Week 12: James and the Fatherless

Day 4: Are You Listening?

(James 1:19)

Don’t you hate that feeling of talking to someone, telling them something really important, all the while knowing they aren’t listening to you? In those moments, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to say, “And then a watermelon crossed the street in a mouse-drawn carriage”—just to prove they aren’t listening. At other times, the words wanting so desperately to come out of our mouths may not be so generous.

With the word “wherefore” in James 1:19 we come to the introduction for the next section of the book of James. Before we get into sorting it out, however, I want us to consider the aspect of listening.

James 1:19 says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath:”

As I was preparing to write this, my thoughts instantly went to Exodus 22:22-24. In these verses, God tells His people not to afflict the fatherless and the widow. He says,

“If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry.”

As I thought about this I realized that God will not simply hear their cry by accident. No, He is listening for their cry, and He is prepared to act when He hears it.

In the fist part of Exodus, we have a picture of what happens when God hears the cry of the afflicted. In Exodus 3:7 God says,

“… I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their task masters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land…”

Do you remember what followed? Not only did it all start with a burning bush, but it was followed by miracle after miracle and plague after plague: Flies, frogs, boils, lice, darkness, waters turned to blood, diseased livestock, hail, locust, and the death of the first born in every home in the land not marked with the blood of the sacrificial lamb. The Egyptians found themselves in a world of hurt when they afflicted God’s people because God was listening for His people’s cry.

Four aspects of listening:

  1. When we, as God’s children, are afflicted, where do we direct our cry? Do we bring the sins of the wicked up before our Almighty God and ask for His deliverance? Or do we sit in our misery and say, “Well, this is just my lot in life?” Do we go to the government and ask for help without first looking to the God who delivered the children of Israel from the grasp of Egypt? We seem to relegate His power to deliver over to the past, but He has not changed. He still delivers.
  2. Do we live our lives conscious of the fact that God is listening? I look around me, and I do not see a world that is conscious of this. Our world is full of oppression, affliction, violence, and murder. As a society, we have lost sight of the fact that God is listening for the cry of the afflicted. We do not expect Him to act, but He will. He is a patient and longsuffering God, but He is also just.
  3. Are we listening to God? We have already seen the trail of God’s commandments, desires, and judgment regarding the fatherless throughout the Old and New Testaments. God wants us to care for them because it pictures His deliverance of Israel from Egypt and the Christian from the bondage of sin and death. Obedience to this proves the sincerity of our faith; and if we don’t do it, we will feel the consequences sorely. But are we listening? (Don’t forget the fate of the children of Israel and the lessons of Nehemiah. OT 5:3, OT 7:3)
  4. Are we listening to the fatherless? God’s ears are tuned to hear the cry of the fatherless, what about ours? Do we hear the cry of the AIDS orphan, of the war orphan, of the child who has lost their parents to the violence of city streets or to an accident, to drugs or alcohol, to prison? Do we listen for the voice of the child left to fend for themselves while their one remaining parent lives a life of debauchery? What of those who’s single mother or father are striving to give them the best life that they know how, and yet others afflict them simply because they can? Are we listening to their cry?

My third response when I know someone is not listening to me, after considering the options of saying something completely bizarre or “letting them have it”, is the one that I default to most often: I simply walk away.

Have the children within our reach turned and walked away because we are not listening? Have we added to their misery by ignoring their cry? Do we even notice that they are there? I have suggested this before, but have recently been reminded of its importance again:

Get out a piece of paper and list the names of the children you know who are for any reason separated from one or both of their parents. Commit to pray for them, asking the Lord to open a door of ministry to you.

You may be surprised at the blessings that come from that simple act. I have been! Ask God to open your ears both to His commands and direction in this matter and to the cry of the fatherless. Ask Him to make their needs a reality to you, be prepared to have your heart broken and put together again in a way that will never be the same.

“…Be swift to hear…” James 1:19

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