The Tragic Loss of the Art of Listening

Six Ways Jesus Modeled the Spiritual Practice of Listening

Technology has effectively democratized publishing and mass communications. Anyone with a computer can publish their message to millions. Unfortunately, the technological gold rush didn’t come with a manual or a course on ethics. Our digital conversations seem to have one volume: Loud. Who is listening? With so many shouting to be heard, we are in danger of losing the fine art of listening. It’s a tragic loss.



The Tragic Loss of Listening

We spend 60% of our communication time listening. But, we’re not very good at it. We retain only 25% of what we hear. There’s simply too much noise, and it’s easier to tune it out than to do the painstaking work of deciphering what’s true.


We have found technological ways to get around it. Texting, messaging, snapchatting, Facebooking are pouring into the vacuum, making us think that we are getting better at communicating. We’re not. We’re getting better at broadcasting.


In today’s high-tech, high-speed, high-stress world, listening is a dying art.


Yet, listening is a critical part of being human. Julian Treasure in his Ted Talk entitled, “5 Ways to Listen Better,” said, “Sound places us in space and time.” Listening is our access to perception. Listening allows us to make sense of the world.


Conscious listening creates understanding. It may be the most critical aspect of our humanity. Without it, we become something less than human.


The Essential Listening

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Mt. 13:15).


Jesus warned us that refusing to listen is a tragic mistake.

A world where we stop listening to each other is a very scary place.


Listening builds relationships. It solves problems. At work, it improves efficiency. At home, it helps develop strong, independent children.


Listening saves millions of dollars annually, rescuing sinking corporations, despairing nations, as well as dying marriages.


Unfortunately, the polarizing national rhetoric has served as a symbol of the slow death of listening. Everyone is screaming at each other. No one is listening. If our national conversation is any indication, the fine art of listening is in hospice care.


We have two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

— Epictetus (AD 55 –135)


Jesus Listened

Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance …” (Prov. 1:5).


The Jewish sage spent much of his life in lonely wilderness settings, listening for the voice of God. Jesus was no exception (Mt. 14:13; Mk. 1:13, 35; Mk. 6:32; Lk. 4:42; Jn.11:54).


In practicing the spiritual disciplines of meditation, simplicity, and solitude, Jesus prepared himself to be a good listener – listening with his heart as well as his head.


We are told on several occasions that Jesus instinctively knew “the thoughts” of people (Mt. 12:25; Mk. 2:8; Lk. 5:22; 6:8).  I don’t think this was some supernatural ability to read minds. I think Jesus had an extraordinary ability to read body language, facial expressions, and all the sounds we make in between our words.


Combined with an uncanny understanding of human nature, Jesus’ ability to “read” people was perhaps his greatest strength and his most human one.


Six Ways Jesus Modeled Listening

Jesus is the one who can relate to us in every way (Heb. 4:15). And he can do that because he listens (Ps. 4:3; 34:17; 69:33). What was his secret?

1. Jesus spent time in solitude.

Listening is a skill. It takes time sitting in a listening position, mouth closed, ears open. Spending time alone in complete solitude and quiet heightens your hearing abilities. Jesus invested time in the wilderness practicing his listening skills.


2. Jesus practiced hospitality.

Being open and welcoming to people is a big part of preparing yourself to hear them.1 The first step in listening is to accept the person right where they are and make them feel comfortable enough to speak. Jesus was a master at this. He welcomed everyone. 2


3. Jesus listened with both his ears and heart.

Jesus heard what people told him. But he also felt what they were feeling. “He had compassion on them,” is a regular description of Jesus (Mt. 9:36; 14:14; Mk. 6:34).


Jesus read body language, tone and tenor of voice, and the eyes — especially the eyes. He always made eye contact, and when he was with someone it was as if they were the only person on earth.


4. Jesus listened openly.

There is a false kind of listening. A person can pretend to listen by making eye contact, nodding regularly, and offering a periodic word of affirmation – but, not really hear a thing the person said.


Jesus heard every word. He wasn’t formulating a response while pretending to listen. He gave himself to people. He was always present.


5. Jesus practiced deep listening.

For the deep listener, listening is more than just hearing words, or getting the backstory. It is also listening with a critical ear.


What about this conversation rings true? What seems to be false? How can you synthesize what you’re hearing with what you already know? These are the analytical questions for the deep listener.


6. Jesus responded honestly.

Okay — so, It’s not exactly listening. That being said, offering thoughtful feedback is a sign that you have listened well.


Jesus offered feedback. He was willing to give words of encouragement when needed, but also willing to say the hard thing when necessary.  Jesus was transparent and caring enough to not let you continue in a false narrative.


My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27).


Jesus understood listening as an essential part of his relationship with his disciples. Ultimately, when we listen to God we will be in a better position to listen to each other. Practice your listening skills and you will make a valuable and positive impact on a world that is rapidly losing those skills.


What will you do TODAY to improve your listening skills?






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