Learning To Listen

Publication:Pastoral Letter, November 2019

Dear Friend in Christ:
Listening is vital to this life and eternal life. Because it is so vital, I want to devote some time and space to it, and hope that you will also.

First Samuel 3:1-11 records the story of young Samuel, how he learned to listen and how he obeyed what he heard, though it was difficult. His mentor was Eli, the priest.Eli had not corrected his sons, though they were corrupt and immoral, so God was about to bring judgment. Samuel had laid down to sleep,but was interrupted by the Lord speaking to him.Samuel actually thought that Eli was calling him,so he went to Eli;but it was not Eli.This happened three times.Finally,Eli told him to respond to the voice and say, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”Samuel did what Eli said.

“Samuel,” the voice called again for the fourth time.

“Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” Samuel replied.

Then the Lord told him that Eli’s lineage would be wiped out because of their immorality, corruption, and that Eli had not corrected them. Early in the morning, Samuel went to Eli, his mentor, and gave him the message. Though Samuel was a child with a difficult message, he obeyed. It began his hearing the Lord. Samuel grew up in God’s favor to become a great judge, prophet, and he anointed David to be King over Israel. It all happened because he listened and obeyed. Real listening to God produces obedience.

If we do not learn to listen to our mentors and friends, we are not likely to listen to God. We often learn to listen by our past failures to listen; hopefully, not too late!

I was in the state finals for public speaking in 1954 at the age of 17. I had won several contests to get to that important point. My family and I had left home early in the morning to drive to the distant location of the contest. I was tired and anxious; it was 10 PM before I got up to speak. The instructions were to stay within the time limit and repeat any questions from the judges. When asked, I failed to repeat the question. In addition, I referred the judge to the page and paragraph where the answer could be found. This was embarrassing, both to him and me. Needless to say, I lost.

So much of life is defined by listening. Listening goes beyond using your ears. It requires focus with our senses, processing what we hear, and observing with our eyes and ears; discerning tone and body language. In other words, it requires energy. Our heart rate increases as we listen. Some studies suggest that the average person’s listening efficiency is only about 25%.

This is sad, considering how important listening is to our health, decisions, success, safety, and other important issues. It is so important that Jesus often said, “Be careful how you hear.” I think that He would say that to us as well. Our entire culture seems to have a form of Attention Deficit Disorder. We talk a lot and listen less. I have never heard of a “Listening Contest”.

We are not likely to learn how to listen well until we understand how vital it is and take a pause on our desire to speak. I speak from experience, but not as someone who is naturally a good listener. Here are some of my thoughts:

  • Respect the Speaker.

  • If we disrespect the source, we are not likely to pray attention. There are possibilities for learning, even if we disagree. Giving attention to anyone enables us to learn about them, their point of view, or other matters. It helps us to improve our own knowledge and communication. Listening honors the person and the process of hearing. In doing so, we gain patience, glean wisdom, and show that they matter, whether we agree or not.

    I recently had a conversation with a man while we were on a plane as we sat, side-by-side. He was a socialist, secularist, atheist, and well-educated man from Europe. We had almost nothing in common. Yet, we had a pleasant conversation. I believed that the Lord placed us together, if not for his own benefit, certainly for mine.

  • Keep an Open Attitude.

  • I learned a lot about this man and his point of view that I would not have learned had I been closedminded. Did he change my point of view about God? Of course not, but I was persuaded that God loved him and I tried to love him as well. Prejudgment blocks our hearing. Besides, judgment is not our job, let alone prejudgment.

    I wonder what Christians thought about Saul of Tarsus prior to his conversion? Many of them could not even accept the fact that he had been converted, yet he became the great Apostle. Barnabas was open to Paul. Jesus loved and listened to sinners. The Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well (see John 4) had been married five times and was living with a man to whom she was not married. Yet Jesus loved her and listened to her, when even her own people disrespected her. Love listens.

  • Wait Until You Have Heard Before You Speak.

  • I have trouble listening to certain television commentators because they too often interrupt their guests, even though I may agree with the host’s point of view. I think that those hosts don’t need guests; they could just hang a picture on the wall and talk to it. I understand interrupting if a guest talks too long, but the host can’t seem to wait for the point. That is not only rude, it brings sympathy to the guest. If you do not respect the guest, why have them on the show? So it is with us: if we can’t listen, why bother to converse?

