“Did you hear a word I said?”
My husband looked at me frustrated. I did it again. I pretended I heard him while nodding and throwing in the occasional, “uh-huh” to try and cover the fact that I heard absolutely nothing he said. I do this more than I like to admit, but I don’t get away with it. My boys call me out on it all the time.
I’m terrible at listening because honestly, I have a lot going on inside my head.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned after getting called out for not listening, it’s that you can hear but not really hear. And as a teacher, I have experienced that it’s impossible to learn if you don’t hear.
But that’s not all.
Two months ago while sitting in church and listening to the parable I literally heard over and over my entire life, something caught my attention. The simple verse that grabbed my ear was, “Be careful how you hear then.”
Hmmmm. Is there a way to be careful how you hear? Intrigued, I had to investigate.
I’m a wordy person. That’s probably why I talk so much. But because I talk a lot I have to be intentional about hearing. And because I decided to investigate what Jesus meant by this verse, I realized something that might help you be careful how you hear.
I am going to sound like a song on repeat, but many things in the physical parallel the spiritual. What we experience with our ears in the physical often parallel the effects of listening in the spiritual too.
Have you ever read your bible and couldn’t remember a thing you read? Sometimes we refer to this as “going in one ear and out the other.”
Have you ever tried to study and nothing seemed to make sense? Like you just didn’t get it?
What did you do? Close the book? Move on to the next chapter?
I’ve been guilty of reading the Bible this way. And then I wonder why God doesn’t talk to me. Maybe it’s because I’m not careful how I hear.
If you know what I’m talking about because you’ve experience this yourself, let me tell you what I’ve learned.
Your problem with the Bible has nothing to do with your eyes but everything to do with your ears.
You may read with your eyes (of course you do), but it takes ears to read too.
And that’s where many of us go wrong with reading the bible. We’re not being careful how we hear. I know this because I have to be intentional about hearing those around me. I also know this because I’m a teacher and have had students who don’t listen (God bless the teachers out there!).
So, if you don’t think the Bible is working for you and God isn’t talking to you, let me tell you three reasons why that may be.
First, you’re not listening.
If you look at the parable in Luke 8:4-15, you will notice that Jesus spoke in parables for the ones who had ears to hear; not the ones who had ears.
Notice the difference. You can have ears. In fact, we all do. But that doesn’t mean you have ears to hear.
I remember reading Shakespeare in high school and let me tell you, I didn’t care for his sytle of story telling (don’t get crazy on me, you poetic people. I know he is a famous writer … whatever).
I read Romeo and Juliet. I read Hamlet. I read them all. I actually had to read them a few times because the way he wrote confused me. Just call a rose a rose and get on with it.
Give it to me straight, Willie!
Some in Jesus’ day may have thought the same about Him as I did Shakespeare. Jesus spoke in a way that caused everyone who heard to have to pay attention. Sure, He could have said it plainly, but He didn’t. He left the responsibility to search for and recognize truth up to the hearer. There had to be a desire to hear in order to understand.
That’s why Jesus spoke figuratively. We call His style of teaching parables.
To weed out those who casually heard from those who eagerly heard, He spoke in parables often. Some walked away scratching their heads while others walked away enlightened. The difference wasn’t in what He said, but in how they heard.
We all hear. In fact, hearing comes so easy to many of us, we think it mustn’t take any effort on our part. We passively hear conversations taking place around us, or noise from the television. We hear our kids fighting and can tune them out.
But … when we pay attention while we hear, we are actively listening to the world around us. Active listeners are quiet, attentive, engaged, seekers, intrigued, eager to learn.
The difference is in how you hear. And how you hear determines what you hear.
Jesus gave an example of four different types of hearers in the parable. They all heard the Word of God, but everyone of them responded differently based on how they heard.
Ultimately, how they heard determined how they understood, and how they understood determined whether they accepted the word or not.
So here’s the point: before you go to the word, pray that God opens your ears to hear. I do this every time I’m about to begin my bible studies. Our intention should be to hear what the Lord wants to teach us. We must actively engage the text. If not, we won’t hear to understand. It’s as simple as that.
Second, you’re not teachable.
This may seem offensive but let me explain before you stop reading. I’m a teacher. I know that learning requires more than a good teacher. It also requires an eager student.
Learning is more than a transfer of knowledge; it’s knowledge that must be received. That’s just another way of saying it must be understood.
The Holy Spirit is our teacher. As we read the Word, He leads us into all truth (Jn 16:13). But again, it’s not all on the teacher. It’s also on the student. Do you have a desire to understand what the Bible says?
When Jesus told the parable in Luke 8, His disciples didn’t immediately get the point. They went to Him and asked Him what it meant. How often do we go the Teacher and ask Him to help us understand?
This goes back to our desire to know the truth. We can easily skip over the passages of scripture we don’t understand because it is hard to learn new things. I understand this both as a teacher and as a student. There is a wrestling that sometimes takes place when the lesson is hard to understand.
But students of the Word make the same mistakes my students in the classroom often did: they become passive about their learning, and learning is not passive at all. Learning calls us to attention and causes us to lean in.
If not, we will hear but we will not hear to understand.
How many people walked away once Jesus spoke in parables? Too many to count. In John 6, many of His disciples heard Him say, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood” when what He really said was, “I am your source for eternal life. Depend on Me and you will live forever.”
Their intention to follow Jesus was not to hear Him. Jesus knew the key to weeding out the ones who had ears from the ones who had ears to hear: make the student seek to understand.
When the lesson got hard, they walked away. Why? Because they didn’t care to understand. They were passive students who didn’t want to carefully hear.
When this happened, Jesus never stopped them. He let them go, understanding who wanted to learn from Him and who would give up and walk away.
Third, you’re not quiet.
One of the most difficult things for me to do is be quiet. And that’s not just with my mouth, it’s with my mind too. Most of the time I don’t hear my husband or my children when they talk to me because I’m too busy thinking about my own agenda.
James 1:19 tells us to be “quick to listen and slow to speak.” That’s hard for us living in a culture of people who want to be heard more than they want to hear.
Why is that?
When it comes down to it, listening is a skill. In order to listen, we must stop talking. In order to listen, we must want to learn. We have to lay aside ourselves and give our attention to another.
Finally, I don’t want to tell you all the ways you’re going wrong without telling you how to make it right.
I am a fellow learner of the word and struggler of being a hearer like yourself. Here are a few things I’ve learned to be careful how I hear:
- “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” (Rom 10:17). Hearing is the mode by which we receive God’s word. Pray God opens your ears to hear and He will.
- Hearing often refers to deeper understanding. Jesus said His sheep know His voice (Jn 10:27). The more you read the Word, the more understanding will come and you will recognize the voice of the Lord.
- Ask God for understanding. When the disciples didn’t understand Jesus’ words, they asked Him to explain (Luke 8:9). We won’t always understand, but we can ask. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to ensure we learn.
So be careful how you hear. There is a responsibly on the part of the hearer and God speaks in such a way that causes the hearer to lean in. Those who are eager to learn will do just that. Remember, everyone has ears, but not everyone has ears to hear.