For most of us, hearing comes naturally. Sound waves are received which vibrate the eardrum and activate the hammer, anvil and stirrup—sending nerve impulses to the temporal lobe of the cerebral cortex. (Isn’t God’s complex and intricate design awesome?) However, listening—effective listening—
does not come naturally to most of us. Effective listening is active, not passive. Active listening is a focused effort to effectively receive the intended message the speaker is sending. And this requires willful attention and deliberate concentration on our part.
Listening is an act of love. When someone listens to us attentively, it shows that they truly care and are genuinely concerned about us. When we have their undivided attention, we feel respected and appreciated. When they take the time to listen to us and ask pertinent questions, we move beyond superficial communication to deeper levels, and feel that we have been understood, valued and affirmed.
The Bible has much to say about the value of listening. “Therefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (Jas 1:19). We typically get the first two admonitions of this verse mixed up. We are usually swift to speak and slow to listen! The wise man Solomon offers additional insight: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Prov 18:13). Our failure to listen and our tendency to interrupt is impolite and comes across as indifference. It is common courtesy to allow the other person to at least finish their sentence. And it is considerate to listen attentively without interruption. Waiting patiently for your time to speak represents godly behavior and good manners.
“The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Prov 18:15). The wise seek out knowledge. They listen actively and attentively in order to learn more. This is what makes them wise. This learning results in wisdom, prudence, practical wisdom and the ability to reason and discern. The value of listening cannot be overstated—especially in our frantic and frenzied society!
It is needful and useful in the Lord’s church as well. We are instructed to confess our sins (trespasses, faults) to one another (Jas 5:16). For this to happen, a brother or sister must be willing to listen and offer godly counsel. We are also admonished to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). How can we bear another’s burdens if we don’t know what they are? And how can we find out what their burdens are unless we listen?
Good listening habits are essential in reaching out to others with the Gospel of Christ. In personal evangelism, we need to determine where the person is. What do they believe about God, the Bible, the church, their own need for salvation and how to obtain it? Learning this vital information requires active and effective listening. Above all, let us be sure that we listen to the Lord attentively and carefully at all times. “My sheep hear (listen to) My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (Jn 10:27). How do we listen to the voice of Jesus? “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God!” (Rom 10:17).