How to Listen Actively
Samuel was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that his first assignment from God was to listen for God’s voice (see 1 Sam. 3:8-10). Samuel’s story shows us that there’s a difference between active listening and passive hearing. Hearing is something we do with our ears. If our hearing is normal, we can’t help hearing sounds traveling within a certain range. Listening, however, involves the mind. Genuine listening is active. It involves putting the mind in gear to hear everything that’s said as if it has meaning to the listener.
That’s how God calls us to listen to Him: actively. He wants our full and undivided attention. Let’s take a look at what I believe are the 10 key aspects of listening actively:
1. Expectantly — If we’re going to listen actively, we must come before the Lord expectantly. We must anticipate with eagerness that He will speak to us.
2. Quietly — The Lord says to us, “Cease striving and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). If we’re to hear from God, we must be quiet and let Him do the talking.
3. Patiently — The Lord doesn’t always tell us things all at once or instantaneously. Sometimes He speaks part of His message to us at one time, part at another. Other times we hear a message from Him only after we’ve been waiting for a season of time.
4. Confidently — As we listen to God, we must be confident that we’ll hear what we need to hear. It may not always be what we want to hear, but we can trust God to tell us what we need to know so that we can make decisions and change certain things in our lives for our ultimate good.
5. Dependently — Have you ever heard the comment, “Do it as if your life depended on it”? That’s the way we’re to listen because our lives depend upon our hearing. We must have no agenda other than God’s agenda for our lives.
6. Openly — We must come to God with hearts and minds open to receive whatever He chooses to give us. To listen openly means to be willing to hear God correct us as well as comfort us, to hear Him convict us as well as assure us, and to hear Him chastise us as well as praise us.
7. Attentively — To listen attentively means to attend or pay attention to each word. This is more than expectancy that God is speaking. It’s listening to each word for all the nuances of meaning, all aspects of the message God’s giving. When we truly listen attentively, we don’t miss a thing!
8. Carefully — To listen carefully means to listen for the Holy Spirit to confirm that the word which we’re hearing is a genuine word from God. We must put everything we hear to that test. It must line up with the written Word of God.
9. Submissively — To listen submissively means that you listen with the full intent of obeying. If you plan to obey what you hear, you obviously take care to understand. Submitting to God’s Word is the only way you’ll ever find genuine meaning and purpose in life. Only as you submit to God can you hear from Him clearly and be in a position where the Lord can do for you all He’s promised to do.
10. Reverently — A reverent heart stands in awe of God. What a privilege we have to hear from the God of the universe, the Creator of all that is. When we listen reverently, we listen with wonder—first that God would speak to us, and then that God would invite us to be part of His plans and purposes.
All of these aspects of active listening are ways in which we truly have “ears to hear.” Jesus said repeatedly to His disciples, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matt. 11:15; 13:9; 43). May this always be true of each of us.