  • Summarize, Then Feedback.

  • If we have listened, then we can summarize. Perhaps the speaker did not mean what we understood them to say. Or they might want to rephrase their comments. If we heard correctly and disagree, at least we can give an intelligent response … or change our mind.

    When we listen carefully, we have shown respect, and hopefully will reap the same respect when we reply. Disrespect is sure to reap disrespect, which breeds strife (see Proverbs 6:16-19; 20:3). “A soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). Our desire should be to build trust and win a heart. Arguments usually do not accomplish that.

So if we truly practice listening to people, we can better listen to the Holy Spirit, and that is the most vital voice to which we must listen. So, let’s look at how we can better hear Him:

  • Remember that the Holy Spirit is God. He is not “another spirit”. The apostles tell us that there are numerous false spirits that have gone out into the world (see 1 John 4:1). Knowing God is by the Holy Spirit. Knowing Jesus is by the Holy Spirit. Any spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God (see 1 John 4:1-15).
  • It is vital to understand that Jesus is the SON of God made flesh, and not merely an angel. In Christ, we behold our God; the Holy Spirit glorifies Jesus, not angels (see John 16:14; John 20:28). And, Jesus is with us in the Holy Spirit.

  • Remember to listen during and after prayer, or as you read the Scripture. I like to listen to the scriptures on my phone Bible App. I can process and hear while the Scriptures are being read. The Holy Spirit speaks to me through the Word and faith comes as I listen (see Romans 10:17). I try to listen, not simply speak to God.
  • Remember, if you believe that the Holy Spirit has revealed something to you, look for confirmation. He can confirm His word a number of ways; He can confirm it in Scripture, and that is the most important. He can confirm it through others that you respect.

I recall two instances of confirmation that meant a lot to me. In 1972, I was preaching in Vancouver, Canada, and Ern Baxter, the pastor, was in the congregation. Ern was an experienced minister and great preacher. At the close of my message, he came to me and said, “I am hearing the same thing!

I would be concerned if I was the only one hearing that.” Ern’s words were confirmation to what I was hearing and speaking.

The second confirmation had occurred a year earlier. I was undecided about a serious decision. I shared my indecision with my close friend, Bob Mumford. Bob’s response was, “God is well-able to make it very clear; keep praying and listening.” In the next few months, God made it very clear. I am glad that I waited so that I could move forward in confidence based upon a clear word from God.

What we say is important, because words have consequences and create results. But listening is also important, and in many cases even more important than what we say. This is true because what enters our minds shapes us, teaches us, guides us, and imparts life or death. What we are and will be is the result of what we truly hear. And don’t forget that hearing involves more than our ears; it involves our eyes, our minds, and our responses.

If we are “hearing God”, we are setting out to act on what we have heard. Hearing God is more than remembering or mere reciting; it is beyond academic. “Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22). Speaking is God’s prerogative; hearing and obeying are ours. Better listening can be learned if we practice real hearing in our daily lives by listening to others, by avoiding distraction, and by respecting the source. When listening to someone, give them undivided attention.

So, ask yourself or maybe someone else, “Am I a good listener?” Perhaps your spouse would be the best person to ask, or a close friend. And, if you want to know how the world views the Church, ask a non-believer, “Do you think that Christians listen more or talk more?”

If we are asking the Lord to help us lead people to Christ, I would encourage us to listen to the Lord and let Him guide us in that effort. And, I would also encourage us to listen to the person carefully before we try to tell them about Jesus. Remember, Jesus loved and listened to sinners!

In Him,
Charles Simpson

P.S. Would you please prayerfully consider a special financial gift to support the outreach of CSM this month? Visit us online at csmpublishing.org to give or check out our resources. Thank you!

Scripture references: 1 Samuel 3:1-11; John 4; Proverbs 6:21; Proverbs 20:3; 1 John 4:1-15; John 16:14; John 20:28; Romans 10:17; James 1:22

About the Author:

Charles Simpson

Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.