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How to Learn to Listen

If we want to make listening and learning one of our strengths, we need to identify how we currently listen to others.

When I was in middle school, I played the trumpet and was placed in an advanced band because of my willingness to learn and grow.

I felt confident going into my class on the first day of school because there was only one other trumpet player in the band, and I felt sure that I was just as good as he was.

However, I soon found out that I was deceived; he was very talented and could hit high notes effortlessly. I thought about asking him for help on how to improve my own skills. But I would quickly make up excuses, telling myself he wouldn’t want to help me. I eventually ended up quitting the band and telling my parents that the trumpet was boring and I didn’t like it anymore. But the truth was I had decided to give up instead of admitting I needed help.

We all need help at some point. We can hit a ceiling in our abilities and become stunted in our growth if we don’t become learners. Jesus’ apostles were not any different; they needed to learn how to keep growing in their relationship with God:

Another time Jesus was praying, and when He finished, one of His disciples approached Him. Disciple: Teacher, would You teach us Your way of prayer? John taught his disciples his way of prayer, and we’re hoping You’ll do the same.

Luke 11:1 VOICE

As they spent time with Jesus, the disciples had seen the power of Jesus’ prayer life. While this disciple had probably prayed before, he saw a difference in Jesus’ way of doing it and he was drawn to it. This pushed him to ask Jesus to teach him, and not only him, but also his friends how to pray and have a more intimate connection with God.

In order for us to grow in knowing God and having a personal relationship with him, we need to be great listeners and develop a learner’s heart. This devotional will help us understand why listening and learning is important, and the steps to take to grow in these traits.

Practice actively listening to God

If we want to make listening and learning one of our strengths, we need to identify how we currently listen to others. According to one theory, there are 4 different types of listeners:

  1. Non-listeners – They don’t listen to what you are saying. Instead they prefer hearing themselves talk. 
  2. Marginal listeners – Impatient to listen to the main ideas, marginal listeners pay superficial attention, and are interested only in the bottom line.
  3. Pretend listeners – This listener type listens to your words, but doesn’t hear the feelings you’re conveying with your words. The pretend listeners observe your character, judge what you say and then decide on their response.
  4. Active listeners – Active listeners pay absolute attention to what you are saying and to what you are communicating nonverbally. They do not interrupt and they ignore everything and everyone else around them.

It takes work to be an active listener. It takes focus, depth, self-control, and care. Basically, it takes a willingness to want to know. 

The book of Acts gives us a great example of what it looks like to practice “active listening” in our relationship with God:

These people were more willing to listen than the people in Thessalonica. The Bereans were eager to hear what Paul and Silas said and studied the Scriptures every day to find out if these things were true.

Acts 17:11 NCV

The Bereans were seen as the more willing and eager learners because they chose to hear out what Paul and Silas had to say. And they didn’t just settle for what people said to them; their belief grew because of their willingness to listen to God through the Scriptures.

Even though it’s crucial and important to be willing to learn from others, we have to make sure that our first priority is listening to God through the Scriptures. People are imperfect (Romans 3:10) and letting any person take God’s place will leave us disillusioned.

In order to become more intimate and close in our relationship with God, we first have to be willing to go to the Bible in order to learn and make sure that what people are teaching us really comes from him.

Also, our willingness to listen to others (especially when they need to tell us something that might feel uncomfortable to hear) is connected to our willingness to first listen to God.

But the people of Israel are not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for all the Israelites are hardened and obstinate.

Ezekiel 3:7 NIV

As this passage teaches us, God warned Ezekiel that the people weren’t willing to listen to him because they first chose to ignore God. 

It’s hard for me to take feedback and constructive criticism; I like to do things my own way and don’t always like to listen when my friends and family suggest otherwise. I had a friend point out to me once that my stubbornness and refusal to be influenced didn’t start with people, but in my relationship with God.

This always helps humble me because it shifts the attention from people to God and how I’m treating him. I can usually find a reason why I don’t need to listen to what someone tells me, like “She doesn’t really understand my life,” or “I’ve already tried it his way and it doesn’t work.” But I know I have no excuses when it comes to being willing to listen to God.

When we are unwilling to listen to people, we should take a step back and see if we are willing to listen to God. Sometimes when we are unwilling to listen to people, we are actually ignoring God and how he is calling us to grow.

Pause and reflect

  • How do you think you’re doing at “actively” listening to God’s Word?
  • What do you think it looks like to be “unwilling to listen” to God?
  • In what area of my life do I need to learn to listen to and learn from God so I can be more influenced by other spiritual friends?

Learn to admire other people’s strengths

19 My dear brothers and sisters, always be willing to listen and slow to speak. Do not become angry easily, 20 because anger will not help you live the right kind of life God wants. 21 So put out of your life every evil thing and every kind of wrong. Then in gentleness accept God’s teaching that is planted in your hearts, which can save you.

