Learning to Listen
We hear quite a lot about “active listening.” The purpose is to train people to succeed in personal, business, and social relationships. What is active listening? It is what happens when we employ our best to communicate with one another so that we may respond in a manner consistent with the goals set to be achieved by the parties involved. Active listening is indispensable to the building up of relationships.
The Scriptures tell us that Jesus taught active listening, and a few times, it was by the way He listened. He taught active listening in the parable of the sower, as found in three of the four Gospels. The way Luke captured Jesus’ emphasis on listening is in itself a means of teaching: “When he said this, he called out, ‘Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear’” (Luke 8:8). I imagine Jesus may have paused to stimulate curiosity before He raised His voice to finish the phrase: “Whoever has ears to hear . . . let them hear.” He wanted everyone present to understand the importance of hearing. No excuses.
Inevitably, Jesus’ listeners had questions as they learned to listen. When the disciples asked Jesus to explain the parable—to help them listen and understand better—the Lord answered. Here are His final registered words in that conversation: “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15).
Active listening is a matter of the heart. A noble or high-principled heart does not just hear; it retains the word and produces fruit. The things that we trust only the mind to provide for are not safe enough; we need to guard them in our hearts. The older I get, the more I am learning this. The things that we trust the heart to keep and nurture will stay with us for a very long time. The human ability to select what to retain and what to let go of is an amazing gift. Our hearts do a good job of keeping what we value most.
In love relationships, we hear people advising, “listen to your heart.” This sounds like good advice, but what if the heart is not where it should be? I don’t think any human realized the peril of listening to a faulty heart better than King David. He knew very well what his unreliable heart could make of him, so he prayed: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10). When he asked God to create a clean heart in him, David acknowledged at least two things: The heart he had was not good, and God was able to replace it with a good one. But David did not stop there. He also knew that to keep his clean heart clean, he needed the right spirit. That is the spirit of obedience—to relinquish any rights and trust God to enable our hearts to follow His. David knew that he could be an active listener if he responded according to the heart of God. As we learn to listen to God, He shapes our concept of our identities, He guides us in truth about Himself, ourselves, others, and the world. And He empowers us to live in obedience.
James said to the believers: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). A clean heart, in the prayer of David, or a noble, good heart in Jesus’ parable of the sower, is what we need to be able to actively listen to God in a relationship that forges our identity, and makes and keeps us “holy because he is holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
Eugénio Duarte has served the Church of the Nazarene as a general superintendent since 2009.
Holiness Today, May/June 2022