave attention” is qashab. The timing of this passage was one of the seasons when many in Israel had turned away from Yahweh. His Father heart was hurting. God’s attentive ears pricked up, however, when a few of His kids began talking about Him, and He was blessed by it. “Make a note of this,“ He told one of His assistants.

Religion or misinformed people may have sold you a bill of goods about God being distant, but don’t believe it. Not only is He everlasting, He is also ever-listening.

In Psalm 40:1, David says of the Lord, “I waited patiently for the Lord; And He INCLINED (natah) to me and heard my cry” (emphasis mine). David said Yahweh responded by craning His neck, stretching it toward his cry and lifted him out of the “pit of destruction... the miry clay” (verse 2). David was deeply moved by God’s heart toward him, and spoke of Abba’s strong love:

How blessed is the man who has made the Lord his trust, and has

not turned to the proud, nor to those who lapse into falsehood. Many,

O Lord my God, are the wonders which You have done, and Your thoughts towards us; there is none to compare with You. If I would declare and speak of them, they would be too numerous to count. (Psalm 40:4-5)

“Too numerous to count” is the phrase David used to describe Abba’s thoughts toward us. He loves us, and as we turn aside to Him, He turns aside to us. The resulting face-to-face encounter is one of life’s greatest pleasures. Don’t allow a feverish pace and the clamorous noise of life to rob you. Slow down and listen to Abba. Then, talk to Him. He’s listening to you, as well.

Pray with me:

Thank you, Father, for ever-listening to every utterance from the hearts of Your kids. From Your throne of glory, You incline Your ears to hear our voices and give attention to our prayers. How amazing this is! Let the sounds You hear from us bring You pleasure.

And Father, we want to hear Your voice speaking to us. We stretch our hearts toward You - listening - giving attention to Your every word. Draw us to the hidden treasures found in the pages of Your Book - wisdom, knowledge, life, and health. Your word is our daily bread.

We don’t want to be casual listeners, but those who still our hearts to hear, giving our attention to and ascribing worth to Your words. May we pause frequently, as sheep who faithfully listen for the sound of their Shepherd’s voice, following Him always.

Today’s post was taken from my book The Pleasure of His Company.

Dutch Sheets, The Pleasure of His Company (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House Publishers, 2014), pp 131-138.

1. African folklore, as told by Don Montano, “Lions or Gazelles?,” The Economist, July 6, 1985, p 37.

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