Generous Listening

January 17, 2023

A compilation

Audio length: 12:24
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The charter text for Christian listening might be James 1:19: “Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” It’s simple enough in principle, and nearly impossible to live. Too often we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger. …

Good listening requires concentration and means we’re in with both ears, and that we hear the other person out till they’re done speaking. Rarely will the speaker begin with what’s most important, and deepest. We need to hear the whole train of thought, all the way to the caboose, before starting across the tracks.

Good listening silences the smartphone and doesn’t stop the story, but is attentive and patient. Externally relaxed and internally active. It takes energy to block out the distractions that keep bombarding us, and the peripheral things that keep streaming into our consciousness, and the many good possibilities we can spin out for interrupting. When we are people [who are] quick to speak, it takes Spirit-powered patience to not only be quick to hear, but to keep on hearing….

Poor listening rejects; good listening embraces. Poor listening diminishes the other person, while good listening invites them to exist, and to matter. Bonhoeffer writes, “Just as love for God begins with listening to his Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Good listening goes hand in hand with the mindset of Christ (Philippians 2:5). It flows from a humble heart that counts others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It looks not only to its own interests, but also the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). It is patient and kind (1 Corinthians 13:4). …

Sometimes good listening only listens, and ministers best by keeping quiet, but typically good listening readies us to minister words of grace to precisely the place where the other is in need. As Bonhoeffer writes, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”—David Mathis1

Generous listening

There is “hearing” and there is “listening.” Engaging the sense of hearing generally means you are quiet, but when you listen to someone or something, it takes more than being quiet on your part. You must be there. Your presence is required. You focus on what you hear.

Be generous when you listen. As a generous listener, you are present with mind and heart. Generous listening is deep listening. For example, when you discuss something meaningful with your friend, you show you care when you let him or her speak without interrupting. You are not on edge, just waiting for the chance to speak your piece.

Determine to be a generous listener. Listen more, speak less. Be focused. Be present. The Bible says: The LORD came and stood there, and called as he had before, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak; your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10).

“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).—Caithleen

Listening in evangelism

When we think about evangelism, we usually think of talking. After all, the word evangelize means to “announce good news.” So naturally, we focus our training upon proclaiming, communicating, defending, or sharing the good news message … as we should.

But listening is often a neglected skill in evangelism. I recall an evangelism trainer saying, “God gave us two ears and one mouth, and we should take the hint!” If we listened twice as much as we spoke, our words might connect more deeply with people’s souls.

Effective evangelism begins with listening. … One of the greatest gifts we can give someone is being fully present in the moment! Giving a person our full attention—free from distractions—communicates genuine love, respect, dignity, and value. Jesus himself was a great listener. In his conversation with a Samaritan woman in John 4, she spoke four times more than Jesus did! ...

It is easy for us to hear someone without listening. We may hear the facts, but miss the underlying feelings. Consequently, we fall into traps as we think or speak by trying to fix their problems, focusing on ourselves and our experiences, acting superior, or giving simplistic responses. Instead, people first often simply want us to empathize with them. …

Let’s use both our ears and our mouths in communicating the good news found in Jesus Christ!—Mark Slaughter

Genuine listening

Genuinely listening to someone is an opportunity to make an impact in the life of a person whom Jesus loves. It’s an opportunity to be a living example of the care and love of the one who is not only willing to lend an ear, but also has the Lord’s Spirit and wisdom to guide them through whatever challenges they face. Our Creator made us to desire to be understood and to understand others. We cannot understand another person without listening to them. If you show an interest in them, it helps them feel that someone cares, makes them feel they have something of value to offer, and that they’ll be able to find the solutions to the things that are holding them down.

Sincere and nonjudgmental listening can change people’s outlook on themselves, their situations, and their future. Expressing care through listening can create bonds of trust between the one listening and the one being listened to. It can help to relieve depression, fear, or anger.

It pulls someone out of their shell, and as they talk, they will see where they can move forward or effect change in their life. Haven’t you sometimes had the need to just talk about your challenges and problems to someone, and almost without them saying a word, things became clearer and a way was opened for you to see some solutions?

The results of listening—the renewed hope, the emotional healing, the motivation to get up and try again, and the realization by the one listened to that they are important to you and to God—are tremendous benefits.

Whose life can you help to change by showing a desire to hear their heart speak? All you need is a heart full of the Lord’s love and care. Your center of operations is wherever you are. Your client is the person near you. The tools of your trade are your heart, your eyes, and your ears: your heart to feel; your eyes to notice their drooping shoulders, downcast look or worried expression; and your ears to listen.

You can show that you care by taking the time to listen, to understand their heart, and then, when they’re ready, to show them how to draw closer to Jesus, who can help them through every trouble, every difficulty, and who can supply all their needs. Investing your time in another person’s life can help bring changes in their heart and spirit that will last for eternity. It all begins with the simple task of listening.—Maria Fontaine

The gift of listening

We live in a technological age where people rarely do just one thing at a time. For instance, I found out the other day that it’s possible for a person to be on the phone with you while texting someone else. No wonder I sometimes have to repeat things in phone conversations. Our world moves fast, and we’re tempted to hold on while riding at breakneck speed, but at what cost? ...

Have you noticed that when you are at a register, the cashier sometimes doesn’t even make eye contact? When you’re in stores, ask cashiers how their day is, looking directly into their eyes. It’s possible to engage someone even when you have just a few moments. Your engagement will help people feel that they matter. Sometimes all it takes is asking a simple question, “So, has it been busy today?” People are dying to talk. The problem is that no one is really listening.

Sometimes it’s easy to go about our days thinking they are insignificant—that each encounter we have with someone is simply a chance encounter. But Psalm 139:2–3 says, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.” The God of the universe is aware of what you do in your day-to-day existence. You make your plans, but God knows how it will all turn out. We sometimes forget that when we make plans. We get the false sense that we are in control, and then we try to retain that control when in reality, God is the one in control.

We should keep this in mind as we meet people during the day. God places opportunities to engage with others, and we must learn to recognize them. Listening matters because the person before us is someone God loves, someone God values. And we can ask God for his eyes to see people as he sees them.—Anne Peterson2

Published on Anchor January 2023. Read by Jerry Paladino. Music by Michael Dooley.


1 https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/six-lessons-in-good-listening.

2 https://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/articles/spiritualformation/learn-to-listen.html.

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