I do a series of reflections on the gospels, and those who watch these might notice that I begin every Scripture passage by saying: Listen! That is because, as G. K. Chesterton said, “there’s a lot of difference between hearing and listening.” What’s the difference? Hearing is simply the act of receiving sounds by the ear. If we are not deaf, hearing simply happens. Listening, however, is something we consciously choose to do. It requires concentration so that our brain processes meaning from words and sentences.
Jesus often prefaced his sentences by telling his audience to “Listen!” On one occasion, we find God, the Father, telling us to listen to Jesus. “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). And Jesus, himself, had at one point advised: “Consider carefully how you listen” (Luke 8:18) because listening is important. However, most of us are very poor listeners. This is a pity because we cannot listen to what God says if we can’t listen to what people say.
It would help us remember that good listening is an act of love. If we keep this in mind and try to listen the next time our spouses or children or parents talk to us instead of looking at the TV and grunting, “uh, uh,” it will make a huge difference to our relationship with them. Try it and see. Good listening is also an act of godly ministry. People are tremendously comforted when they see that we are listening to what they are saying.
However, we need to be able to listen to God’s voice, and he speaks to us in several ways. One, through his word. Two, through prayer. Three, through worship. Four, through silence and solitude. Sometimes, God speaks to us in the stillness and quietness of our hearts. By setting aside time for silence and solitude, we can create space for God to speak to us and for us to listen to his voice. And five, through the counsel of others.
Listening to God’s voice helps us to know God. It guides us in our decisions. It strengthens our faith. It transforms us. And it draws us closer to God. Listening, however, isn’t the end game. James advises: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do (James 1:22-25).
So, let us not just be listeners but doers too. However, listening is an excellent place to begin, so let us choose to listen!
God bless you.