Active listening

Active listening. Do you see the apparent contradiction in terms? Yet it is true: Good listeners are active listeners.

I imagine it is because of the low premium most of us place on the art of good listening.

  • Pray that the Lord will help you to be a good hearer of the word: Far be it from us to actually encourage the preacher by showing him that we care about what is taking place!.

If I have heard this prayer once, I’ve heard it a million times: “Lord, bless Brother (fill in the blank) as he preaches. Give him a (you know the next phrase, right?) a ready recollection of what he has studied.” I am amazed at how common this prayer is in congregation after congregation. While I do not doubt that we should pray for the preacher, I wonder why we don’t pray more often for we, the listeners.

  • Be quiet: As long as you’re talking, one thing is sure – you won’t be learning anything. Being quiet is a major emphasis of Scripture (Habakkuk 2:20; Romans 3:19; Ecclesiastes 3:7; 5:1,2; Matthew 6:7; Proverbs 12:15; 13:1; 13:20; 17:28; 18:2; 18:13).
  • Get a good night’s rest: Remember all the jokes about sleeping in church? Is it about the preacher’s long sermon or the hearer’s short attention span? Even the Bible has a great story about how the young Eutychus slept as the preacher went “on and on” (Acts 20:9). Give yourself a chance to gain from the lesson by being rested and ready.
  • Look up the Bible passages, Bring a notebook: Your Bible is not a sacred museum exhibit behind a glass case; it is a tool to be used. Underline, write notes in the margin, develop a chain reference. Over time you will have a library of practical, spiritually-minded direction for life!
  • Smile and nod your head: The preacher is like a pump with a handle – if you nod your head on the one end, he will pour out (life-giving) water on the other.
  • Thank him: If he is not using Scripture, or exhibiting enough dependence on Scripture, demand that he does so. If he is, thank him, encourage him, support him against those who wish less substance and more style.

Listening influences the speaker. There is a sense in which we are the director in our own television control room. We are bombarded with thousands of sensory messages, and we must choose and select those which we see and hear. The choice we make is called attention, and we must select from all of these options! When it comes to listening from God’s own word, the stakes are higher, and the rewards are higher, too. Like Samuel, we should respond: “Speak Lord, for your servant hears,” (1 Samuel 3:9).

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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