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On social media, I asked my tens of followers “How do you feel when you are listened to and when you aren’t listened to?” Look at their responses.
Listened To

  • Appreciated
  • Valued
  • Respected
  • Loved
  • Accepted
  • Validated
  • Worthy
  • Significant
  • Known

NOT Listened To

  • Disrespected
  • Ignored
  • Cast out
  • Unworthy
  • Alone
  • Worthless
  • Invisible
  • Insignificant
  • Unloved
  • Rejected

Immediately you see some stark differences between the two, and the biggest difference is that one list sounds like the gospel while the other doesn’t.
Why is that?
Everyone has a story to tell, and when we don’t listen to that story, we communicate to the story teller that they are alone, worthless, insignificant, rejected, and unloved. But when we do listen to their story, we communicate to them that they are loved, worthy, known, and significant. When we listen, we communicate the gospel.
Sometimes we want to speak the gospel so badly, that we forget to listen to people’s stories.
I had lunch with a man that I was going to baptize, and he invited his friend from AA to join us. She slid into the booth and politely listened to our conversation about what God had been doing in his life. At some point, the conversation turned to prayer. She spoke up and said that she also prayed to Jesus but that she believed that “all of them” heard her.
Puzzled, I asked for clarification, “Who are all of them?’” She then said that she believed all major world religions’ gods were up “there” listening to her prayers; and, whichever one could help, would answer her prayer. I said nothing. Our mutual friend asked her directly, “Do you think Jesus is God?” She paused for a moment and looked at the tiles in the ceiling before turning to him and saying, “I think He could be.”
My mind raced with different rebuttals to her statement about prayer and apologetic defenses for the supremacy of Christ. But my friend was unfazed. He smiled at her and said, “I think that’s great that you think He could be God; because, if you are ever going to believe that He is God, you have to start with acknowledging that He could be. I would just encourage you to find out if He is or not. Because if He is, that changes everything.”
I was floored. What a gracious, wise, kind, and Jesus-like answer! Why was his response to her statement so different and so much better than mine? Why did his response  lead her to feel appreciated, valued, and loved, while mine would have left her feeling disrespected, cast out, and rejected? He listened, and I didn’t! When she was telling her story, he was listening to it and speaking to her! I was listening to an ideology and trying to speak to it rather than to her.
His response of listening looked like the gospel, and mine didn’t.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” And it’s true that, when we listen, we are being like Jesus. Jesus was a listener. He listened to the woman He met at the well in John 4, He listened to the two men He encountered on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24, and He listened to the woman who He healed in Luke 8. One of my favorite instances of Him listening is found in Mark 10. Jesus is trying to leave the city of Jericho and, as He does, He is being followed by a large crowd.
But the focus of this story is not on any of them, it’s on a man that wasn’t in the crowd. A man who was blind, named Bartimaeus. As the crowd passed, he called out for Jesus. The crowd yelled at him and tried to silence the man. But Jesus heard Bartimaeus and called him over. Then Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” Why was Jesus asking this question? Doesn’t He know the answer already? Can’t He see that Bartimaeus is blind? Jesus is doing something for Bartimaeus that no one had done in a very long time; He’s listening to him. He is demonstrating that Bartimaeus is valued, worthy, accepted, and loved. Everyone has a story to tell, even Bartimaeus.
So what’s your next step in becoming a good listener? It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes practice. Here are some tips for taking your next steps as a considerate listener.

  1. Actively listen.When two people are conversing, there are typically three conversations happening; the external one that you can hear, and the two internal conversations happening in their minds as they are trying to figure out what they are going to say next. Waiting for a pause so that you can speak, is not active listening. There is no multitasking in active listening. So when you listen, don’t think at all about what you are going to say next. Put all of your focus on their words.
  2. Summarize. One way to ensure that you are actively listening, is to summarize their words back to them with phrases like, “What I’m hearing you say is…” Not only does this help you focus on them, but also it communicates to them that you are truly listening to them.
  3. Empathize. Listen for emotional language, and respond to that language. Don’t comment, just empathize; “I see why you feel so frustrated. I would be frustrated too.“ And be careful to repeat their exact emotional language back to them. If they say “furious” don’t say “I’m hearing you say that you’re upset.” When you do that, you are managing their feelings instead of empathizing with their feelings.
  4. Empower. Don’t try to solve their problems. Most of the time, if people want a solution, they will explicitly ask for that. So if they are talking to you, they are probably just wanting to be heard. But, if there is a problem to be dealt with, instead of offering unsolicited solutions, empower them to think through their problem with a question like, “Is there anything you want to do about what you’ve just said?” This empowers them to seek out a solution if they truly want one.
  5. “Tell me more.” Many times when people are telling us their stories, they will pause after completing a thought, and we take that pause as a signal that it’s time for us to speak or respond. Instead of responding or jumping into your thoughts, simply say, “Tell me more.” More information is always helpful, and it keeps you from responding without truly listening and having all of the information —  most importantly, this tactic honors the speaker by truly demonstrating that you are interested in them and what they are saying.

There is a beautiful Scripture about becoming a better listener for which we could pray as we seek to become better listeners. Isaiah 50:4 — The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.

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