It is often much easier to talk than to listen. Listening actively and engaging in other-centered communication can be a real challenge. However, Jesus showed us that listening is a key aspect to making people feel truly valued and loving them well. How could listening help you better love and care for the people around you?
These discussion questions are designed for your life group or family dinner to help you apply the message to your life.
Message Audio from Gateway in South Austin:
Message notes from John Burke:
People long to be listened to—but everybody talks, nobody listens.
- Did you know that one in ten U.S adults suffer from depression?
- We talked last week about how loneliness is an epidemic, and many people quietly suffer in many ways, yet God Cares—and He wants us to learn to Care because Love Cares.
But listen to how this one woman came out of her depression—won’t be the case for all as depression has many causes—but listen to what she said:
Many factors contributed to my depression—of course loneliness and lack of social support were the obvious factors—but the major contributor was that I didn’t feel understood. It was a transition year for me, as I had left my corporate job to find more meaningful work. With the time off, I started feeling and sensing how much past pain and resentments I had stored inside my heart. I felt a huge void, as if I was a failure in more than one aspect of my life… [this continued on she said, until one day a person deeply listened to her]. What appeared for me was a powerful listener. Though this person was a complete stranger to me, they listened so patiently and intently to my words and feelings, both expressed and unexpressed, it felt so incredible that I didn’t want to stop sharing. I emptied my entire heart, all my fears, disappointments, and pain. I released all of it. It was a pure, non-judgmental, patient, and empathetic space where I got to express and feel understood and validated. I didn’t get any solutions, advice, or answers. Instead, I got thought provoking questions, like
- “What does your soul really want?”
- “What makes you happy?”
- “What are you grateful for?”
- “How can you forgive?”
It was this powerful listening that provided immeasurable healing. It was the first time in my life I actually felt like I had been heard, really understood—…Slowly but surely, I was able to walk out of the depression with the help of powerful listening.
We’re in this series “Love Everyone Life by Life” – to live out the greatest 2 commandments:
To love God and to love the people in our neighborhoods and workplaces, schools, or play-places—and do so with intentionality.
Last week we were challenged to start by just downloading Gateway App (for Android or for iPhone) and where it says Life by Life – join the challenge so we can remind and help each other—because we get busy, we forget, we need encouragement.
Then start writing down in the “prayer list” on the app the names of people around you and pray for at least 1 person/day.
Because Love Cares about people, and you can’t love or care if you don’t even know the names of your neighbors, or really know anything about your coworkers. Think about it, you’ve felt most loved by others, because they wanted to know about you…right?
They took interest to listen and understand who you are and what makes you tick.
And that’s what we’re going to discover today…
Did you know that Jesus asked way more questions than he answered? Jesus was asked 183 questions, he directly answered 3, yet he asked 307 Questions. Jesus provoked curiosity and willingness to hear by asking questions first.
- “What were you talking about on the road?”
- “What do you want me to do for you?”
- “How long have you been here?”
- “Do you want to get well?”
Jesus sometimes seemed to have a divine advantage of knowing what was going on in someone’s life. But if you observe his life and teachings closely, those insights came from the same Spirit who lives in all who trust him. Jesus was fully God, but also fully man. As a finite human, he had to do the same things we have to do:
He had to listen–to God and people!
While in Jerusalem, Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda. John tells us “a great number of disabled people” would sit by the pool, believing an angel would stir the water and the first person into the pool would be healed.
- Jesus gets a prompting from the Father to notice one particular person.
- For thirty-eight years this guy had been confined to a mat.
- For years, he crawled hand over hand to be first into the water, only to have his hopes beaten down by someone faster, more able; he had no one to help him.
- Interestingly, this is the guy Jesus “sees” out of all the infirmed.
The text says:
“When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” (John 5:6)
A strange question, don’t you think? Why wouldn’t the guy want to get well? But God always works with our willingness, and Jesus knows the truth: sometimes we don’t want to get well! Sometimes our infirmities, addictions, hated fears actually become comforting excuses. So he asks. But notice too, he had to listen and learn first!
“Jesus saw him lying there and learned….”
As the perfect human, he stayed perfectly connected to God’s Spirit and did whatever the Father was doing, but as a finite being, he had to listen and learn.
“The Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.” (John 5:19)
Jesus had to listen to God’s Spirit and to people’s stories in order to do the works of the Father.
As you seek to Love your neighbors, coworkers, classmates, it’s like an adventure with God.
God Cares, he sees, and He wants to love people through you.
So first Care—get to know them, and Begin Praying for them regularly, and then seek to Listen to them as a way to show them you care.
