Listening with a Discerning Ear
by Deepak Reju
Listening well is a tough skill to master. I’d venture to say that most people are mediocre listeners. Are you a good or bad listener?
The biblical picture of a bad listener is the proverbial fool. Consider three proverbs:
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Prov. 18:2)
If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. (18:13)
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (29:20)
The biblical picture of the fool is one who doesn’t listen and understand but speaks too quickly. He is impulsive. He answers before he hears. He doesn’t take the time to hear first and then speak. In Proverbs 18:2, the fool finds pleasure only in saying what he wants to say. In 18:13, because of his impulsive speech that lacks understanding, he is deemed foolish and shameful. Or, as one commentator put it, he is “stupid and a disgrace.”
Contrast the fool with counsel from James: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). James’ encouragement to be quick to hear and slow to speak is the exact opposite of a fool. And no one gets out of James’ exhortation—“every person” needs to do this.
Consider Christ, who modeled what it means to be an incredible listener. As He sat at Jacob’s well, He spoke to a Samaritan woman (John 4). With great care, He listened, responded, and considered her every word. He shepherded her to the one thing that mattered—worshiping Him. Do you want to be like your Savior? Do you want to listen like Jesus?
Take a moment to evaluate your listening skills. How good are you at listening? Rate yourself on a scale of one (poorest listener on the planet) to ten (best listener in the entire universe). Get a number in your head.
Here’s how to evaluate your self-rating. Go to someone who knows you extremely well—a parent, spouse, close friend, roommate, or pastor. Ask them how good of a listener you are using the same scale.
Some of you will be surprised by the rating; others of you will not. Regardless of its similarity or difference, talk about your rating with them. If I rated myself an eight, but my wife rated me a three, I’d say: “Honey, you said I was a three, but I rated myself as an eight. Am I really that bad in your eyes?” Then, I would brace myself for her answer. Her feedback would help me grow as a listener if I am humble enough to hear what she says.
What’s the goal? We want to be better listeners so that we can be like Christ, and also, so we can faithfully serve God’s kingdom with all of the relationships the Lord has given us.