President Franklin Roosevelt hated White House receptions, especially the mindless small talk and chitchat in the receiving lines. At one reception he decided to try something different. When people greeted him, he said, “Good evening. I murdered my grandmother today.” Every person he greeted replied in the same way: “That’s nice. Keep up the good work. We’re proud of you! God bless you, Mr. President!”

Every person except one. A foreign diplomat whispered, “Well, I’m sure she had it coming.”

How do you know if you’re a good listener?”

The answer is simple: by how your respond.

The Bible often reminds us of the importance of listening:

  • Proverbs 1.5 – “A wise man will hear and increase in learning…”
  • Proverbs 18.13 – “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.”
  • James 1.19 – This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger…”
  • Matthew 13.9 – “He who has ears, let him hear.”

Listening is so important that one of the New Testament words for sin means a failure to hear. In Romans 5.19 the apostle Paul was describing the effects of Adam’s sin. He said, “For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” The word “disobedience” literally meant “to hear amiss; to fail to hear; to hear wrongly.” In other words, Adam wasn’t listening to God.

The issue is NOT whether the sound waves strike the ear drum and register in the brain. The issue is whether we have enough love and respect for God that we really pay attention to what he tells us. 

That’s also the same issue when we listen to others. We may not be listening for the purpose of obedience the way we do with God. But the motive is the same. If we love and respect the other person, we’ll pay attention. We’ll actively listen. We’ll engage the other person in constructive communication. 

Often, we’re listening only for an opening in the conversation: an opening to get out of it, or an opening to give them a piece of our mind. Neither of these constitutes listening.

So, when someone speaks to you – whether it’s God or someone else – learn to listen with love.