Listening is a surprisingly powerful skill. The surprise is not that listening is powerful, but how powerful good listening actually is! People will pay hundreds of dollars an hour just so someone will listen to them. Others will find a really good bar tender on whom they unload their burdens. And others look to family members, co-workers, or friends just wanting someone who will hear what is internally stirring.
When was the last time you felt truly, deeply heard? The last time someone took the time to sit with you, care about you, ask great, probing questions until you shared everything you needed to share? And how did that make you feel?
Good listening is incredibly powerful.
And good listeners are desperately needed. We are so busy we barely have time for long conversation. We Tweet, or X, and text but we cannot sit with someone and have long conversation in which we actively listen. We have dissolved into a soundbite culture.
This is increasingly problematic because, at the same time we are a soundbite culture, more and more of us suffer from anxiety and depression. The toxicity of our culture worsens almost every day. And this next presidential election cycle will certainly exacerbate an already nasty environment.
As followers of Jesus, at rest in the love and faithfulness of our Father, we should be preeminent listeners. As we grow in confidence that our lives and issues are perfectly cared for by our Father, we should become more sensitive to the conditions of people around us. As our sensitivity increases, our love will increase. As our love increases, our listening should increase.
We listen because we care.
We care because we are first exquisitely cared for. Jesus taught, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34, emphasis added).
Let me show you a weighty listening exercise from the Psalms that will illustrate the importance of, and give direction for, effective listening. Remember, so many of the Psalms written by David are his personal journal. He pours himself out, unfiltered. Each Psalm comes from some issue or situation David encountered.
Psalm 13 has six verses. Psalm 18 has fifty verses. Whatever David’s situation was prompting Psalm 13, it only required verbalizing six verses. However, whatever the issues were five Psalms later, they required forty-four more verses! Psalm 18 has a lot more content than Psalm 13.
Now, imagine you are David’s friend. He comes to you in a Psalm 13 condition and starts the conversation, “I feel like the LORD has forgotten me. I feel like he is hiding his face from me.” (Adapted from Psalm 13:1). How would you respond? Most of us would respond by correcting his feelings, “David, you know Scripture says that God will never leave us nor forsake us. You also know that you cannot base your faith on your feelings. You should just rest in the truth that God your Father loves you.”
In fact, UGH….UGH….UGH…and another UGH.
You just cut off five more verses of David having an opportunity to share the depth of what he is battling. Why wouldn’t you simply ask, “What is going on that is causing you to feel that way?” Then, after David shares, you can ask further, “I hear what you are saying but I am not sure I fully understand. What is it about what you are doing through that is causing you to question the LORD’S presence?” You are giving David space to share five more verses of his internal reality.
Or, instead of asking questions, you can simply remain silent, waiting for David to continue. Silence from the listener can be a wonderful blessing to the one who is trying to figure out how to put words to what they are experiencing.
David’s experience is real. His emotions are real. Who loves and cares about him enough to give him the time and listening that honors his value?
Ah, this should strike chords with you. How does it feel when someone cuts you off in conversation? You are opening your heart and sharing something that has affected you. And, ironically, whatever has affected you can be great or bad! You have so much you would like to verbalize and the one to whom you are talking stops listening and starts talking!
Internal train wreck.
Now, compare Psalm 13 to Psalm 18. Again, forty-four MORE verses! That’s a lot of verbalizing. Whatever David is going through, good or bad, is intense. And who among us does not encounter intense experiences? Who do we have who will listen to us? Are our experiences not worthy enough for another to hear or care about?
The power of good listening and need for good listeners is one reason why I am committed to small group disciple-making. By small group I mean no more than four, one of whom leads the group and has spiritual responsibility for the others. As I disciple people, meeting with them for two hours a week, I am continually reminded how much life happens in seven days! But effective listening takes time. And everyone’s lives and stories are valuable. Therefore, groups larger than four will really struggle to give each person needed opportunities to talk.
Issues will brew in the dark and victories will be overlooked.
And life will go on.
Let me summarize. We care for others because our Father cares perfectly for us. As we trust His provision, we become more sensitive to the conditions of those around us. Moved by the Holy Spirit we will engage with others, truly interested in their stories. As we engage, we will learn to ask good, probing questions! We will learn to discern when someone is in a Psalm 13 versus Psalm 18 condition. Those with whom we engage will experience our love and the love of God. Over time healing can happen. Wholeness can happen. And then that person will be equipped to listen to others!
Kingdom movements of love are launched by simply flexing the super power of listening!