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16 Lessons on Listening

Just finished reading a book that has been on the shelf for sometime - Listening Life by Adam S McHugh. The book has some real gems coupled with wobbly theology in few places. So sadly no blanket recommendation. But here are some very helpful truths I took away from it. 

1. We desire to learn how to listen better because we want to learn how to become more human. At the heart of listening is that it enables us to  love and welcome people into our lives. We all want to be story-hearers and not just storytellers because it is who God made us.

2. Listening is obedience! The word we translate into English as “obedience” literally means a “listening from below.” Obedience is a deep listening, a listening of the whole person, a hearing with your ears and with your heart and with your arms and legs. 

3. We are constantly tempted to try and gain control with our words. We need to remember that listening, done well, gives power away. A servant listener does not dominate the conversation. He takes the attention off himself and focuses it on the needs and interests of others.

4. Loneliness hinders our capacity to listen because it drives us to talk about ourselves to excess and to turn conversations toward ourselves. It makes us grasp on to others, thinking their role is to meet our needs, and it shrinks the space we have in our souls for welcoming others in.

5. There is a natural propensity in us to create playlists of voices that only say what we want to hear and filter out voices that challenge us to think differently. If we don’t like what our pastor preaches in church, we can find a podcast that will preach the sermon we want to hear.

6. Wisdom is a deep, relational knowledge that comes through slow listening, allowing what we hear to steep and simmer in us. And it requires us to listen to voices that challenge us and present us with the unexpected, forcing us to weigh what we hear against what we believe.

7. Headphones are not always helpful! They may help us attune to our inner worlds at times, but headphones have become a symbol for expressing just how selective and individualistic our listening can be. We are on the wrong track if the way we listen encases and shelters us.

8. Jesus is an amazing listener! One the most striking things about Jesus is not how he listened but who he listened to. Jesus had a habit of listening to the people that others ignored—the poor, the sick, the pariahs, the foreigners, the sinners. We should do the same!

9. Listening is a community exercise. We must immerse ourselves in a listening community and filter what we hear through our fellow listeners. People that hear from God on an island have nowhere to go but into their own egos. God gives words to individuals not only for their own sake but for the benefit of their communities, strengthening faith and confirming callings. We need the soundboards of others to reflect back what they have heard, to confirm His word to us!

10. In prayer, we enter step into a conversation that has been happening since the foundation of the world but is now happening not only apart from us but through us. The Spirit groans in us, the Son intercedes in us, the Father listens to us. We have been drawn into the heart of the Trinitarian conversation. Our existence has become an enfleshed, walking conversation.

11. It changes how we read our Bible when we start calling it “listening” not “reading”. In listening to the Bible, we remind ourselves that behind all the words, there is a person, a voice. We must aim to listen to a person before we dissect a text. God is invites us to listen and engage with Him.

12. We must continually remind ourselves that we are listening to people. People are complex, layered, multifaceted, beautiful, wounded, contradictory, beloved image-bearers of the Creator. They are minds, hearts, souls and bodies, spilling over with dreams, passions, hurts, regrets and fears.

13. Good listening starts with the scandalous premise that this conversation is not about us. Therefore the aim of every conversation is to keep the invisible arrow pointed at the other person through asking good and open-ended questions.

14. It is very difficult to listen to people we have known for a long time because we presume to already know them. We have lost the ability to be surprised by them. But good listening takes seriously that other people are truly “other,” that human beings are mysteries wrapped in flesh, infinitely surprising, and that no matter how long you’ve known a person you actually have little access to the deep things inside them. That is why sustained listening is required.

15. Your listening style reveals your lifestyle . If your life is saturated with busyness , hurry and distraction , then your listening will be scattered and rushed . Listening for understanding cannot be a mere checkbox on your to do list . It requires your attention , concentration and observational skill.

16. The most critical element in speaking truth is not content or conviction but timing. People in pain are unlikely to hear unless they have first felt heard. The most biblical sermon, preached at the wrong time, will fall as flat as a wedding sermon preached at a funeral.

Copyright © Chola Mukanga 2018

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