Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, we learned techniques to help couples improve their communication with one another.
One communication method engaged the whole body. We received canvas mats that each listener stood on. As they talked with each other, the partners moved to stand on various sections of the mat which reminded them of the parts of reflective listening. When one person talked, the other person stood on the part of the mat which reminded them to remain silent and listen to the other person speak. When it was their turn to talk, they then stood on a part of the mat that reminded them to summarize what they heard the other person say.
My husband found humor in the use of the mats. Anytime we had a disagreement thereafter, he’d smile and say, “I think you should get the mats out.”
Listening is an essential ingredient to effective communication. We’ve all had an experience with someone who may have heard what we said but wasn’t truly listening. They may have immediately responded with a well-crafted argument they constructed in their head the entire time we spoke. They may have responded by ignoring our concerns and voicing theirs instead. They may have interrupted us before we even had the chance to finish talking.
In effective communication, there’s an expectation that we need to prove in some way that we were in fact listening. This is the concept behind the reflective listening skills marriage counselors teach couples to use.
The Importance of Hearing
The Bible talks a lot about hearing and listening. It likens those who have spiritual life to those who hear. “Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house” (Ez. 12:2). “This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand” (Matt. 13:13).
In Luke 8, Jesus tells a few parables, many of which involve listening. The first is the Parable of the Sower, where the sower scatters seed which falls into different conditions. Some seed is trampled underfoot, and the birds devour it (v.5). Other seed falls onto rock and withers away (v.6). Some is choked by thorns (v. 7). But other seed falls into good soil and grows a great harvest. Jesus finishes the parable with, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (8:8).
He then goes on to explain to his disciples why he uses parables. “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (v.10). He then explains the parable to them, and why some who hear the word of God don’t bear fruit of righteousness. Some hear the word, but the devil takes it away (v.12). Others hear it, but the seed never takes root and when trials come, they fall away (v.13). Other seed doesn’t produce mature fruit but is choked by the cares and pleasures of this life (v.14). This parable teaches us that not everyone who hears the word is changed by it. Not everyone who hears the gospel will respond in faith.
What a privilege it is to be true hearers! Let us not take this for granted or grow to think there’s something inherent in us that makes us a better listener of God’s word than others, for it is God who opens our ears to truly hear and understand the gospel. In our sin nature, we cannot spiritually listen, for we do not have the ears to hear.
Jesus then tells another parable about a lamp hidden under a jar (v.16-17). No one lights a lamp and then hides it under a bed. They share that light for all to see by. He then cautions them, “Take care then how you hear” (v.18).
The Importance of How We Hear
In the Bible, it isn’t only important that we hear, but also how we hear. After telling these parables, Jesus provides further explanation: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” (v.21). His true family, those who are united to him by faith, are those who follow what he says. James says something similar, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).
True listeners show they have heard. In a relationship, we show we listen by responding to what the other person has said, by summarizing their concern. For believers, we demonstrate that we are spiritual listeners by the overflow of our heart–in what we say and do. We show it in the fruit the Spirit produces in us: “As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (v. 15).
The Bible teaches that those who have truly heard the word of God and received it with spiritual ears that hear will show that they hear. We’ll see a fruitful harvest in our life, producing fruit of the Spirit such as love and joy, patience and kindness (Gal. 5:22). We’ll show it in both a love for God’s word and an increasing desire to obey it. We’ll show it in turning to God for help and hope when the storms of life come (Luke 8:22-25), knowing God is greater than the fearful circumstances around us. We’ll show it in how we share what we’ve heard with others, shining the light of truth in our dark world, not keeping it to ourselves.
Both in relationships with others and in our spiritual life, there is more to hearing than just taking in what’s said. True listening requires a response–some action that reveals we’re spiritual listeners. May we show we are indeed Jesus’s mother and brothers by not only hearing the word, but also in living by it.