I have a question for you. Which is easier? Talking or listening? I’m willing to bet that, if you’re being completely honest, your answer is talking. Here’s another question. Have you ever been with another person, perhaps a spouse or a friend and, in the middle of the conversation, that person says to you, “Are you listening?” Human nature being what it is, when it comes to conversation, the tendency of most people is to talk more than listen. That’s why Mark Twain once said, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.”
Let’s go back to the conversation I mentioned before. When you were asked, “Are you listening?” have you ever responded by saying, “Yes. I heard you.”?You may have heard what the person was saying. Perhaps you can even remember the words that the person spoke. But were you really listening? The dictionary defines the verb “listen” as giving one’s attention to a sound. The verb “hear” is defined as perceiving with the ear the sound made by someone or something. Do you see the difference? Hearing involves the perception of sound. But listening means more than that. When you are truly listening, you are not only hearing the sound being made, but you are also giving it your attention.
Hearing and listening are two different things. When we hear what someone says rather than listen to it, we are not focusing our attention on the person and what that person is trying to communicate. We may be thinking about what we are going to say next. We may be thinking about what we’re going to have for lunch. We may be looking at a text on our cell phones. We are hearing the words the other person is speaking, but we are not giving those words, or that person, our full attention. We are distracted. We are not listening. Unfortunately, this is true even in our relationship with God. When life seems unfair, when we are dealing with difficult circumstances, and even when we are looking for guidance, we can sometimes be very good at talking to God, but not as good at listening to Him.
Proverbs 20:12 says, “Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord.” God gave us ears so that we can hear. But those ears are not simply for hearing. In all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), as well as in the book of Revelation, Jesus is quoted more than once as saying, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9, 4:23; Luke 8:8, 14:35; Revelation 13:9). We were given ears not only to hear, but also to listen and understand. And in order to do that, we need to give our full attention to the one to whom we are listening.
God wants to hear what we have to say, but He also wants us to hear what He is saying to us. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God!” In order to truly listen to God and understand what He says, we need to give Him our full attention. We need to “be still.” The Hebrew word translated as “be still” in Psalm 46:10 means “release” or “let go.” If we are to listen to God, if we are to understand what He says to us, we need to release or let go of the things that may distract us from truly listening. We need to find a time and a place that are free from distractions. We need to let go of things in our lives that may prevent us from listening to God’s still, small voice. That could mean lifestyle changes. If we are to truly hear what God has to say to us, if we are to listen and understand, we must give Him our full and undivided attention. We must “be still.”