And by the way, if you’re saying, “I’m an introvert—the thought of meeting and talking to my neighbors terrifies me.” Here’s the deal—introverts are often way better listeners than extroverts, so you have something important to offer your neighbors—plus, Jesus didn’t say “Love your neighbor, unless you’re more introverted—then you get a pass.”
So pray for courage to care more about about others than about what’s comfortable.
People LOVE to be listened to. They crave it—why? Because so few people listen well. Listening well is like offering water to thirsty nomads. That’s why James, Jesus’ half brother, says
Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak…. James 1:19
Quick to listen—the opposite of our natural tendency. What’s naturally going on in your mind as you listen? Thinking of what you want to say—right? We’re quick to speak. James says, whoa, slow down thinking about what you want to say, and instead, be quick to listen.
What would it mean to be quick to listen?
- It means you think more about how to get them to talk than what you’re going to say.
- It’s other-centered communication.
- That’s loving—to center on, focus on, getting the other person to talk and feel heard and understood.
- And by the way—this will really help in all your relationships—people will want to be around you if you learn to Listen deeply.
Here are a couple simple tips of Listening Deeply:
Walk Don’t Wave
This simple practice begins with a commitment:
When you see someone, don’t just wave, instead walk to greet the person.
We often wave as we walk into our house, but think “Walk, don’t wave.” Go to them and take interest. If you don’t know the person already, introduce yourself and learn their name.
Write it down—I’ll forget otherwise—to write and pray form them means you care.
Saying their Name goes a long way to building relational bridges.
Ask Prompting Questions
- “What do you do for fun?”
- “What do you do for work?”
- “Single or married? Kids?”
If you already know the person, simply take an interest in their life. As you have multiple conversations with the same person, be sure to follow up with things they have already shared.
This is where the App comes in—write in the Prayer Page details you’re discovering so you can follow up.
- If someone was sick, ask how the person is doing.
- If they were going on a trip, or doing something fun, ask how it was.
- If they had something big happening at work, ask how it turned out.
Taking this kind of interest in others is where real friendship begins.
- So when you start to get to know your neighbors—just ask questions.
- Pay attention to the level of friendship—some questions may be very appropriate as the friendship and trust develop, but wouldn’t be at first.
- So if you just met your neighbor, asking “You struggle with anger lately?” that’s an intrusive question, but if we’ve gotten to know each other and have opened up, that question could be a caring question later.
- So you start with just the facts. Getting to know factual things that are safe.
While they’re talking, pay attention to what they’re saying, and listen curiously for clues of more questions you can ask. Pay attention and let curiosity prompt new questions.
Look Them in the Eye
Even in early stages of communication, looking someone in the eyes communicates warmth, connection, tells them they matter. It says “You’re worth paying attention to.”
Now, already some of you are cringing—this is exactly what you hate—small talk with strangers. Let me read 2 Cor 5:
14 For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them. From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view. 2 Corinthians 5:14-16
See, here’s the deal—if you’re a Christ follower, this is no longer about you.
- If you’ve realized what God did to draw you near and demonstrate His love and grace and eternal blessings he’s promised—let that Love that Christ demonstrated urge you on to love your neighbors.
- Jesus laid down his life for all of us, and if we’ve accepted His free gift of being restored in loving relationship with God, then we chose to die to that old life of only thinking about ourselves.
- He died for all, so that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him.
- So, let His love urge you on past what’s comfortable or easy and take interest in your neighbors so You can demonstrate His sacrificial love to them.
That leads to the next Powerful Conversation tip:
Put Them in a Good Frame of Mind
That verse said “We no longer regard people from a human (or worldly) point of view.”
What does that mean? A human point of view [frame of mind] usually sums up and frames a person pretty quickly by what we see or judge on the outside—right!?
Rarely do we picture that person as God Intends them to be—His Masterpiece restored, full of His Life, Love, Hope.
Here’s the thing—as you’re getting to know things about your roommates, classmates, co-workers or neighbors, inevitably, they will say something that ruffles your feathers—it’s not what you’re about, or believe, or think is right or appropriate.
And how you Frame that person—what you think about them—will influence whether they feel liked and comfortable talking more, or whether they shut down.
So picture what God created them to because that was worth dying for—keep that in mind .
Be A Spiritual Detective
Ask spiritual questions to find out where people are coming from—you don’t start here, but as the friendship and trust develops, don’t be afraid to go deeper.
For some of you, you’ve developed genuine friendships with your neighbors and co-workers and classmates, your next step is guiding the conversation to a more meaningful place. Watch how Jesus moves a superficial conversation into a spiritual one so you can see how to do this as well.
God is always at work, drawing all people to himself—as you listen like a spiritual detective you’ll start to see the points of pain, the needs, the desires and how God wants to meet those deep spiritual needs.
