There’s one verse in today’s Scripture that haunts me. Actually, it’s just half a verse:
“But they covered their ears…”Acts 7:57
To put it in context, you need to know about Stephen. The twelve disciples chose him to help serve the widows – i.e., women who had no means of providing for themselves. He was hand-picked because he was “full of faith and the Holy Spirit” (6:5). Apparently so, because Stephen did more than just take care of widows; he “did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). He spoke with wisdom and the Spirit. But to the religious establishment, Stephen’s wisdom sounded like blasphemy. They frame him and have him arrested. Stephen gives a long, well-thought-out explanation of how Jesus Christ is actually right in line with what God has been doing all along (Acts 7:1-53), but they aren’t hearing it. When he’s done, the religious leaders are in that pure-anger place that’s white-hot and blind. Rather than listen to him, they want to kill him.
It’s at that moment that Stephen looks up and sees the most amazing thing: God, and Jesus, up in the sky! “Look!” he says. “Look up! It’s the Son of Man right next to God!” (see Acts 7:56).
All they have to do is look. If they look up, they’ll see all the proof they’ll ever need that God truly was – and is – at work through Jesus Christ. Just look up, guys!
But they don’t look up. Instead, they put on spiritual ear muffs.
And they proceed to kill the one who was trying to show them the way.
That’s why this half-a-verse is so haunting to me… because I know I can do the same thing. There are times when I cover my ears, I refuse to listen, and I miss what God is doing, right around me.
I’ve done it a good bit in quarantine, because quarantine is playing into my weaknesses. I most easily see God in people – especially new people, other people, people I can view from a sort of aesthetic distance. I also most easily see God when things come together to make something happen – in other words, being productive, being a part of some work God is doing. In this quarantine life, I interact with a fraction of the number of people I used to. And in this quarantine life, the already hard-to-measure work of ministry has become even harder to quantify.
On the positive, there have are a lot more quiet moments in quarantine: relaxed, unrushed mornings; eating lunch on our front porch; shooting basketball before dinner; you know, generally having nowhere to be and nothing to do. Which, for some people, is the perfect condition for seeing God. But remember, I see God most easily when I’m around other people and being productive. During a lot of these slow, simple moments my mind has been raging, resisting, revolting… in other words, leaving me in a state much like this:
Which is no good condition for seeing or hearing God.
I share all that because I know I’m not alone. I bet there are times when you cover your own ears, but the conditions are probably different than mine. Maybe you have a hard time seeing God in the chaos, the unknown, the out-of-control. Maybe you have a hard time hearing God when you’re struggling with a relationship. Maybe, like the religious leaders with Stephen, you have a hard time hearing new revelations from God – you don’t want to change your mind. Or maybe you cover your eyes and ears when your regular routine is disrupted, or your health is in poor shape, or when you’re stressed over money, or when your newsfeed is full of panic.
It’s important to recognize the circumstances that most tempt us to cover our ears. It’s important, because we don’t want to miss a chance to see God, right? Like I don’t want to go through however long of quarantine and miss seeing God in all these quiet moments. That’d be a shame.
But more seriously, we need to pay attention to when we cover our ears because sometimes it can lead to really serious consequences. Like in the case of Stephen: the religious leaders covered their ears so they could murder him. They didn’t want to see God in Stephen; they wanted to kill him.
That happens still. It happened on February 23 to a man named Ahmaud Arbery. He was out running – like I do, several times a week, just to get some exercise. Two men saw him running through their neighborhood, and their ears were covered. They were covered because of the color of Ahmaud’s skin. They failed to see him as a child of God. They covered their ears to the command to love their neighbor as themselves. They covered their ears, and they killed him.
So we must ask ourselves: is there a skin color, a way of dressing, a kind of person around whom we cover our ears?
We all cover our ears to God, sometimes.
But we don’t want to live like this. We cannot live like this.
Thankfully, there’s something we can do to train ourselves to listen.
More than one thing, really, but here’s my advice to you this week: end every day by naming the God moments. Say them out loud, or write them down in a journal. Be very intentional about it. If you’ve not done this before, it will come slow at first. You might struggle to name just one or two things. Or, you might name pretty superficial things. But if you do this every day for seven days, you’ll notice a difference. You’ll start to look for God more often. Your list will get longer and deeper each night.
In other words, you’ll start to uncover your ears.