The Gift of Listening

The word “listen” appears in Scripture over fifteen hundred times, and the most frequently voiced complaint in the Bible is that the people don’t listen.  It may well be the most frequent complaint of present-day mothers, also, and, as a mother of four, I was in love with Adam McHugh’s The Listening Life before I was half-way through the first chapter.  “Listen to me!” I have beseeched my brood.  “Are you hearing my words?”

However, as I continued to read, I was carried into Adam’s argument that discipleship is a journey of ongoing listening, and suddenly, the book’s message was for me and the “entrenched selfishness” of my own heart.  There’s a good reason for the fact that, in the Latin, the words “listen” and “obedience” have the same root.  It turns out that all my prayers for wisdom in parenting and living life could be understood, like Solomon’s words in Hebrew, as a request for, a “listening heart” or a “heart with skill to listen.”  Adam McHugh helps his readers to see that the skill of listening well begins with the heart, silent and open first to God for His word, then ready to hear others before speaking.

Jesus set the example by listening widely (to the sick, the outcast, the despised), deeply (with probing questions and a heart for underlying need), and hospitably – fully present to the speaker.  The believer’s listening to the voice of God is best done “with the feet” as we embody our listening through acts of obedience.  In this way, listening to God becomes a spiritual discipline as we read — and are read by — the Scriptures; as we listen to creation’s sermons about abundance and the mercy of God, about “the fading nature of human life and beauty in contrast to the constancy and permanence of God.”

Listening to others is best done “listening to,” rather than “listening for” in the manner of a cross-examining attorney trying to catch an inconsistency or to collect data.  The Listening Life parades all our self-promoting, self-centered habits of NOT listening and then describes (with convicting examples) the mindset of keeping the conversational arrow pointed unselfishly toward the other person.  To be honest, I would like to just memorize the chapters on listening to others and listening to those in pain, so that I would always have an assortment of thoughtful and probing questions and comments on the tip of my tongue to remind myself that my conversations are not supposed to be about me.  Then I recall that listening is a matter of the heart, and I see the truth:  it’s my heart that needs changing, and no memorized list from a book – no matter how helpful – is going to bring that about.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer framed the matter beautifully:

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen.  They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening.”

The Listening Life imagines a world in which the usual pattern of listening is reversed, where leaders listen to followers, where the rich listen to the poor, and the insiders listen to outsiders – not as part of a program or with a prescribed agenda, but one person at a time with listening as an end in itself.

True listening is a path out of the spiritual fatigue and distractedness that we bring to every interaction.  As we listen to God, as we pay attention to the messages our own hearts are trying to communicate to us, and as we turn our focus outward to hear the hearts of others, we are giving a gift that comes directly from God — and in the process, we receive a gift as well.

This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for over 25 years, and their four children are growing up at an alarming rate. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

41 thoughts on “The Gift of Listening”

  1. Happy New Year to you, Michelle! I loved this post and appreciate you sharing about this book. I especially loved the quote by Deitrich. To learn the blessed, fine art of listening is truly a valuable gift in this life. I have thought often of how intently Jesus listened to those who came to Him…how He dropped everything He was doing and treated them as if they were the most important person in the world, when all along that person was HIMSELF. So humble and open to the needs of others! Oh, to be like Him! That is my desire for not only this New Year, but every day of my life! God bless you, my friend. So thankful to walk this blogging path with you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy New Year, Michele! Hope you had an amazing Christmas, Love! This is a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing. Sounds like this one is going to be a really great read. GOD bless you. beautiful friend! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Michele,

    This sounds like a great book – one that I really need to read. My listening skills can use some improvement!

    Thanks for regularly sharing great books to read. You inspire me and encourage me to want to grow!

    Hope you have a very Happy New Year!
    Came over on Grace and Truth~
    Blessings,
    Melanie

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I loved Adam’s ‘Introverts in the Church,’ and this new one of his is definitely on my must read list for 2016. Good listeners are definitely in short supply … we’re too busy thinking of our next remark instead of hearing the heart-words spoken from another.

