"Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken...and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord." [2 Ki 22:19]
In the second book of Kings, we read about one of Judah’s kings, whose name was Josiah. Josiah was a good and faithful king who walked in the ways of King David, his forefather.
During Josiah’s reign, extensive repairs were being made to the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem, as the temple had undergone many defacements under paganistic kings who had ruled before Josiah, such as Ahaz, Manasseh, and Amon.
In the course of the extensive repairs, Hilkiah, the high priest, discovered the Book of the Law (the Law of Moses). Evidently it was the entire five books of Moses, and not just Deuteronomy or part of Deuteronomy. It was the Temple copy, which had been laid beside the ark in the most holy place. During the long, ungodly reign of Manasseh, this Book and also the ark had been removed from their places. Somehow the sacred Book of the Law had been lost and found again during the repair of the Temple. Hilkiah gave a copy of it to a scribe named Shaphan, who then took it directly to King Josiah and read it in its entirety to him.
In this Book of the Law, a list of terrible threats and curses was announced against all who would violate the Law covenant, either the king or the people.
When King Josiah heard God’s Word being read aloud to him, he was cut to the heart, as he realized that both he and the people were not living according to the things which had been written. When he heard the threats and curses that could be expected if the terms of the Covenant had been broken, he tore his robes and wept in the Lord’s presence. He immediately sent a delegation to a woman who was endowed with prophetic gifts, a prophetess named Huldah, in order to find out from the Lord what was going to happen to the people. Clearly, the people of Judah had turned away from the Law and were not living according to it.
The prophetess heard from God and announced impending chastisements which would come upon Judah in the near future. But because Josiah’s heart had been responsive to the Word, the Lord promised that the threatened punishment would not occur during his reign on account of his faith and responsive heart. In short, God was pleased with Josiah’s responsive heart. "Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken...and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord." [2 Ki 22:19].
I wonder how many of us truly know what it means to be responsive to the Word of God? We hear it proclaimed at Mass, and we read the Bible on our own, but how responsive are we really to it?
I know that in my own life there are times when I find myself growing cold in my response to God’s Word. This usually occurs if I read the Scriptures too quickly without giving myself time to meditate on what is being taught. Sometimes at Mass, I may find myself distracted to the point where I hear the Scriptures being read, without really listening, because I’m thinking of dinner cooking in the Crock Pot, the credit card bill, or a hundred other different things.
I want to be responsive to the things which I read and hear, for this brings such pleasure to the heart of God. He notices it, delights in it, and most of all, desires it. Not only this, but He responds to it. I don’t want to read the Bible, close it, and then put it back on my shelf unchanged or unchallenged. James taught us as follows: "Do not merely listen to the Word and so deceive yourselves. Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the Word, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it - he will be blessed in what he does." [Jas 1:22-25].
Everyone has their own method of reading God’s Word. It is important, however, that we find a method that will force us to slow down in order to think about what we are reading. God speaks to us through His written Word, but if we read it too quickly, we may miss what the Spirit is trying to show us.
Last week, I found myself having a really difficult time focusing on what I was reading. I would open up my Bible and begin to read, but while I was reading, my thoughts would go to the unfinished housework, errands to be run, homeschooling lessons, bills to be paid, and the menu plan for next week. I would read, but remained uninspired and unchallenged, for even though my eyes were on the page in front of me, my heart and mind were elsewhere. After a week of this, I found myself becoming more and more drained, and I didn’t feel close to the Lord at all. Even though I have always been a note taker when I read the Bible, this wasn’t even helping me to focus and absorb what I was reading. If we don’t focus and absorb, we will not respond, and response is what our Heavenly Father is looking for. In desperation, I decided to try something completely different when reading the Bible in order to be responsive to it, and to my joy and delight, it worked!
After I read a few verses, I stopped, picked up a pen, and wrote out a prayer to God about what I had just read. Because I was writing thoughts from my heart, this forced me to slow down and think about what I wanted to express to God in the light of what I had just read in His Word. I clearly saw that I needed to make changes in my life in order to align it with what I had just read. As I began to write, tears filled my eyes, I broke down, and wept before the Lord. No longer able to write, I simply bowed my head and began to pray in my heart to the Lord, asking Him to help me to change. Like Josiah, I found myself weeping in His presence, an awesome presence that filled the room where I prayed. I felt the assurance of His love and compassion.
A half hour passed, and only one or two verses had been read, but I had responded to those two verses. My brothers and sisters, it is better to read one or two verses of the Bible and to respond to them than it is to read six entire chapters, yet remain uninspired and unchallenged.
During this holy season of Lent, when much of our focus is on repentance, I want to encourage you to do two things. First, if you have not made it a practice in your daily life to study God’s Word on your own, make up your mind that you’re going to do it. We cannot expect to be responsive to God’s Word if we are not exposed to it in our daily lives. Second, when reading the Word, find a method that will cause you to be responsive to it. This means slowing down and meditating on what you are reading. Some people read a few verses and then pray about them. Others, like me, find it easier to focus by writing notes or a prayer in a journal as I read.
The Lord isn’t looking for readers of His Word. Anyone can read the Bible or go to Mass in order to hear the Word. He is looking for men and women who will be responsive to that Word after they have read or heard it. In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul wrote to them as follows: "It is not those who hear the Law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the Law who will be declared righteous." [Ro 2:13]. But how can we obey it, if we do not take the time to read it? How can we obey it without training ourselves to be responsive to it?
Have you ever received an apology or response from someone and you knew that it wasn’t sincere? They just said it because it was the right thing to do, but later on, you could tell by their fruits and actions that they didn’t mean a word of what they said. They weren’t sorry at all. How do you feel when someone says, "I’m sorry," and you know that they don’t really mean it? And yet, I wonder how often we approach the Lord like this in our prayers. When we confess our sins to God, do we truly feel remorse, or are we just offering up empty words to the Most High? Whether we want to accept this truth or not, God knows the difference. I do not believe that He forgives us when we are not truly sorry for our sins. Because Josiah was filled with remorse and responded to the Word, the Lord heard him and forgave him.
When I was a child, I remember going to Confession because it was what I was told to do, especially during Lent. I would step into the box without any feeling whatsoever and say, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been several months since my last confession. I cursed, lied, and fought with my brothers and sisters. For these and all of my sins, I am heartily sorry." No feeling. No remorse. Just doing it because it was the religious thing to do. God saw my heart, and He knew that I wasn’t sorry for anything. I was ‘confessing’ to Him because I was told to do it, not because my heart was filled with remorse and moved to repent. As mentioned earlier, I do not believe that we have forgiveness from God when our hearts are not truly sorry for what we have done. God isn’t listening to our lips; He’s looking at our hearts. We receive forgiveness from Him on the basis of what He sees in our hearts, and not on the basis of what we speak from our lips.
It is important that we take the time to read His Word each and every single day in order to see if our lives are truly lining up with that Word. If we see areas that need to be corrected, we need to respond to that correction, not with empty words, but with hearts that are truly filled with remorse. If we want to be responsive, we have to find a method of Bible study that will force us to slow down and think about what we are reading.
Josiah heard the Word, and his heart was responsive. It is the Word which the Holy Spirit uses to convict, challenge, instruct, and guide us. If we refuse to expose ourselves to it on a daily basis, we aren’t giving God’s Spirit much to work with in our lives.
Our Heavenly Father is looking for children whose hearts will be responsive to His Word, for in this He greatly delights. Anyone can read the Word, or hear the Word, and many do. But eternal life has been promised only to those who respond to that Word and obey it, not to those who hear it, but do nothing more.
He who has a listening ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
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