Take, for example, how Luke doesn’t just mention Jesus talking, but refers specifically to whether people were listening to what was said: “When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening…” (Luke 7:1), and a little earlier he records how Jesus himself commented on this point: “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). This clearly shows that Jesus was aware that some people were listening to what he said, while others were probably just in the crowd out of curiosity to see what was going on.
In fact, Luke seems to indicate that Jesus paced his teaching according to whether people were really paying attention. He tells us that “While they were listening … he went on to tell them a parable…” (Luke 19:11). It was precisely because people were paying attention – really listening – that Jesus extended his teaching to give them more understanding.
We can apply this understanding in at least two areas of our relationship with God. First, in our study of God’s word it is imperative that we do in fact listen and not just read. Despite the best of intentions, it is possible to sit and read several chapters of the Bible without really listening to what is being said, just as our minds may drift during an actual conversation with a person in the same room. The safeguards against reading and not hearing are to take frequent pauses to analyze or summarize what we read and to review it when finished. This isn’t always necessary in Bible reading, of course, but the more we can do it, the more it can help us to truly listen.
The same principle can actually apply to prayer. If our prayer is to be closer to a conversation than a monologue, we should be willing to pause occasionally and think over what we have said, let our minds be receptive to thoughts and ideas that may be placed there. I know many pastors and other sincere Christians who will not pray without a notepad – not just to list things they wish to pray about, but also to record things that come to mind as they do pray.
It is not that we cannot study or pray without using such hearing-aid strategies, but if we are truly desirous to hear God in our lives we have to be willing to focus on listening. It is interesting that in the parable of the Good Shepherd recorded in John 10, Jesus repeatedly describes his “flock” as those that listen to him. And we might remember, in this regard, the striking words of Christ which are only recorded – as we might guess – by Luke: “Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them” (Luke 8:18). We have all been given much, and it is as we listen that we are given more.