It is just so in spiritual things. One of the most important things is to have our ears properly connected with our hearts. We have often heard the expression, "It just went in at one ear and out at the other." By this is meant that the one who heard gave no heed. How often this occurs in regard to the things of God!
When it comes to gossip and idle tales and foolish conversation and things of that sort, we ought to let such go "in at one ear and out at the other"; we should be very careful that they find no lodging-place in our hearts. That is the only safe way for our souls. But too often these things are given a place in the heart and mind: there is too good a connection, and many times there is only too ready a response in the heart for such things. That is why some people can never keep spiritual, and are always lagging behind others. People who have such a good connection and responsiveness in their hearts on these lines usually have very poor connection between their ears and their hearts when it comes to the teachings of the Word of God. They can hear the Word preached on almost any subject, and not seem to think it means them. They go along in their lives just as they had been doing before. They feel no particular responsibility to obey. They can go on just as if they had never heard, and still profess, and possibly shout occasionally.
There were times when Israel had their connection broken. God said to the prophet of old, "They hear thy words, but they will not do them." So many times people say, "Was not that a good sermon today?" Why, yes, how they enjoyed it! But they go their way and give no further heed to what was said. However, in the popular pulpits of today the preachers too often hold this attitude: "This is my opinion of things. You may take it or let it alone, just as you please; you have a right to your own opinions about it." And there are a great many people who act upon this idea. They feel that they can take a thing or let it alone, just as they please -- even when the words preached are the judgments of God. Many hold that attitude not only toward preaching but toward the Bible also. They read, or hear read, what it says about worldliness, foolish actions and conversation, the wearing of gold for adornment; they read about being patient and holy and blameless, about not returning evil for evil, and about speaking evil of no man; yet they go right on doing the things forbidden, just as though the Book said nothing. They do not take it to heart. The trouble is, the connections between their ears and their hearts are broken as far as these things of God are concerned.
The Bible warns us to take heed how we hear. If we do not treat the preaching of God's Word reverently, and listen with reverent hearts to his messages, it is because we do not reverence him. It is because in our hearts we are lifted up against him. That attitude of "I shall take or leave alone, just as I please" is one of the very worst attitudes that can be held. Not only is it dishonoring to God, but it is exceedingly dangerous.
Sometimes such an attitude of heart is partly, at least, the result of the way the preacher preaches. If a man has a message from God, he has authority to preach that message as the word of God, and he should so preach it. Every true gospel preacher should be imbued with the feeling: "I am preaching the truth of God. It is your duty to hear it; I expect you to hear it; and hear it you must." Let him hold this attitude in his heart and mind, and then let him enforce upon his congregation by proper disciplinary methods the truth that he preaches. If the preacher feels his authority as God's spokesman as he ought to feel it, the people will be impressed -- they can not help it. It is true that they may rebel, grow stubborn, or disobey; they may shut his words out from their hearts; but nevertheless he is clear, and they only increase their responsibility, of which they must give an account to God. Paul believed that preaching and teaching should be with "all authority." This does not imply mere human rule, but divine authority -- God speaking through the man.
When the heart does not hear and feel, there is always a reason. One reason is self-will. People do not like to be told what to do. They like to be masters of themselves. God's government demands complete surrender of self-will and must of necessity do so. If we will be his servants, it is not for us to choose what our lives shall be, nor what we shall say, nor what we shall do. It is his right to command; it is our part to hear and to obey. To hear and then to heed just as we please is setting up our authority above his. The two ideas of service and self-will are opposed the one to the other. Self-will always means rebellion against God's will. Therefore if a person chooses what he will do, and leaves undone what he finds distasteful, he, and not God, is the master. This self-willed disposition is very noticeable among nominal professors of religion. They profess to be God's servants, and yet they set their wills not to do certain things that they ought to do, or else to do certain things that they ought not to do. They have their minds and hearts set in the matter. When they hear the Word of God preached on matters predetermined by them, it falls on unhearing ears. There is no response of the heart.
Another reason is love of ease -- indolence. People hear the voice of duty, but they do not respond to it because they do not wish to make the necessary effort. They do not let their hearts be pressed by a sense of duty on that particular point, because to obey they must arouse themselves from their indolent attitude.
One symptom showing that the heart does not hear is unbelief. One reason why the Jews did not believe Christ was because their hearts were so hard, and that is one reason why people do not hear the gospel in these days. This is not confined to non-professing sinners; it is a very common thing among church-members.
Reader, how is it with you? Are you one of those who have the connection broken between the ears and the heart? or have you listening ears and a feeling heart? When you hear the Word of God preached on certain subjects, can you slight it? or does it sink deep into your conscience and take hold there and produce fruit in your life? Are you ready to live by every word of God? Or do you want to take only that which suits your views? If the latter is true in your case, you are in a dangerous condition. God has the word preached, not simply to entertain people, but that they may obey it. The soul who delights in God's will does not have to be compelled to listen, nor does he have to be compelled to obey; he is ready both to hear and to obey. If there is something wrong with the connection between your ears and your heart, you had better get one of God's "trouble men" to look after it at once; or, better still, go direct to God and have the connection remade. Get your heart taught to feel as it ought to feel, and to respond as it ought to respond. Be not a hearer only, but be a doer of God's Word.