Listening (Matthew 6:7-8)

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There is an art to listening. Listening is an active activity. It is not only  hearing, which  merely ranges in degrees of passivity – listening is active. Sometimes it is even strenuous. Many times it is not, but we cannot liken it to walking, or running, or even swimming. Those things we can do by ourselves. Listening is more like a team sport. It takes one plus more, it takes practice, and it takes intentional focus. Like exercise, those who practice it a great deal get better at it. At some point they get so good that all the effort they are putting into it appears effortless. That is when listening crosses into art. Like an Olympian going for the gold or a master painter, they make it look easy to understand others. 

The thing about listening well is that it is of tremendous help to the one being listened to. Even if no words are said at all. Like a good friend who comes to share in your grief, they sit in silence. You say nothing, but they hear all your pain. Listening entirely without words, they somehow pick up that pain. They absorb it into their own soul – their listening is a gift to you. A sacrificial and almost sacred thing. Or like the best of parents, sitting in the back of the school auditorium with a mile wide grin at your school play. Other people fill the room, and they hear everything you say. But your parents did not come to hear. They came to listen. Their presence is noted, their joy in you almost tangible. They soak in your words. They remember every line you speak.

Being heard when you communicate is necessary to joint participation in action. But being listened to results in more than exterior action. It changes you as a person. Always and without exception for the better; for to be listened to is to be loved. This is one of the deep truths about prayer. Even if we hear nothing from God, we know He is listening to us. Really listening. For He loves us. He truly, deeply loves us, more than any parent or the closest of friends. So He hears much more than our words. He hears our emotion behind the words, the inward reflection of our truest personality in even the most mundane of conversation. Even if we have nothing to say because of our grief, or too much to say because of our joy. 

Some would say that prayer is unnecessary, or ought to be unnecessary, because God already knows what we are going to say. But that is like saying that there is no point in speaking to a really good friend. Friends and lovers always have something to say to each other. In listening to each other, one actively demonstrates their love for the other, and one actively experiences love. The words we use are but a tool for communication. We use them because of our own limitation – our own inability to hear the soul apart from words.

That is why Jesus encourages to pray even though, “your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.” The One who loves us deeply and thoroughly is passionate about spending time with us. Even if, like a father with their toddler, the words we say are not likely going to educate, illuminate or better them. Listening is the gift of time, an investment in relationship. It is an investment He makes in us. Whenever, wherever and however we pray. Like art without a brush, prayer opens us as a canvas. It is an opportunity we make for Him to create in us a more beautiful expression of His glory.

The simple act of listening to a person talk it out is sometimes that greatest yet simplest way of loving someone well and deeply. When we listen well, we give our hearts to receive, our minds to process, and our souls to share the journey with a friend in need.

Stephen W. Smith

APPLICATION: Intentionality

Knowing God listens to us so intently, try to listen to Him today with a similar mindfulness.

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