    Happy new year, Michele! Thanks for guiding us to so many important reads.

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  5. Such an important discipline, listening! We think it’s passive and effortless, but the effortless listening is me-centered, isn’t it? I need to go right now because my husband is talking, so I guess I need to close my computer and listen. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A friend sent this review to me and I have already ordered this book. I am the Director of Counseling for my church and I often feel I need to “hurry” and give God’s word on someone’s problem. With a heart for disciple making I want desperately for others to lay their problems at the foot of the cross and then take up their cross to begin following Jesus. Thank you!

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    1. I am so glad to hear you say (as a director of counseling) that you also have the tendency to “hurry” to the answer. I’m so hard-wired that way that I’ve pretty much written myself off as a “counseling person.” I was heartened by Adam’s book because I realized that if I don’t have an “answer” from the “answer book” that’s ok. There is tremendous power and help in being heard, in saying your sadness out loud in the presence of another who is truly listening and then committing to pray for the sharer. Thanks for letting me know your thoughts — I’m encouraged!

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  7. Michele, I enjoyed this post. Listening is a verb which has an expectation of action on the part of the listener. It asks the question, “What will I do with that which I have heard?” I think I will be pondering this question today.

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  8. I had heard about this book, Michele, and love your review of it. This right here: “the skill of listening well begins with the heart, silent and open first to God for His word, then ready to hear others before speaking.” My prayer every morning is for my heart to be tender. Let us be open to hear His words to us and open to listen to others. Thank you, friend, for sharing your heart at #IntentionalTuesday. : )

    Liked by 1 person

  9. As a therapist, I am well aware of the power of listening. Helping someone feel heard, can be healing and helpful, in and of itself. However, I had no idea that the word “listen,” appears in Scripture over fifteen hundred times–that is incredible! I’ve discovered that our most effective counseling tools, almost always have a firm foundation in Scripture–which isn’t surprising–God knows how we best function. Thank you for a Scriptural basis for the power of listening!

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  10. Oh my, ANOTHER book to add to my list! I have friends who run a “listening” non-profit and this author is their speaker at an annual banquet this spring – I look forward to hearing from him and hopefully reading this before then! Happy New Year, Michele.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. These are beautiful thoughts about an incredibly important topic. I think we often forget the power of listening. We do it selfishly (like you mentioned) or without truly understanding. That has been the defining line for me – am I simply listening or actually understanding the message being shared?
    Thanks for sharing this us at the 100 Happy Days blog linkup. 🙂

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  12. I remember being really struck years ago when someone told me that the Hebrew words Eli told Samuel to say to God really meant “Speak Lord, for I am listening and ready to obey.” That readiness to obey component of Biblical listening has stuck with me and I always emphasize it when I share the story of Samuel with children.

    This book sounds lovely! Thanks so much for sharing it at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com!
    Tina

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Holy moley….so much good stuff in this post. “the skill of listening well begins with the heart, silent and open first to God for His word, then ready to hear others before speaking”. This sentence alone is, all at once, convicting and challenging. I want to be a good listener…to God and to others. Love the Bonhoeffer quote!

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    1. Sharing this post makes me want to go back and re-read the book! I learned a lot from it – also a recent book on the discipline of rest has captured my heart: The Radical Pursuit of Rest. Excellent for this “prone to wander” heart.

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  14. My two greatest “take-aways” from your beautiful post are these: that listening and obedience have the same Latin root and that discipleship is a journey of ongoing listening. Thank you for sharing your post and for sowing into my life today, here at the Loft!

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  15. Thanks for sharing this at the Loft today. Love that Bonhoeffer quote!

    Today, I noticed this line of yours: ” Then I recall that listening is a matter of the heart, and I see the truth: it’s my heart that needs changing”

    Ouch! It’s always me that needs changing …

    Like

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