The HeArt of Listening

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By Jen Jang

Have you ever considered listening to be an art? Consider if you know some “bad listeners” and “good listeners.” There’s a difference, right? Listening, like an art, involves finesse, work, and your heart. The good news is that we can all become better listeners. Like an introductory art course, this post will review the general method and vision for the art of listening. Although we won’t go over specific listening strategies, we will lay a foundation that will help us better understand and utilize specific strategies later. When our method and goal are correct, then the practical skills of listening will follow.

 First, let’s start with our general method of listening. As Ed Welch says, you want to retell the story of the person you are talking to. What do we mean by “story?” By nature, man is a meaning-maker. We are always interpreting our world and fitting these interpretations into a story. When someone is speaking, we are listening to different pieces of a story that they are weaving together. As we listen, we can ask ourselves how is this person interpreting their situation, themselves, or God? For example, a woman in her late 20’s may have subconsciously labeled herself as a failure throughout her life. So when she finds herself in depression, she may subconsciously use her depression as further evidence for how she is a failure and how God must be disappointed in her. The storyline most likely won’t be laid out clearly, but if you listen for it you will begin to see it more and more. 

Second, our goal in listening is to know and love others. By understanding someone’s story, we are coming to know them more fully. Now how can we also love deeply? We can love deeply by hearing and accepting a person’s story without judgement. We fear being fully known, because we fear being rejected, isolated, judged, and shamed. To deeply love someone, therefore, is to hear their story, know them fully, and still love them with a patient, gentle, and committed love.

In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes:

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

By listening well, we are fully knowing someone and truly loving them. By fully knowing someone and truly loving them, we are reflecting the love of God. (We see this love described in Psalm 139!)

 My hope is that you are beginning to see the beauty in the art of listening. Listening is not an inactive, dormant art. It is an active, dynamic avenue through which we can reflect the love of God. God knows us intimately and perfectly. He knows our wounds and weaknesses. He knows our sins and thoughts. Yet, he loves us intimately and perfectly. Our God, who is abounding in love, knows you fully and loves you deeply. Take some time to reflect on how this Holy God fully knows you and loves you truly, so that the next time you meet with someone you can listen with a heart like His.

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Initiate Like the Initiator

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By Jen Jang

During the summer, we considered the importance of biblical counseling in the church. Biblical counseling is the personal ministry to individuals, in which members of the body of Christ move toward one another in care. With the secularization of counseling, many have come to believe that counseling is reserved only for the professional. Scripture, however, calls all believers to love and care for others. Yes, that includes you and me.

So today we want to consider one of the ways we can engage in biblical counseling. Where do we even start? My short answer is: you just start! You and I engage in biblical counseling when we begin moving toward others.

Throughout Scripture, we see that God is an Initiator. The Triune God initiated creating the world and creating you. He initiated a grand plan of salvation through his Son, and he initiated saving you. God initiates relationships and moves towards people throughout Scripture. From speaking to Adam first to selecting and shepherding Israel as His people, the examples of God pursuing people are endless. And when we think about this personal God in our lives, we see how he has pursued us throughout our lives. From creating you to saving you, the examples of God pursuing you is endless.

Sometimes reading and learning about God’s initiative works can seem distant. He made the world and made a way to save sinners. It is nothing new to you. However, Scripture tells us that, “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:4-5). Reflect on that for a moment. In love he predestined us for adoption. God’s pursuit of us is not just a fact of life but a fingerprint of his love. God pursues a relationship with us in love, and if we are called to be like him then we also must pursue others in love.

What are some practical ways we can move toward others? Here are several suggestions:

  • Initiate a deeper relationship. If you are already acquaintances or familiar with someone, then you can initiate getting closer with them by talking with them and asking to meet up. Eventually, the contact can become more consistent, as they feel more comfortable with you.
  • Follow-up with people after they share something personal.
  • Text, email, or call someone sharing that he/she is on your heart. Ask how he/she is doing and or how you can pray for him/her.
  • Ask someone to get coffee or a meal.
  • Have intentional conversations by asking thoughtful questions. (Of course, while being aware of the other person’s comfort-level!) This can happen in church settings or during one-on-one meet-ups.
  • Pray for someone before or after church. You can ask for their prayer request too.

The list is endless, and we invite you to begin pursuing others. Initiate like the Initiator and consider taking the initiative to care for someone today.