In John chapter four, it says Jesus and his disciples were going through Samaria but stopped at a well at noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus asked her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” (John 4:8-9)
The Pharisees despised Samaritans–their immoral behaviors, their inter-racial marriages, their messed up theology made them utterly shunned.
Pharisees taught the Jews did not eat, talk to, or associate with Samaritans.
Women had an even lower value to Pharisees.
Yet Jesus crosses racial, cultural, religious boundaries to go to the Samaritans. Then encounters this woman.
Jesus knows more than we do at this point. He knows all about her sketchy marital and sexual past—she’s been divorced five times and currently lives with a man.
Yet Jesus doesn’t judge or condemn her, he dignifies her by asking her for a drink and engaging her in dialogue.
She feels valued: “He’s talking to me, a Samaritan woman? He’s treating me with dignity rather than contempt?”
We should ask ourselves, do we cross societies divides to dignify people? Do we cross racial, socio-economic, cultural divides to engage in dialogue? How about crossing lifestyle or behavioral boundaries?
We can be like Jesus by asking questions, listening, dialoguing, trusting God’s Spirit to guide us. That’s why Gateway is such a special place! It is a church family that does exercise muscles of Grace giving-acceptance and kindness and patience across divides.
So be a spiritual detective to see where God’s already at work drawing that person closer.
Here’s what I’ve found. We all have deep needs that are the same—yet we all struggle.
When we listen deeply, people will want to go to the deeper places.
When I came to understand faith as my own, it was only because Bill and Duane were both willing to ask me questions, listen to my doubts and struggles, yet lovingly prompt me with spiritual questions to process what I really wanted and believed and why. That led me to a genuine faith.
You probably don’t realize how open most people are to talk about spiritual matters. When the Austin churches did a Citywide survey we asked:
“How open would you be to have a conversation about religion or spirituality with a neighbor?”
63% said either “open or very open” –
6 out of the 10 people around you are way more open than you think!
As long as it’s a two-way conversation, there’s openness to disagreement, and it doesn’t feel forced or pressured. Cause this is the stuff of life. If you listen to them and listen to God’s Spirit prompting, you’ll see where God wants to meet them at their point of need.
I’m always amazed at how a little encouragement and a few caring spiritual questions, people will tell you their life story. Because no one cares enough to listen. I had a nudging from God’s Spirit to listen more closely.
Listen for the Deeper Need
Jesus replied to the woman at the well:
“If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob?”…
Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” (John 4:10-15)
Jesus engages her in dialogue about what’s most important to her—he meets her at her point of need. She needs physical water, that’s why she’s at the well, but Jesus knows she needs spiritual water that can quench her deep thirst to be loved, accepted, and cherished—the source of so many broken relationships. So Jesus talks about what’s on her mind—getting water, but also getting love—her deeper need!
If we’re going to treat people like Jesus did, we must not only cross divides to dignify people by asking questions and dialoguing, we must listen deeply to their needs, their points of pain, their concerns.
Pharisees just talk at people.
Pharisees have quick fix platitudes, easy answers.
Jesus didn’t preach at her, lecture her, or even tell her what needed to change.
He listened and cared about her needs, and prompted her spiritual curiosity, and once she indicates willingness, “give me this living water,” he brings truth with grace in a way that shines a light on what’s broken, but in hope rather than condemnation:
16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! –you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.” (John 4:16-19)
Things are getting awkward, so she changes the subject, talking about esoteric theological debates about the “right place to worship.”
- Jesus graciously goes with the flow of conversation, gently steering back to her real need—the love of God to quench her deep thirst. Which is not to change her behavior, but to connect to his life-giving Spirit.
- Jesus never even tells her to stop living with the guy she’s sexually using for security! This clearly was not his will for her life. Instead, He points out the broken, hurting places where God wants to offer something better, basically saying “it’s not working too well for you, is it? Do you want something better?”
- Even though he points out the truth about her five divorces and current hook up, she doesn’t feel condemned. In fact, she runs into the village telling everyone, “He told me all that I’ve done,” yet with such hope for life, many found faith because of her.
Jesus works with her willingess. He doesn’t force the conversation, but He guides her back to the deeper need—giving her hope that God cares and wants to help.
As you listen deeply, asking spiritually prompting questions like
- “What’s your spiritual background?”
- “What’s your greatest hope for life?”
- “What matters most to you?”
You’ll eventually hear that point of pain or need God wants to speak into.
There’s nothing like letting God love people through you. He Cares, and as you Listen to God’s Spirit and Listen to people’s stories deeply, and watch how Life by Life he changes our world.