There is a difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is one of our senses, and we hear without even having to think about it. But to listen we need to engage our minds. When we are listening, we need an open and receptive mind which enables us to respond to what we have heard.
Why is Listening to God so Important?
Parables of Jesus
The Wise and Foolish Builders
I am sure we are all familiar with the parable that Jesus told of the wise and foolish builders. The wise man built his house by digging down and laying a good foundation on rock. But the foolish man built his house on sand, a shaky, shifting base, which was no foundation at all. Jesus likened the wise builder to the person who hears His words and puts them into practice. But the foolish man as the one who hears Jesus’ words but goes away without applying them. Both builders heard the word of God, but only one listened and applied the word to his life.
The Parable of the Sower
Jesus makes the same point, but with further application, with the parable of the sower. The sower sows indiscriminately, and it is only the seed that falls on good soil that produces a good crop. After Jesus had finished telling the story He calls out “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” Now I’m sure the majority of the crowd heard what Jesus said, but not many were listening. Jesus then goes on to explain to his disciples, that the good soil is the one who hears the word, retains it and perseveres. And then he switches to the image of a lamp on a stand and warns his disciples to “consider carefully how you listen.”
The disciples were to listen carefully, not just for themselves but for others that they – as the lamp on a stand – would minister to. They would share and bring the light of revelation to others from what they received themselves.
“whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.”Luke 8:18
How to practice listening to God
Avoid Passive Listening
This is when we appear to be listening, but are not paying much attention to the message. Although someone is speaking directly to us, our minds are full of our own thoughts. Often it is only afterwards that we realise we have missed something important. Sometimes we are passive listeners, because we think we already know what is being said. We think we do not have to pay attention, because we already have it all worked out.
But surely, Jesus’ disciples would be attentive and would be listening well to what He said?
Peter was often the spokesman for the disciples, the one who would speak up and confidently answer any questions. He was the first one to recognise and voice that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus blessed him for this insight that he had received.
Shortly after Jesus began to teach the disciples what the fulfillment of His ministry would be – that He would suffer and die, but after three days He would rise again. “He spoke plainly about this”. But Peter took Jesus aside and began to disagree with Him. Jesus, then responded, by saying to Peter “Get behind me, Satan! You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
When we are not listening well, we miss the point!
Peter’s mind was full of his own thoughts. He thought he knew how things would work out, that Jesus would fit his image of the Messiah. His view was steeped in his own Jewish culture and tradition. Messiah would be the ideal king, anointed by God, who would rescue his people from their enemies and re-establish the nation.
Jesus would predict his death a second and a third time. He spoke clearly to his disciples that his ministry would be fulfilled in Jerusalem. But when it came to that time, they were unprepared. Their own expectations had blocked their ability, to receive and understand what Jesus had been saying.
They had heard the words, but they had not been listening. It is so easy to fall into that trap, and more than ever, it is something we need to be on our guard against.
“For a time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”2 Timothy 4:3
Attentive. To listen well we need to be concentrating on what is being said and to give it our full attention – without any distractions.
Receptive. *To come with an open mind. That is with a teachable spirit, receptive and willing to learn. Be prepared to listen from the beginning to the end, with a non-judgemental attitude and not jump to conclusions.
Active. Engage with the message. Make notes and where appropriate ask questions to clarify understanding, not to side-track or to detour off the topic.
Responsive. God’s word is powerful when it stirs a response in our hearts. But more than just an emotional response, when we are affected and changed by what we hear. Then, as we put into practice what we have heard, we build our lives on a sure foundation!
Are we open to what God is saying, if it challenges our view, and our comfort? There are many voices clamouring for our attention and some of our attitudes may have been wrong, there may be uncomfortable truths to be faced.
Responding to what we hear
Are we willing to examine our views again, to come with an open mind and expand our thinking? Do we listen well – will we be able to hear, and respond, to what God is saying to this generation?
Prayer – Lord help us to be cleansed of selfish ambition and with humility to value each other. Let us not just look to our own interests, but be willing to look to the interests of others. In our relationships with one another our prayer is to co-work with your grace, so that we might develop the mindset of Jesus. Help us to love each other, even with a sacrificial love. Amen.
*This is a great resource, a little booklet of about eighty pages, which examines how to prepare our hearts and minds before approaching God’s word. Nine heart postures to adopt. They are prayerfully, humbly, desperately, studiously, obediently, joyfully, expectantly, communally and Christocentrically. Then we are in the right position to be able to listen and respond!
Before You Open Your Bible by Matt Smethurst