Exodus 31: 3 Who’s Whispering in Your Ear June 12, 2022

Who’s Whispering in Your Ear

Rev. Dr. Edward A. Bernald


“I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills.” Exodus 31: 3 NIV

Growing up, I loved watching cartoons. My favorites included Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Quick Draw McGraw, the Flintstones, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Mr. Peabody and his boy Sherman. Okay I know. Those cartoons date me.

What I loved about them was the cleverness of their story lines. Among my favorites was when a character, say like Daffy Duck, would have an inner dialog within himself. On one shoulder would be a caricature of Daffy as an angel with a halo who would be whispering in his ear, “Be your highest self.” On Daffy’s other shoulder would be a caricature of himself as the devil with horns whispering, “Be your lesser side.” These whispers in Daffy’s ear would swing back and forth, a ying and yang.

This segways into what I want to explore with you today. Who’s whispering in your ear?
If whispering in your ear sounds like psycho-babel, then call it the thoughts and dialog ebbing and flowing inside of you. Whatever you wish to call it, research shows this whispering or inner dialog holds sway over your mental health, your physical health, and your emotional well-being. The on-going dialog inside your head can create stress – indeed a whole lot of stress affecting a good night’s sleep.
Moreover, research indicates your inner dialog affects how you see yourself and how you think others feel about you. It shapes relationships with a spouse, family, friends, as well as the interactions with those outside your immediate circle. It molds your outlook on life, and what is often referred to as your gut instinct or intuition. It even influences your sense of humor and your political point of view.
The scriptures tell us about a man, named Gideon, struggling with the ying and yang, the opposing whispers in his ear. Gideon lived at a time when Israel was evolving into a nation in their promised land. Except at that moment things appeared far, far, indeed very far from promising.

A host of nations continued to invade Israel. Think of modern-day Ukraine not only being invaded by Russia, but also by virtually every other Eastern European nation. That’s what Israel faced back then, powerful armies invading them year after year after year. These armies swooped into Israel at harvest time, stealing their livestock and crops, leaving Israel barren and broken. Gideon feels both frightened and fed-up with the situation. He’s absorbed in self-pity and blames God for what’s happening. Yet, Gideon longs to end the horror. Gideon wants to act, but the whispering in his ear says you’re no warrior skilled in combat. You’re not even a brave man. To make matters worse, you come from the poorest of poor families. You have no resources to raise up an army, besides your father says you’re useless.
Still from the depths of Gideon’s soul, a different whisper arises. Just as God called Moses to deliver the Israelites from bondage, God is calling him to save Israel.

Gideon decides to test if this is just a foolish pipe-dream or if God is truly calling him to lead Israel to victory. Under the darkness of night, Gideon and 10 of his hand-picked servants destroy the local temple to a foreign deity. The next morning the townsfolk are outraged. They’re ready to stone Gideon. But his father steps in, saves him, and starts bragging about his bold and brave, powerful son.

Gideon is amazed. Maybe, just maybe he’s been listening to the wrong whispers about himself. Maybe the Spirit, Power and Wisdom of God resides in him. So he calls Israel to action and 32 thousand people appear ready to follow him into battle. But wouldn’t you know it: contrary whispers continue to plague Gideon with self-doubt. He pleads for two more signs from God as proof he can be victorious. Sure enough, both signs happen. But sure enough, that’s not enough for Gideon.

Finally, the whispers in his ears say find out what your enemies are saying about you. In the middle of the night, Gideon sneaks into the enemy camp, To his amazement, enemy soldiers describe Gideon as a fierce warrior destined for victory. Hearing that emboldens Gideon with confidence. He tunes out the whispers of self-doubt and self-pity. Gideon realizes he has everything he needs. God has empowered him with the insights and skillsets to defeat his enemy. He doesn’t need 32,000 soldiers. It only takes 300 and an innovative battle plan to spark the pathway to victory.

The result? Israel enjoys 40 years of peace. Gideon becomes one of the richest men in the land, has a huge family to boot, and lives to a ripe old age.
The unfolding of Gideon’s life enhances an understanding of the question “who’s whispering in your ear?” Even more important, it unleashes the deeper question where do the whispers come from inside of you?

