Words are powerful yet sometimes inadequate tools. When I speak, something of myself comes out. Over the last weeks I have been pondering the process of how best to listen to others. Jesus said, “Be careful how you listen” (Luke 8:18). He speaks this while telling us that whatever is hidden will one day be revealed. What someone says is sometimes only a little or the beginning of what they mean. Deeper things lay buried if we can hear them.
Are you a good listener? I’ve been in the presence of a couple good listeners of late for which I am very grateful. We don’t just listen with our ears, but with our heart, and our spirit. Benedict of Nursia said, “Listen carefully and incline the ear of your heart.” George MacDonald said, “There is a lot of difference between hearing and listening.” There are many times when words are not enough and we must hear what someone is saying with our spiritual ears much more than our physical ears.
Can you imagine if God only heard our words? What if He did not hear the deepest cry of our hearts when words fail? We are even given the Spirit to intercede for us “with groanings that are too deep for words “(Romans 8:26). Our hearts are full of deep things, are they not?
So let us listen to hearts and not just words when we listen. Often we are listening only to speak. Sometimes the person we are listening to is desperate to be heard but testing to see if their words will be truly heard or will come bouncing back to them.
Sometimes words are just not enough and we must hear between the lines. Hearing deeply, accurately, gracefully is a spiritual discipline we can develop. Spiritual listening that heals and makes a place for others is birthed out of our own ability to listen to God. When we listen to God, we allow a place for silence and mutual communication on a non-verbal level. When we listen to God we strain to hear because we value the words of God. When we listen to God we also hear ourselves, not our words, but the disposition of our heart in listening. It takes two to listen really. One to speak and one to hold a place open for the words spoken to rest.
So listen carefully: understanding what a person is really trying to say is born of compassion, humility, grace, and spiritual discernment . We are limited to the degree that our own opinions, blind spots, and incompleteness which block the kind of conversations God wants us to have. You have not walked a mile in your neighbor’s moccasins. They may have experienced something you have not yet experienced. It might be a hurtful something or something precious to them. Listen and receive a great gift. Hold them up to God while they speak.
Sprinkle your conversations with mercy, encouragement and enough silence so you can hear the other and God and not you. Hold a place in your heart open for the ones you speak with. Listen knowing that God is listening with you. Cooperate with Him. Hear Him reply first before you speak. He alone knows what should be said. When people are really heard healing takes place. Good listeners are so needed, and relatively rare. Be one.
Rose-Marie Slosek is a Board Member of Women of the Word. She also blogs at Pen of the Wayfarer and is a spiritual director. She loves to travel to other nations, especially Ireland and Israel , and is an avid photographer of nature. Rose-Marie also rescues dogs and gives them a loving home.
Women of the Word is an inter-generational ministry dedicated to helping women grow as disciples of Jesus by applying God’s Word through the power of the Holy Spirit. WOW holds conferences, retreats, Bible seminars and trips to Israel.