Donn G. Dobberstein
The average human speaks 125 to 150 words per minute, but the human brain is capable of comprehending and listening to 600 words per minute. We listen to music and movies for enjoyment. We listen to directions to reach our destination. We listen to podcasts and educational videos for continued growth.
Given all the listening that we do, you would think we’d be good at it. Yet researchers believe we only remember somewhere between 25 to 50 percent of what we hear.
We don’t really listen
Why is that? I’ll venture out on a limb to give some answers:
- People like to talk more than they listen.
Studies have shown that 40 percent of everyday speech is devoted to telling other people how we feel or what we think. So for most of us. we think we know where the conversation is going and begin formulating our response. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy preparing our reply or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view. We’re half-eared, because our attention is divided.
- People are more interested in what they are doing.
How many of us haven’t been part of a conversation that goes something like this:
Mom: “Hey Sweetie, can you take the recyclables out to the garage and take the laundry basket of clothes to your room?”
Distracted teen watching TV or playing a game: “Uh, yeah . . . okay.”
A half-hour later . . .
Annoyed Mom: “Didn’t I ask you to do something? Why haven’t you done it yet?”
Distracted teen: “Yeah, I heard. . . . I’m going to do it in a sec’.”
Another half-hour later . . .
Exasperated Mom: “Why does everyone around here ignore what I say? I feel like I’m talking to myself!”
You may ask them to repeat back what you just said to see if they were really listening. Even if they regurgitate it correctly, it still doesn’t address what annoyed you in the first place or what they think is more important. It’s the frustrating feeling of not being heard.
Jesus shows us how to listen
In John chapter 4, Jesus models what real listening looks like in a short conversation with a Samaritan woman. During those few minutes, Jesus took the conversation from friendly and casual to deeply spiritual and personal.
The conversation went something like this:
Jesus: “Can I have a drink of water?”
Samaritan woman: “Are you sure you want to ask ME for a drink?” (Jewish men did not talk to women, and she was not with the women of the village.)
Jesus: “If you knew who was asking you for a drink, you’d ask him to give you a drink of living water.”
Samaritan woman: “Are you saying you’re greater than our ancestor, Jacob, who made this well?”
Jesus: “Jacob’s water will leave you still thirsty. The water I give takes away thirst forever.”
Samaritan woman: “Give me some of your water so I don’t have to keep coming back here!”
A discussion about water led Jesus to speak about spiritual thirst that only God can quench. Every response to her questions led to deeper conversation. Jesus did it in such a way that it did not end the conversation, but rather steered it toward her personal life, which mattered most to him. Even when the woman later tried to redirect the topic away from her marred, marital history toward the location of worship (4:16-24), Jesus kept the focus on her heart with simple, sacred truth.
Jesus did more than talk. He listened.
With every word he spoke, Jesus was telling her, “I’m listening to you.”
Listening is a way of loving
There is a direct connect between the words love and listen. When you really love someone, you desire to hear them. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains the ways we listen:
- We ignore a person (not listening at all).
- We pretend to be listening (“Yeah. Uh-huh. Right.”)
- We pay close attention to what someone is saying (active listening).
But the highest form of listening is the kind that dives into someone else’s world in order to understand his or her perspective. How many of your best friends are your best friends because they truly “listen” to you? Is not listening a way of loving? That’s Jesus!
He walked straight into this alienated woman’s world of isolation and brokenness. He observed her hands drawing water—out of the sight of others—and understands why. He knew her crushed heart and the baggage she was carrying inside. He listened and watched to understand her questions.
We don’t possess Jesus’ ability to see within a person and know their real needs. How much more then our need to listen rather than talk! Are we losing the ability and willingness to love by listening to people who sound and look nothing like us? Does prejudice block our ears? We say we love people, but do we show love only if it is on our terms or if they are interested in coming to our church or if they respect our way of life?
Listening is important. When you need to pour out your heart or seek sound advice, to whom do you go to talk? Is it someone who can talk a good talk or someone who intently listens to you because they genuinely care about you?
Jesus engaged and listened to a Samaritan woman because he genuinely loved her. Our love for others often takes a back seat. It’s me and my self-absorption that doesn’t like to listen to someone who may have absolutely nothing to offer me in terms of personal friendship. Self-absorption is not love.
Listening helps build relationships
Listening is one of the most important skills you can have in building relationships with others for Jesus:
- Listening provides a direct connectionwith people. It is a way to engage in a relationship. The better we get at listening, the less scary it is to share our faith. Becoming a better listener can improve your ability to influence with God’s Word. What’s more, you’ll avoid conflict and misunderstandings.
- Listening creates“space” for someone else to open up and talk. It will mean you have to be quiet. Can you do that? Can you set yourself and your life aside in order to focus 100 percent upon another person? Some have said that the best conversations with me were the ones I hardly said anything! I just listened to them as they unburdened themselves.
- Listening sounds easy, yet it’s one of the hardest things to do.It takes time and practice. And, it takes a caring heart.
Next time you’re in a conversation with someone, try giving both ears to him or her! Listening tells people they matter. If love for God begins with listening to his Word, then love for others is learning to listen to them.
“Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9).
Donn Dobberstein, director of discipleship for WELS, is a member at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin.
This is the second article in a four-part series on evangelism lessons from the account of the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4.
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Author: Donn G. Dobberstein
Volume 105, Number 8
Issue: August 2018
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