The Love of Listening

From my experience, most people have not had someone truly listen to them.   As a result, many of us are probably not all that good at listening.  We may be decent at “hearing” the words that are spoken and waiting on someone to stop talking so that we can say something. But that is not the same thing as listening. And people are longing to be heard by someone who will genuinely care and be empathetic towards them.

Disciples of Jesus need to be growing as listeners because there is so much at stake in the hearts of people. People need encouragement and hope. If you and I are going to effectively offer encouragement and hope, then we need to learn to practice the love of listening.

Why is listening an act of love? 

Love, from a biblical point of view is giving up your own interests for the sake of another person. Jesus said in John 15:13, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” ESV

To listen to the heart of another person is an act love.  When we take the time to listen to the heart of another, we are setting aside our agenda, preferences, judgements, and biases.  As we lay those things down, it frees to listen through the lens of learning who the other person is and how we can best love them. When our main concern is what we are going to say then we are more likely to miss what is most important. As Mike Mason writes in Practicing the Presence of People, “We will never see other people if the air is dense with our own words.” When we worry more about what we need say than what the other person is trying to communicate, it benefits no one.  

Proverbs 18:13 says, “The one who gives an answer before he listens—this is foolishness and disgrace for him.”

James 1:19 says, “My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…”

One of the things that I have realized is that many people just want their heart to be heard more than needing an answer to fix a problem. I experienced this not long ago with a friend of mine who has been going through a tough stretch.  We sat at lunch for about an hour and he did most of the talking.  There were things going on with him that could not practically fix. I did share a few thoughts and asked questions, but I could not solve the issue. As the conversation went on, I had to fight feeling guilty and the pressure of coming up with something wise to say. When the conversation was winding down I said to him, “I wish that I had an answer for you but I don’t.” He responded with, “I know.  I just needed someone to listen and not judge me right off the bat.” 

Here are few listening habits that I try to put into practice: 

  1. I pray before and during conversations, “God, help me hear what You need me to hear. Keep me from saying something You don’t want me to say.” “Help me not feel pressure to have all of the answers.”
  2. I ask open ended questions such as, “What are some big things you are thinking about right now in life?” “What do you think God is saying to you right now?”If I listen to the answers to these questions well, it usually brings to mind potential follow-up questions.
  3. I listen for themes in what they are saying. 
  4. I ask questions to help make sure I am understanding what is being said, such as “What do you mean by__________?” Or, “Here is what I am hearing you say, is that correct?”
  5. If I feel like there may be something I am missing, I will even ask something like, “Is there something you need to hear from me or something you need me to do?”

To listen well, we need to place ourselves in the position of a loving servant in the conversation.  This will help us have the freedom to answer confidently or to say nothing at all. 

Only when we take the time to listen are we able to speak words of life that can truly make a difference. When we are listening well, we are loving well.

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