James 1:19-21 NCV

According to the Bible, we always need to have a listening ear. We should have a consistent willingness to listen to other people’s thoughts, perspectives, criticisms, or feelings. 

This is no easy task! What makes it challenging to listen is often the angry feeling or defensiveness that can bubble up as we are listening. We need to be aware of our anger because it can stop us not only from listening to people, but listening to what God is trying to teach us.

There have been times that I was calm going into a conversation, but someone brought up something that I hadn’t been wanting to deal with or had been in denial about, and I quickly became angry. That anger can be external or internal, but either way I am angry. Beneath my anger, I am often feeling unbelieving that something can change and/or insecure about how I look to others.

When we are easily angered and unwilling to listen to God or people, we need to look deeper at what’s underneath our anger.

If you’ve found yourself getting easily angry and not wanting to take the time to hear out the people around you, ask yourself a few questions to help you identify what might make it hard for you to listen:

  • Have I stopped believing about something?
  • Am I feeling guilty about what this person is bringing up?
  • Do I not want to change something?
  • Do I feel insecure that I didn’t know or didn’t do something?
  • Am I feeling like a failure because I didn’t perform perfectly?

If we are already full of these thoughts, we will not have the room in our hearts for God and others (Psalm 10:4). Wanting to be perfect and feeling upset at seeing our weaknesses and failures are signs of pride. As we covered earlier, no one is perfect except God, and being surprised or offended at having weaknesses is a sign we may have too lofty an opinion of ourselves.

To have a listener’s attitude, we must grow in our humility.

Be free from pride-filled opinions, for they will only harm your cherished unity. Don’t allow self-promotion to hide in your hearts, but in authentic humility put others first and view others as more important than yourselves.

Philippians 2:3 TPT

The way to ensure that pride is not lying around in our hearts is to fight against our “I know better” and “I can do it myself” attitude. 

The way to fight those opinions is by seeing others’ importance and their strengths. When we admire God and people, we will want to seek advice from them and we will be quick to listen to what they have to say.

Pause and reflect

  • How do you react to seeing areas of your life that need improvement?
  • What are strengths you see in other people that you admire? How can you learn from them how to grow in those areas?

Take action

  • Think about one person you admire and ask them for their advice on an area of your life today.

Train your heart to listen

So train your heart to listen when I speak and open your spirit wide to expand your discernment— then pass it on to your sons and daughters. Yes, cry out for comprehension and intercede for insight. For if you keep seeking it like a man would seek for sterling silver, searching in hidden places for cherished treasure, then you will discover the fear of the Lord and find the true knowledge of God.

Proverbs 2:2-5 TPT

Listening is not a natural skill that we all possess. 

When I was in my masters program to become a school psychologist, I was trained on how to listen to a client. We were videotaped listening as our client spoke, and then analyzed on how well we engaged and also listened to the client. 

Those who developed the program understood that listening takes training. And while I’m grateful that these experiences taught me certain behaviors like shaking my head as the client spoke or making eye contact with them, I’m still learning to how train my heart as I listen to people around me.

Training your heart to listen means looking at your attitude about it, not just your behavior.

The scripture breaks down 3 areas to train our hearts so that we can become active listeners:

  1. Receptive Attitude – An open listener has a receptive attitude. They are willing to hear truth.
  2. Humble Attitude – They are eager to learn and ask for help. 
  3. Persistent Attitude – They keep seeking for insight.

If we possess these 3 things, we will be receptive to what the Bible tells us when we read it, and this will help us to grow in our understanding of God and who he is.

These qualities will also help us when we are listening to people who are trying to give us a spiritual perspective. I think we see this receptive, humble, and persistent attitude in Joshua as he learned from Moses’ walk with God:

And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. [9] As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. [10] Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. [11] The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Exodus 33:8-11 NIV

From this scripture we can see that the Joshua watched how Moses talked to God and learned from him. This willingness to learn from Moses seems to have helped Joshua develop his own courageous walk with God. Later, he became the one who would lead God’s people to the promised land (see Numbers 27:18-19)

Pause and reflect

  • What’s your attitude toward learning and growing when you read the Bible?
  • How receptive are you to learning about God through other people’s insights?

Take action

  • Who are some people who have a relationship with God you admire? What do you admire about their relationship with God?
  • Make a list of five questions to ask them about improving your own relationship with him.
  • Spend some time with each of these people to learn how they read the Bible, how they pray, and how they make an emotional connection with God.

Next steps

Listening and learning can be difficult if we are insecure, proud, or get angry quickly. We have to dismantle the idea that we should know all the answers or understand everything about God. 

When we are humble and admit that we don’t know everything, this will help us to learn from others how to have a great relationship with God.

Check out the following resources to continue to become a great listener and an active learner:

  • 1 & 2 Timothy (Timothy learned how to grow spiritually by listening and being trained by Paul)
  • Be Teachable: How a Heart for God Should Make You a Learner (DS devotional)
  • Learning to Read the Bible Spiritually (DS podcast)
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