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Productive listening

[Jesus’] disciples asked him what the story meant. He replied, “You have been permitted to understand the secrets of the Kingdom of God. But I am using these stories to conceal everything about it from outsiders, so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled: ‘They see what I do, but they don’t really see; they hear what I say, but they don’t understand.’” — Luke 8:9-10

A preacher once told a group of students that he had so much to tell them that he didn’t know where to begin. In saying so, he committed a fundamental error. This became apparent when a smart young listener suggested, “Well, begin near the end.”

People need no encouragement to score points off preachers. It is all too easy to charge preachers with going on too long, or with curing people’s insomnia. And some of the good-humored teasing is sometimes not too far from the truth.

But what about listeners who don’t play their part in the communication exercise? Effective communication requires hearing as well as speaking, apprehending as well as articulating.

Jesus addressed this issue forthrightly. He explained that he had decided to teach in parables—simple stories with profound meanings—precisely because of the different ways listeners respond to what is being said (Luke 8:9-10).

A parable can be heard at a very superficial level, without any moral or spiritual significance being discerned or applied. A parable can also have a life-transforming impact on the hearer if the lesson is taken seriously.

So the issue becomes not the effectiveness of the speaker, but the attentiveness of the hearer!

The illustration of the sower sowing seed was masterful. All Jesus’ hearers were familiar with the process of scattering seed because they were farmers. In Jesus’ story, some of the seed fell on the path, some into shallow soil, some among thorns, and some in rich soil. This certainly matched the listeners’ own experience of sowing. They all knew that some of the seed would respond in a very superficial, shallow manner and amount to nothing, while some of it would bear a rich, fruitful harvest.

But Jesus’ real point was lost on some of them. His point was that the same is true of His hearers! “Good soil,” He told His disciples privately, “represents honest, good-hearted people who hear God’s message, cling to it, and steadily produce a huge harvest” (8:15).

Productive hearing requires two things. First, it requires the right heart attitude—a positive approach and a serious intent to apply the truth honestly. Second, it requires a willingness to work for the long haul on what is being said, not just for a moment or two. There’s an element of “clinging” to the truth of the message, and there must be a “steady” or consistent application of what is heard. This way, huge harvests of blessing abound in the hearts of hearers.

Much has been written on the subject of effective speaking, but little is said on the role of attentive hearing. No doubt preachers in pulpits need to sharpen their skills. But people in pews need to focus their concentration, too.

For further study: Luke 8:1-15

Content taken from The One Year Book of Devotions for Men by Stuart Briscoe. Copyright ©2000. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.