“Then those who feared the Lord talked with each another, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honoured his name.”
Malachi 3:16 (NIV)
God is omniscient, capable of listening to and remembering everything everyone is saying in the whole world. However, he apparently doesn’t choose to—or at any rate, he doesn’t file them all in the same system. In among the non-stop rattle of gossip and sports, grumbles and hobby-horses, profanity and jocularity, God sometimes takes special notice of what people are saying to one another.
What sort of conversation do you imagine God noticing? The standard after-church effort? (“Wasn’t that a good sermon. Yes, it was so meaningful. I’m sure it’s increased my faith. I always feel so faithful after a sermon about faith, don’t you? Aren’t we blessed.”) Or maybe the alliterative pep-talking made popular by religious self-help speakers? (“What you need is faith! Forceful faith! Fearless faith! Fully focused faith! That’s right! Faithful faith! Let’s make a list to help you work up some real faith!”) Well, of course I can’t tell; I can only say that the conversations I carry away with me are seldom finished and never tidy.
Although Malachi’s context indicates a meeting of minds of believers within a culture of unbelief, there is no particular reason to suppose that the conversations God “hears” are exclusively theological. In ancient Israel, there were cultural limits on the outright use of the Name of God, and in our times, deliberately pious talk is—not without reason—treated with suspicion even among devoted Christians.
Neither need we assume that God listened only to fully polished and correct statements of righteous agreement. An honest sharing of insights and exchange of opinions will surely have involved both agreement and disagreement, thought and emotion, frustration of personal agendas, argument and processing of confusing experiences. Some of the most valuable conversations involve the relinquishing of long-held ideas and the reconciliation of new perspectives towards a deeper spiritual understanding.
God hears our thoughts too, of course, and no doubt finds some more memorable than others. However, I think there is a reason for the spotlight—I mean scroll—on meeting and speaking together. It is sometimes assumed that a believer can develop in scriptural understanding and maintain a steady spiritual well-being in the absence of “staples” such as church attendance and time spent in fellowship with others. The verses in Malachi, and Paul’s exhortation in Hebrews 10:25, give recognition to the fact that sharing is a formative process within the maturing of faith.
God our Father, I pray for freedom from futility of thought and conversation—not to speak religiously, but to share truth.
Study by Fiona Jones
Worldwide Church of God Perth
Combination of house churches and monthly outreach service and lunch Gillespie Centre, Dunfermline, fortnightly House churches on other Saturdays