Hearing & Listening

Hearing and Listening are two different things.  We can listen and not hear or we can hear and not listen.

Technically hearing is the reception of sound whether one is waiting (listening) for it or not, listening is hearing something intentionally, or paying attention to the content.

So again, we can pay attention and not receive any sound or we can receive a sound but not really be paying attention to what it is.

We do this in life on a daily basis.  New babies are alert to every sound, because they don’t know what anything is and have no association to understand it.  It’s funny what we hear in the dark and wonder what it is.  It was there in the light too but we were too busy seeing to hear.  In the dark our mind plays games with us and we try to associate the sound to something we can explain so we don’t get scared.  When we’re listening we hear sounds that we don’t normally hear.  That’s because the sound is familiar and we tend to, over time, ignore familiar sounds.

On the other hand we might hear someone speak and not get a whole lot out of what’s being said.  If we’re interested though, we’ll listen and hear something different because we’re hearing with intent.  As children we heard our parents but rarely listened, as adults we listen but rarely hear what we’d like to hear.

We may hear the still small voice of God via holy spirit but are we listening?  We tend to hear what we want to hear and listen only when it’s convenient or becomes necessary.  If we don’t like what we’re hearing we tend to stop listening or paying attention.  So when a child or a parent says “you’re not listening to me” they may be 100% accurate in their statement, while they are being heard we may not be hearing attentively a.k.a. listening.

So, we may be hearing God but are we paying attention to what he’s telling us?  If not, what are we missing?  It could be something vital.  A friend made the statement when we were discussing overcoming objections in sales “if you listen to the person they’ll tell you how to overcome their objection or what it’ll take to sell them”.  That statement is 100% accurate.  If we pay attention to those we’re talking to they tell us things we don’t always pay attention to.  We interpret things they say to mean something they may not mean had we been paying attention to what they were saying or the context.  In other words, if we’re not paying attention to the context of what’s being said and the tone being used we may miss what they’re trying to communicate.  This is more common than most might think.  The book ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ covers this.

I’ve found more than one way to say the same thing, how I say something may depend on who I’m saying it to.  For instance; if I’m talking to another guy I say things fairly straight forward, while with a woman I use a slightly milder approach.  Since women deal more on an emotional level, how I say something may make all the difference, while saying it to a guy in the same way will get me an odd look, guys will tend to view the same tone as condescending.

It’s interesting to watch conversations and see who is in control of a conversation, who is just hearing the conversation and who is listening to the conversation.  The responses to questions or comments can show who’s truly listening and who’s merely hearing the conversation.  A salesman should have control of a conversation if he expects to make the sale, if the potential buyer has control over the conversation chances are the sale is lost, or the deal tends to lean better toward the customer.  Confidence is displayed in the control.  Whoever has control is generally displaying more confidence.  Shouting matches happen when no one has control but both parties are trying to acquire, gain or regain control.  Shouting matches rarely end positively.

God never shouts.  He uses the still small voice or he just lets us make the mistake and figure it out.  When God shouts it’s probably not going to be a good thing and, I for one, hope it isn’t directed at ME.  When we were children and our parents shouted at us that was generally a bad thing.  God shouting would be more like standing at a railroad crossing when a freight train comes by at 70 mph, which can knock a grown man back.

So when God’s talking to us we need to be listening.  Sometimes God will do it thru someone else, when we start to listen for his word we’ll recognize when this is happening.  They may say something that is totally out of character for them to say and get our “what did you just say?” attention.  We need to recognize God’s voice in these situations.  If we’re experiencing the same situations over and over again, we’ve obviously not gotten God’s message.  God lets things happen sometimes so we’ll see the impact of our decision.  Could he stop it?  Sure.  Will he?  Not if there’s a lesson to be learned that needs to be learned.  I’ve let my daughters discover some things the hard way because I’d pointed out my opinion and noticed little change in their behavior.  So, in order to let them learn from their mistake I had to back off and let the situation do the teaching for me.  This is hard with some parents as they don’t want ‘their baby’ to fall.  Falling is a part of life, and until we fall a few times we may not get the magnitude of the situation.  Since everyone falls, falling doesn’t measure the person.  How fast they get back up does.  What situations they allow to be stumbling blocks may tell us more than anything else.  God will work thru these situations to bring us up to speed but we have to be listening for the still small voice.

Another example of hearing but not listening is when a subordinate becomes the teacher.  If we’re humble God can use our own children to teach us something, no matter what age that child may be.  To recognize this is a sign of maturity.  An example of this is Jesus relationship to his mother.  While Mary was obviously older and his superior, being his mother, she became the subordinate since his position was much greater than hers when he began teaching God’s word.  (That and in Middle Eastern culture the son becomes the head of the house at a certain age, they tend to combine their resources and live as a family.)   The Catholic Church has long put Mary in a superior role the bible doesn’t support.  She was clearly submissive to Jesus as we see in John 19:26 “…Woman, behold your son!”.  ‘Behold’ in modern English means ‘pay attention’ or LISTEN.  And she followed him around in his ministry, he wasn’t with her, she was with him.  What this tells us is age doesn’t make one an authority.  If we’re paying attention children can teach us something.  Children tend to ask questions that if we’re listening can help us improve ourselves.  Children will ask a question or questions because they want to understand why we’re doing or saying what we’re doing or saying, we may be sending a mixed message and listening to the child’s question(s) can help us realize this.  So, to think that because we’re older we’re more superior is wrong, we may have more experience but negative experience doesn’t make us superior in wisdom.  If we’ve experienced the same basic situation repeatedly then maybe we haven’t gained the wisdom God’s trying to give us.  To understand the state the world is in we only need to look around and see the lessons that have not been learned and realized, that lack of learning and applying has resulted in our current situation.  The Children of Israel didn’t listen to God when entering the Promised Land and we in the U.S. are not listening to God today.  We say we’re ‘One Nation Under God’ yet we’re allowing God to be cut out of everything, a little piece at a time, and slowly letting other ‘religions’ dictate our decisions, because, like the Children of Israel, we don’t want to offend anyone.

So we need to listen, not just hear.  We need to recognize that age doesn’t dictate authority.  And we need to recognize situations as a means of learning something to improve ourselves.

But if we first understand the difference between hearing and listening and apply it to our lives we’ll hear and listen to that still small voice and become better for our efforts.

God wants to help, but are we listening to him or are we just hearing him.

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