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Rediscovering the Lost Art of Listening

Rediscovering the Lost Art of Listening

Friends, Romans, countrymen … lend me your ears.

That was Mark Anthony in Shakespeare’s  Julius Caesar – calling the people to listen to him after the assassination of big Juli.

Hmm. I wonder how he’d get on today. Because listening these days, is something of a lost art. We’re all so busy. There are so many voices shouting at us. So mostly, we just tune out.

And yet listening is at the very least, one half of the equation in  engaging in genuine communication. So if no one’s listening, well …we have something of a problem. Do ya think?!

Listening – genuine listening I mean, not just nodding your head and pretending, actually listening – builds trust. It builds relationships. IT opens up opportunities to help people. And it helps us to learn and to grow. Listening is really, really important.

Yet most of us aren’t natural listeners. So, if God wanted to tell is how to listen, what would He say?

Fortunately, that’s not just a hypothetical question. He does tell us how to listen. So here, from Him, is how to listen:

1. First – Seek out those Who Hurt You:

From the very first hurt in the Bible, God showed us what to do. What was the very first hurt? Well, when Adam and Eve turned their backs on God and sinned against Him by – can you believe how stupid this was – by eating that apple. And God …comes looking for them in the garden:

They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)

Right through the Old Testament, we discover a God who seeks His people out – with a heart to be their God and for them to be His people. A God Who calls them back, until finally He seeks us out through His most precious Son, who came:

not to judge the world, but to save it (John 12:47)

The most powerful form of listening, is a listening that begins with an open heart. A heart to understand. A heart to forgive. A heart to reconcile. Now that’s listening!

2. Replace Anger with Understanding:

We have become very “entitlement oriented” people. I’m entitled to respect! I’m entitled to this! I’m entitled to that!

God is like that – in a sense. He’s a just God and when we rebel against Him, as Adam and Eve did, He has a right, an entitlement to punish us. But again, instead, He sends Jesus. He replaces his entitlement based anger, with understanding. And it was that understanding that gave you and me the opportunity of a new life:

When Jesus heard this, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners. (Mark 2:17)

Do you see how he turned His entitlement completely upside down. That’s because as much as God has a right to be angry with us because we reject Him, He also understands us and so sends us the Great Physician to heal us. For he knows how we are made, he remembers that we are dust (Psalm 103:14).

Imagine if you and I and every other person who calls themselves a Christ follower did the same! What if we listened to people, with a heart to bring healing and love and peace and joy into their lives. Just imagine how different this world would be …

3. Ask Open Ended Questions:

Jesus asked questions. He’s heading out of Jericho. A couple of blind beggars hear that He’s passing by. So they start yelling and screaming – the crowd tries to silence them. What would a rock star celebrity like Jesus want with these two smelly beggars. So they yell all the more loudly. Have mercy on us Son of David! they cried.

Now – Jesus called them over. What does He do? Does He heal them on the spot. I mean, it’s pretty obvious what they want. No – that’s not what He does. First He asks them a question:

Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you? (Matt. 20:32)

Questions are the best form of listening. They show that we’re genuinely interested. It’s not all about me … I’m interested in you. It’s not about me twisting your story around to fit mine, it’s about me truly understanding your story, and then seeing if there’s any way that I can help.

There’s a big difference. You know how to pick a selfish, self-absorbed person? It’s someone who never asks you about you!

4.  Read the Room

Time and time again, we’re told that Jesus noticed something in the people around Him. He knew what the Pharisees were thinking. He knew what questions people had in their hearts and minds. He knew what His disciples had been arguing about on the road.

We immediately assume that it was a spiritual discernment – after all, He’s Jesus. Okay, sometimes that’s implied. But the bit we miss is that Jesus was incredibly perceptive.

Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. So he sat down, called the twelve, and said to them … (Mark 9:33-35)

He watched people, He observed them. He saw the little side-meetings going on in the crowd. He read the body language. He saw the looks on people’s faces. He “read the room”. He perceived people, made deductions about what He saw and entered into their world. It was His opportunity to do good.

Reading the room is something that I for one am not naturally good at. But the more I learn to do it, the more opportunities there are to do good.

The more opportunities there are … to be like Jesus.


  1. Good food for thought and important reminders in this busy world -Listening is almost only a gesture nowadays (most people are too busy to act on any body else’s advice or think about others conversation) Listening to drivel is painful, too scientific or technical- I could sleep. Managers tend to listen but doing nothing about it indicates no-one is listening. Using gestures like nodding, yessing, eye contact, empathetic interjections or suitable adjectives convey listening. Zipping up lips till they finish is almost a torture but being prepared to spend time is important. If not at an opportune time indicate politely with a hand contact (if possible) that you just don’t have the time right now…and make it a point to get back to them. That is caring.
    If it was a case of reconciliation – as in seeking out those who hurt you.
    I guess, point#2 becomes the priority (moves up in order) and that humble attitude is what is missing in me and in most people. This humility needs to be seen/felt/prominent/expressed during the whole interactive relationship. The fact is that in reconciliation, both have to be in a give and take mode. I guess that is where the Lord comes in -through prayer. However in a general conversation, the art of Christian listening is to be prepared for a long haul, patiently waiting for the struggling person to voice their emotions and feelings, when they stop or pause, stay quiet/praying. It is then they will think a little more logically and rationally – after silence from both, they will hopefully have a level-headed approach. If you believe that God has given you a verse/song or a book that helped you – use that to communicate. Not the time to relate your own experiences – they are not helpful at this stage. Lead them to the only Counselor who can consistently and ably help (better than us).

    PS Bernie, it wasn’t an apple!

  2. Good article Berni -you’ll make a great counsellor!
    Seriously so important to just listen.

    • Thanks Suzanne.

      Can you imagine, me a counsellor?! Don’t think so …


  3. Wonderful article!! Just what i was needing to hear

  4. Hi Berni. I agree that listening is so very important. I am a care worker by occupation, and I need to listen to any concerns that the elderly people may have, and I also have to ‘read the room’ as Jesus did. I think listening is difficult when your mind is on other things instead of what is sitting in front of you. We all need to be able to develop listening skills. Isn’t it wonderful that we have a God that seeks us out instead of leaving us to die. He is a truly marvellous God who listens to our hearts and minds and seeks us out to bring us closer to Him. What a glorious God!

  5. Hi Berni. Not sure if you are like me on this point but I have always had trouble “really listening ” to other people. It’s not that I am not interested in what they have to say, it’s just that my mind naturally wants to race to a solution rather than hear the “whole story” first. Thanks for the guidance to “listen with an open heart” rather than with just head intellect, avoid “jumping to conclusions” and throwing my two cents worth in, but to pause and ask, as the ( becoming a ) cliche goes ” what would Jesus do?”. Matt 20:32 is the perfect situation where Jesus asks ” What would Jesus do?”

    Keep on feeding us. It is working!

    • Stuart – for those of us like you and me who aren’t natural listeners, it takes training. It’s worth persisting.

      One of the things I learned to do when I was a consultant is if that two people (one of them me) were talking at the same time, I simply stop talking.

      Not a bad first step.

  6. Good article Berni. I like it!

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