For much of Gideon’s earliest years, he wrapped himself in self-doubt, self-pity, and shame. He described himself as overwhelmingly poor. But the reality was he had many servants. Gideon felt his father thought little of him. Yet, Gideon’s father bragged how much he admired him. Gideon also felt lacking and powerless. Nevertheless, when Gideon put out the call for the Israelites to join him for battle, more than 32,000 showed up to stand behind him as their five-star general. Additionally, Gideon felt stupid. But he wisely crafted a plan that only required 300 soldiers to put their enemies on the run.
For too long Gideon clung to a negative self-image about himself. Social scientists and researchers have a description for this. It’s called attachment theory.

Like the self-doubting Gideon, what attachment theory suggests that while growing up we can absorb and hold onto negative comments others say about us; we can cling to mistakes and missteps; we can hold onto our failings and weaknesses; and, we can judge ourselves harshly in relationship to those we feel are superior to us. If we don’t shake off these negative self-images, they can stick to us like super glue. They create the whispers of self-doubt and self-criticism, that we might not be able to achieve or satisfy the longings in our heart.

Jesus reveals a different type of attachment, a life-changing attachment. It’s letting go of all the mistakes, letting go of all the failings, letting go of all the critical self-judgments, letting go all the negative things others have said, letting go of any thoughts of self-doubt, letting go any feelings of shame. Instead, attach yourself to your spiritual self. Like the fully renewed and rejuvenated Gideon, Jesus asks us to have a reawakening and be born anew to step into the fullness of grace, love, peace, and abundance God intends for us.

Now, I’m going to pivot here very quickly to put this into a broader context.

When I returned to graduate school to complete my doctoral degree (my hair was brown back then), as I was walking across the campus I stopped at a booth where someone asked me, “Are you born again and saved?” I paused and reflected on things that had transpired after making the decision to become an ordained minister. On the first day of my first year in seminary, my car was stolen. During my second year as a seminarian, someone broke into my apartment and almost killed my neighbor while trying to escape. By the time my third year in seminary rolled around, I debated whether or not to go on food stamps. My life could have been easier if I hadn’t walked off my parents 19-acre estate and gone to work in my father’s business. Now, here was this person asking me, “Are you born again and saved?”
So I get how a question like that might come across.

But what Jesus asks for is a life-giving acknowledgement of our spirituality, that it is God who has breathed life into us and make our attachment to the Spirit of Life. The Apostle Paul, who wrote nearly half of the New Testament, describes it this way, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Galatians 5: 25 NIV). Or as the French theologian, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, puts it, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; (rather) we are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

Jesus reveals this spiritual attachment is very personal and deeply intimate. When the disciples ask him, “Teach us to pray,” he starts with these two words, “Our Father…”, revealing the intimacy of the relationship with our Spiritual source. This leads to the path of tuning out the whispers of self-doubt, stress, and the ying and yang of turmoil … while opening the door to hearing more clearly the whispering that you can handle and overcome any issue, any obstacle, any problem that looms before you today.
And here’s the thing: it’s our choice, our decision to make which attachment we will have, which whispering we will hear: our spirituality or something else.

I realize these are difficult times. Inflation is rampant. You feel it when you stop at the gas pump. You see it at the checkout counter at the supermarket. Then there’s the talk of a recession and the stock market heading south, affecting pensions and 401K’s. Turn on the TV and you see horrific violence and senseless shootings. Hearts bleed for Ukraine.

And then perhaps personal issues surface that either consciously or unconsciously whisper in your ear. Perhaps about your health, your family, work, your finances, or something else. Good Morning America’s host, Robin Roberts, co-authored a New York Times best-selling book with a title that sums it up, “Everybody’s Got Something.”

The good news is no matter what you’re going through, no matter what you face now or in the days ahead, it is still your choice what you will allow to whisper in your ear and take center stage in your life.
One of the most prominent psychiatrists and social science theoreticians of our modern era was Viktor Frankl. Frankl was Jewish, German and survived the unimaginable horrors of Nazi concentration camps. About his experiences he wrote (and I summarize): There were those who walked among us in these camps who gave their last piece of bread away that others might survive. It’s sufficient proof to show you might not be able to control your situation, but you have the freedom to choose your response. The freedom to choose is what you retain.
I’ll make this more tangible…

Near the Canadian border of Northern New York State lived a close friend of mine. Tony was artistic, brilliant, and wonderfully creative. He started an innovative business that employed four people and provided him with any luxury he needed. But Tony also had M.S. and lurking in the back of his mind was what his step-mother told him, “You’re no good. Your brother is better than you.”

