The Lookout | 9.15.15
By Alan Dowd
When you think of being like
Christ, what comes to mind? Being gentle and humble? Being a servant?
Sacrificing for others? How about being a good listener?
There are numerous examples
from the Bible that depict our listening Lord. Amidst today’s tidal wave of
noise—all designed to divert our attention from what really matters—this is a
practice, a model, we would do well to emulate.Indeed, scripture challenges us to be imitators of Christ. And one
way to imitate our Lord is to become a better listener.
Thunder and Whispers
There’s a lot of truth to the
old saying that “The good Lord gave us two ears and one mouth for reason.” By
listening more than we talk, we can avoid countless headaches. More important,
we can hear what God is saying to us.
Remember, Elijah had to shut
out the noise of the world—a whirlwind, an earthquake and a
firestorm—before he could hear the Lord in “a gentle whisper” (I Kings 19).
From the beginning, we notice
that the Lord Himself is a good listener. He not only heard what Adam and Eve
said in the garden; He listened to what they meant (Genesis 3).
He listened to Abraham’s seemingly-endless
queries about what it would take to spare Sodom and Gomorrah: Was it 50 righteous people or 20 or 10?
Among many other things, the
Lord’s thundering response to Job revealed that He had been listening to Job—precisely
rejoiced in how “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy” (Psalm 6).
By saying “Come, let us reason
together,” the Lord revealed that He longs to have a conversation with His
people. That presupposes listening.
Politicians and Priests
Then we come to the Lord
wrapped in human flesh—God with two ears.
The Gospels are full of
examples of Jesus hearing what people say and listening to what they really
Jesus listened to a desperate
dad. Mark’s Gospel tells the story of a father who came to Jesus on behalf of
his son, who was deaf, mute and possessed by a violent spirit. Moved by their
condition, Jesus asks him how long his son has suffered. “From childhood,” the
man answers. “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us” (Mark
Jesus’ reaction reveals that
He is an attentive listener: “If you can?” Catching him in doubt, Jesus repeats
the man’s words to make a point. “Everything is possible for him who believes,”
Jesus explains. And the man responds with perhaps the most honest human words
ever uttered to God. “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Jesus listened to the woman
at the well. Driven to the well by physical thirst, the woman lowers her jar
into the water. Jesus startles her by asking for a drink. But the woman balks
at His request because of cultural traditions. John reminds us that “Jews do
not associate with Samaritans.” Of course, cultural differences are only the
beginning of the differences between Jesus and the nameless woman. Not
only does she worship in a different way than Jesus, she is living with a man
who isn’t her husband. And she’s been divorced five times.
We know these details because
Jesus listens to her. He values her enough to talk with her—not at her. After
being used or ignored by every man in her life, it is God Himself who finds the
time to hear her out. The two talk about her failed marriages and loveless
relationships. She becomes vulnerable with Jesus because He treats her with
respect—and listens. And because Jesus listens, she discovers the need behind
her need. It isn’t her body that thirsts for water, but her soul.
She pours out herself and
drinks in His words. They revive her and transform her into a wellspring of
life: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus because of the woman’s
Jesus listened to a puzzled
priest. John tells the story of Nicodemus, a wise Pharisee struggling with the
notion of being born again.
“How can a man be born again
when he is old?” Nicodemus asks. “Surely he cannot enter a second time his
mother’s womb to be born,” he wonders aloud. “How can this be?” he asks again.
After patiently listening, Jesus
answers by explaining that being born again is about a person’s heart, that everyone
who believes in the Son will have eternal life, that those who know the truth
and live by the truth flee the night and live in
Speaking of the truth, Jesus
listened to a pagan politician struggle with the notion of truth. His name was
John devotes some 22 verses to the exchange between
the God of the universe and the governor of Judea. Their interaction—especially
Jesus’ willingness to listen—offers a stark reminder that God expects us to
listen even to those who haven’t earned our respect.
Pilate’s questions fly like arrows: Are you king of
the Jews? Do you hear the testimony against you? What crime have you committed?
What is it you have done? But for an unmeasured moment, Pilate relents and the
cross-examination becomes something close to a dialogue. The two discuss kings
and kingdoms, law and life. Then, Jesus offers Pilate a glimpse into eternity:
“I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens
Pilate answers with a verbal shrug—“What is truth?”—and
leaves before Jesus has a chance to respond. That speaks volumes about Pilate,
and their next exchange speaks volumes about Jesus.
After having Jesus scourged, Pilate returns to his prisoner
and asks, “Where do you come from?” Jesus is slow to respond this time. Perhaps
it was the flogging, perhaps the public humiliation. Perhaps He was trying to
find the right words. “Don’t you realize I have the power either to free you or
crucify you?” Pilate stabs.
Rather than ignoring Pilate, Jesus offers him one last
dose of truth: “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you
That chilling rejoinder seems
to penetrate Pilate’s arrogance, albeit briefly. John tells us that upon
hearing Christ’s answer, Pilate was “afraid” and
“tried to set Jesus free.”
The list goes on and on: Jesus listened to Jairus’ cry for help, the growling
stomachs of 5,000 men, the fears of a demon named Legion, the bickering of
James and John, the centurion’s humble request, Peter’s confession of faith and
denial of his Lord, the soldiers’ slurs, the cries of the repentant thief.
He listened because He was
present and because He cared, because He was quiet and because He was humble, because
He trained His body for listening by going away to “solitary places.”
There are at least three
remarkable things about the example set by our listening Lord.
words were—and are—more important than ours. Yet relatively speaking, He didn’t talk that much. Instead, He often let his
actions do the talking. And actions, we know, speak louder than words. Not all
quiet people are good listeners, of course, and not all quiet people are
humble. But in Christ’s case, choosing to listen, taking the time to listen,
summoning the patience to listen was—and is—an example of unmatched humility.
researchers have found that good listeners are good at a lot of things that
make relationships work. After
researching the subject of listening, health
columnist Lindsay Holmes found that good listeners are:
- Present. In other words, they’re not distracted by the noise of
the world—iPhones, Facebook, TV or Twitter.
- Empathetic. They truly care about what’s being said and the person
- Have high emotional intelligence. They’re able to perceive and
understand the emotions of others and their own emotions.
- Ask good questions. They provide the sort of feedback that shows
they’re truly engaged.
- Not defensive. “Effective listeners don't block out negative
criticism,” according to Holmes. “Instead, they listen and develop an
understanding of what the person is trying to convey before responding.”
- Can handle uncomfortable situations.
- Are proven leaders. “There’s a direct correlation between
strong leadership and strong listening skills,” Holmes found.
Two thousand years before business
researchers and psychologists arrived at these conclusions, Jesus displayed these
traits: He was present. He cared. He felt and shared in the emotions of others.
He was engaged and asked questions. He responded to what a person said and
meant. He never fled from criticism or uncomfortable situations. And always He led.
can imitate these listening skills of Jesus.
We can choose to listen, take
the time to listen, summon the patience and humility to listen.
We can be present and be
active listeners. We can show compassion and care by listening and by how we
And we can train ourselves to
become better listeners by seeking quiet time with the Father, just as Jesus
did. Matthew 14, Mark 1, Mark 3, Luke 5 and John 6 offer some helpful examples.
invites us to “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place” (Mark
6)—a place where we can hear His gentle whisper and learn to listen.