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It has been pointed out that God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Evidently, He wants us to listen more than we talk. James made the same point when he encouraged Christians to be “quick to hear” and “slow to speak” (James 1:19).
When we listen well, we reflect God’s image (Gen. 1:26), because God is the consummate listener. Just as He is not a mute idol, neither is He a deaf one (Ps. 115:5–6). The triune God speaks (Heb. 1:1–2), and He listens. The Father listens to the Son; He hears and answers His prayers (John 11:41–42; Heb. 5:7; 7:25). The Son listens to the Father; He hears and does His will (John 5:29–30; 8:28; 12:49–50). The Spirit listens to the Father and the Son, and they listen to Him (John 14:16; 16:13–15; Rom. 8:26–27).
Amazingly, the triune God also listens to us. He attentively hears and graciously answers the prayers of His people (Ex. 2:23–25; Ps.34:15; 66:19–20; John 15:16). This should never cease to boggle our minds and move our hearts—the God of the universe listens to us when we pray.
We should note also the way that Jesus, during His earthly ministry, genuinely listened to others. He not only preached to them; He spent time with them, ate meals with them, and engaged them in conversation. He asked them probing questions and sincerely listened to their responses. He listened to them as they talked about their fears, longings, and religious beliefs. Think of the humility of the Son of God, God incarnate, listening to sinners speak to Him about religion. He who is worshiped by angels listened while sinners shared their views on worship. God in the flesh listened while sinners theologized to Him. The Christ humored sinners as they waxed eloquent about Christology. The Savior listened as the sinners He came to save shared their insights about salvation (Matt. 19:16–30; John 3:1–15; 4:7–42).
Jesus listened to sinners for the same reason that He spoke to them: because He loved them (Mark 10:21). He conversed even with those who were seeking to kill Him, and even to them He said, “I say these things so that you may be saved” (John 5:34). Jesus did not listen to the musings or even the accusations of sinners in order to quickly formulate a rebuttal that would “put them in their place.” Rather, He listened to them in order to engage them with the good news of His love so they could be saved (John 3:17).
Thus, when we grow as good listeners, we are not only reflecting God’s image; we are reaching out with God’s love. If God lovingly listens to us, shouldn’t we lovingly listen to one another? Shouldn’t we be “quick to listen” not only to God, but also to His image bearers? This is important in all our relationships, including our relationships with those who do not yet have a saving relationship with Jesus.
In some Chinese churches, congregants welcome new believers by saying, “Jesus now has a new pair of eyes to see with, new ears to listen with, new hands to help with, and a new heart to love others with.” Do you think of your ears as means through which Jesus shows concern for others? Are you willing to listen to others with whom you profoundly disagree in order to get to know them and love them for Jesus’ sake? Are you willing to be offended by what they say, overlook their offense, and thus show them the love of Christ (Prov. 19:11; 1 Peter 4:8)? When you are tempted to answer no, remember what a long-suffering listener Jesus was with those He encountered during His earthly ministry. Remember what a long-suffering listener He has been with you.
Thomas Smyth, a nineteenth-century Presbyterian pastor, used to say that Christians are “Christ’s representatives and agents for the conversion of the world.” To fulfill that calling, we must first and foremost love the people right in front of us—our neighbors, coworkers, visitors at our church, the least, the lost, the overlooked, and the outcast. In order to love them with Christ’s love, we must listen to them for Christ’s sake.
I came to a saving relationship with Jesus during my sophomore year of college. God had graciously placed several vibrant Christian students in my life during my freshman and sophomore years. I was struck by their joy and their love. They had a satisfaction in their souls that I did not have. And they reached out to me with the good news of Jesus. I have to admit that I do not remember many of the specific things they said to me. What I remember now, and what is so striking as I think back on it, is how patiently they listened to me.
I was a religion major even before I came to know Christ. The Christian friends who engaged me during those years would listen to me pontificate about the ultimate issues of life. Sometimes they would ask me questions to get me to think more deeply about my beliefs. Sometimes they agreed with what I had to say. Sometimes they chuckled over my nutty ideas. But they always listened. And they prayed for me, loved me with deeds of kindness, and spoke the truth in love to me. God used their witness, including their patient, Christlike listening, to melt my heart and woo me to Himself.
My prayer is that He will help me grow in being that kind of listener so that I can be that kind of witness as well.