As his M.S. progressed, Tony ended his business and isolated himself. He was lonely and longing for female companionship. But in a fit of rage, he roared, “Who would want to date me? I’m a cripple!”
Shortly after Tony shared his lament with me, I attended a book signing by an author whose physical condition from M.S. was far worse than Tony’s. The title of this person’s book was “Life Interrupted: How a Woe is Me Attitude Almost Destroyed my Life.” This person finally decided he had much to offer and forged ahead. His decision to cease his negativity became clear. Sitting next to him at the book signing was his new smiling, vivacious bride.

Tony listened to the whispers of despair and doom. The other stayed attuned to hope and resurrection, moving forward to a life of abundance and happiness.

I also want to be very clear about this. Listening to the whispers of faith and hope does not mean you will have a trouble-free or stress-free life. That isn’t realistic. Scripture reminds us the rain falls on the good and the bad.

But scripture also proclaims the gifts of the spirit are peace, contentment, strength, empowerment, resiliency, joy, and so much, much more. These spiritual gifts provide the perspective to stay grounded through life’s troubles and stressors. They offer the rock-solid foundation to address any issue, any obstacle, any problem, no matter how mountainous it might seem to you right now. Faith does make a difference. It furthers the grounding to hold on and move forward no matter what life throws at you.

Before deciding to pursue my bucket list, I served for eight years as a chaplain at an acute care hospice facility. It was a rough, rough, very rough veil of grief and tears. One day, I met with the family and friends of six patients who died.

At this hospice house, our daily team included a physician, nurses, nursing assistants, a social worker, massage therapist, music therapist, child life specialist, reiki, and pet therapy to extend support for patients and their families throughout the daylight hours. But when the darkness of evening came, things changed. The comfort and consoling fell to the shoulders of the on-duty nurses and nursing assistants.

One of these evening nursing assistants was a woman, named Reetha, who hailed from Libya. Reetha stood out as dedicated and caring. Families and their children flocked to her for comfort. I’d often see her hugging them, consoling them. Reetha was also a hard-worker. She worked elsewhere during the day before coming to the hospice house.

Reetha also held a special dream. It was to build a state-of-the art health clinic back in her hometown of Libya where expectant mothers might safely deliver their babies. This dream could have seemed out of reach. Reetha didn’t have fund-raising experience. She didn’t know wealthy donors.

Still, Reetha never lost hope. She held fund-raisers while working two jobs. She was tenacious about it. On my last day at the hospice house, Reetha showed me the design of the fully-funded, state-of-the art-health facility that was about to be built in her home-town of Libya.

Because I often met with Reetha, I know what was whispering – I should say ringing loud and clear in her ears. Pointing skyward like an evangelical revivalist, Reetha would say, “I am God’s queen. Christ lives in me. He anointed me to make this dream come true.”

What whispers do you hear?

When you arise in the morning is it a lament of troubles, problems, and aches and pains facing you or, like Reetha, is it the faith-filled assurance God empowers you to address any issue, overcome any obstacle, and achieve the dreams standing before you today?

Is it thoughts of your mistakes, missteps, errors in judgments, and negative things others have said about you or is it the Good News that the gifts of the Spirit are resiliency, resourcefulness, and renewed strength?

Is it the brain-waves of self-doubt that you are lacking and a victim of circumstances or is it the wisdom and inner peace that you overflow with everything you need to be a victor of hope?

Is it the whispers that things seem out of control or that the best is yet to be?

Faith or doubt. Hope or despair. Happiness or sadness. Lacking or fully equipped. Which whispers hold your attention? Ultimately like Gideon, it’s a choice we make for ourselves.

This is the special season of Pentecost, celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ’s Church. It reveals that people just like you and me, from all walks of life, from all ethnicities opening their ears to hear the promise of Christ…