GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 641 • May 12, 2021
SEEKING AND SAVING THE LOST – Number 8
THE POWER OF A LISTENING EAR
1 Peter 3:8-12
Listening is becoming a lost art, and this has produced a major breakdown in communication. People are too busy to listen. They are indifferent and apathetic – they do not want to listen. Listening is one of the most important activities in life. People think themselves and the affairs of their lives to be important – and they are. You cannot know a person (attitudes, convictions, needs, hopes, fears, etc.) unless you listen to him. Willingness to listen to others will be taken as evidence of one’s interest in the person, and the importance and worth of the person too. “He is not worth listening to” may also mean that the person’s ideas or advice have neither weight nor worth. “He is not worth listening to” may also mean that the person himself is perceived as worthless. “Do not waste your time with him; he’s hopeless – beyond redemption.”
Good listeners are harder to find than good speakers. There are times when we need desperately to talk about our problems, hopes, fears, plans, frustrations, accomplishments and failures – and sins. But we can’t always find anyone listening. We also miss many vital opportunities and answers because we fail to listen. Being a good listener/speaker is imperative for one who would be effective in teaching the gospel, helping the distressed, and maintaining a good relationship with God.
WHAT IS LISTENING? WHY LISTEN?
For our purposes here it is necessary to distinguish between listening and hearing. Hearing may only be awareness of sound or noise. Understanding is not necessarily implied in “hearing.” See Acts 9:7 and 22:9. Listening implies “paying attention” and trying to understand and interpret what is being heard in order to respond to it. “Listening” can include both spoken and unspoken messages. We “hear” the Lord speak in reading the scripture. “Body language” may either support or contradict words. The “sound of silence” can be significant, and must be listened to. Logically we “hear” unspoken but necessary inferences from what is said or not said.
The things not said may be as important as the things that are said (Luke 23:9, Heb. 7:14 – the silence of scripture can be determinative.
Good listening indicates and requires: Openness that invites a sharing of oneself (Matthew 11:28-30). Interest (stop doing other things and really listen). Do not pretend interest. Develop real interest. Concern. “How often would I have gathered you to myself” (Matthew 23:37). Patience. Try not to anticipate the speaker, and do not hasten to speak. Compassion. (Hebrews 4:15). Empathy and sympathy are part of compassion, putting yourself in the other’s place and trying to feel what he is feeling, will certainly increase the help you try to give. Acceptance. (John 6:37, Hebrews 4:16). Humility. Smug superiority closes the door to any real sharing or community. “There but for the grace of God go I” (cf Philippians 2:3-4). Honor. Do not betray a confidence. Do not blackmail the confessor.
Why listen? One who is person-centered, really concerned about others, might say, “So that the troubled may find help in times of need.” Or, so that sinners may confess, be forgiven and reconciled (James 5:16-20). So that you, the listener, may find a willing ear when you yourself need to speak. One who cannot listen to others breaks the bridge of communication over which he himself must cross, for everyone has a need to be heard sometime. One cannot even speak to God until he has heard, or demonstrates a willingness to hear God (details on this point below).
We want to get ourselves and others into an effective listening/speaking relationship with God. This is an essential application of James 5:16-20.
LISTENING AND SPEAKING TO GOD
God listens to some, but not to all who pray to Him (1 Peter 3:10-12). We need to understand what controls God’s response, so that we can pray and be heard. “God does not hear (listen to) sinners” (John 9:31). Sin which one refuses to correct will close God’s ears. God will refuse to listen/hear. Unresolved sin separates one from God and God refuses to hear (Isaiah 59:1-2). “If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear (my prayer)” (Psalm 66:18). “He who turns away his ear from hearing the Law, even his prayer shall be an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).
The teaching and application of John 9:31, “We know that God heareth not sinners,” is critically important because it is so frequently misunderstood and misapplied, leaving sinners without hope. It does not mean that God is unaware of the sinner’s prayer. How could it be an abomination to Him if He did not hear it or know about it? One who lives (continues) in sin has no power with God. God does not heed or honor – will not acknowledge as valid – the request of such persons, but the prayer of one who is trying to do God’s will, or at least desires and intends to do so, is heard (John 9:31b). This leads us to declare that…
God listens to, attends to, honors and responds to prayers of “righteous persons” (James 5:16-17), those desiring to be right with God, and actually trying to be right with Him. Their prayers are welcome. His ears are open to their prayers (1 Peter 3:12a, Isaiah 55:6-7; cf Isaiah 58:9, and 65:24). Their prayers are effective because their desire is to please God and do His will (1 John 3:22, 5:14). One must listen to God, and not just try to talk to Him (Isaiah 1:18 “Come let us reason together,” says the Lord. Yes, one gets to “present his own case” to God. But, one must be willing to listen to the case presented by God, and accept it as superior to one’s own concepts.
TWO PARABLES ABOUT PERSISTENT PRAYER AND FINDING A “LISTENING EAR.”
First, the midnight caller (Luke 11:5-10). The answer does not come to the requesting one because of neighborliness or friendship, but because of persistence (11:8). This is not to imply that God is “inconvenienced” by our prayers and answers just to “get rid” of us or so that we will stop asking. The lesson: If a friend will give to a persistent caller to avoid continued inconvenience or difficulty, how much more will our great Friend, the God of heaven, answer those who ask of Him? Of course the prayer must be in earnest – it must engage the mind of the one who prays, or it will not engage the heart of the One to whom it is offered. No yawns, and no half-hearted “bless me Father.” The answer of God may be YES, NO, or an implied WAIT, but the prayers of righteous persons will be answered – heard, processed, and responded to in due time.
Second, the importunate persistent widow and the unrighteous judge (Luke 18:1-8). God is not like a stern, unfeeling, unjust judge. The lesson: If the hard-hearted will listen and judge, how much more will the loving Father in heaven respond to His children.
You may not always find a willing ear among people when you need it, and you may not always be willing to supply a listening ear to those who seek it from you. But God is always ready to receive and listen to His people. Because He really loves His people (John 3:16). Because He is really interested and concerned for the welfare of His people (2 Peter 3:9). He will be compassionate and merciful to those who trust Him and seek Him (Titus 3:5). He will not use our words against us if we are penitent, and if we seek forgiveness according to His word (1 John 1:9), if we are obediently faithful to Him (Mark 16:15-16, Hebrews 5:9). We must listen to God, not just talk to Him (Matthew 11:28-30 and 23:37; Romans 10:17 and 21; Hebrews 3:7-8). God and His people invite you. Now is a time when your needs and requests can be made known. God and His people will listen and respond appropriately to you.