Archive for the ‘Listening’ Category

Responding To God With Laughter

January 5, 2017

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was an old woman. Past the years of being able to conceive at any rate. She had had no children. Desperate for her husband to have children (times were different back then), she told him to take a servant as a concubine and have a child. He did, she did, it was a bad family decision. Good for the descendants of Ishmael. Bad for relations between Sarah and Abraham.

Then God told her she would conceive. She laughed.

Luke, the gospel writer, does not tell us Elizabeth’s response when her husband came home from Temple duty one day.

“Hi honey,” he might have said. “You’ll never guess what happened to me today at the Temple. I was struck unconscious. An angel of God appeared to me. Told me that we would have a child. I told him you were past the years of conception. He said, that’s OK, go home, sleep with your wife, and she’ll get pregnant. God says so.”

And she said, “Rrriiiigghhht…. Now I’ve heard them all.” Maybe she laughed. But they did, she did, and John (the Baptizer) was born.

Looks like one response to God is to laugh. At him. But he doesn’t get mad.

Did you ever get one of those whispers from God that told you to do something and you thought it was so crazy that you laughed at the thought? 

Maybe not getting pregnant at 60, but maybe talking to someone you see who is from a different race, culture, social strata, or gender? 

Maybe you get a whisper to share your story of faith in public. You laugh. “Not me, I can’t speak.” But God wants you to.

Overcoming Distrust Within Families

December 16, 2016

When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly.

Not only had Joseph and Mary not lived together, yet, but they also must not have engaged in some of that “heavy making out” without actual intercourse. There was no physical way Mary could have become pregnant–at least by Joseph.

So Joseph’s first reaction was disbelief. The only possible thing that could have happened was illegal, immoral, unethical.

Imagine she comes to him. “I got pregnant. I’m not entirely sure how it happened, but God said it was through the Holy Spirit.”

“Riiiggghhhhttt” he said.

But then he’s visited in a dream. It’s OK, go ahead and marry her.

So, in a normal marriage, how often would the wife remind her husband about that initial distrust? Weekly? Daily?

But there is no indication of any further marriage problems. We hear almost nothing about Joseph. Couple of mentions. We have a lot of useless speculations. But when we don’t know, we don’t know.

But I thought how great it is to be open to new revelations. We never know when we’ll hear a whisper, have a dream, get slapped up against the side of the head to get our attention by the Spirit?

If we are open even though it forces us to reconsider our opinions and prejudices, we listen.

Yesterday I talked about mindfulness. Being present in mind when we’re present in body. This is part of it. If we slow down and are present to the possible whispers of the Spirit, the whole trajectory of our life can change.

Pay Attention-I Guess Jesus Said Something Important

October 10, 2016

He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen!” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen.”  Mark 4:2, 9

Thus Jesus introduces and ends the parable of the sower–or rather the story of the different types of soil meaning the different types of people.

The trouble with listening is that so many people think they do it.

You can hear a lot just by listening.

When someone talks, listen. And listen completely.

These are some of the quotes I’ve compiled on listening. The people Jesus taught–they had to listen. There was no workbook. No DVD so that they could replay the story. I bet there were discussion groups.

Mark’s next story immediately following was about a lamp that is not meant to be hidden but that exposes everything. Then he says, “Pay attention to what you hear.”

The act does not end with hearing the words. It’s paying attention. Listening with your brain and your heart.

When you converse with someone, do you hear only words? Or do you hear the emotions and the meaning. Did you “hear” anxiousness? Joy?  Concern? Something that needs a response?  What was the whole message? Actually, can you even remember the words within 30 seconds of their birth?

And what about prayer? We are taught to pray with intention. But what good is intention if you don’t listen for God’s answer? Maybe you pray for God to bring someone into your life. You meet someone. You nod and pass by. Maybe that was the person God was bringing to you. He lobbed a softball at you and you whiffed.

“Pay attention.” Jesus told us something important either was just said or is about to be taught. Are we paying attention, or are we checking social media? Click, click, click…

If God Is Calling Us, Then We Must Listen

August 30, 2016

President of Company: Gary, no one listens to me.

Gary: Huh?

President: No one listens to me.

Gary: Huh?

President: I talk and no one listens.

Gary: Huh?

President: Oh….

Sometimes I just had to get ol’ Dave out of his usual funk.

But, we all have that feeling. It seems no one is listening.

We have something on our minds to share. We have a problem. Or a joy. We’d love to tell someone else. But no one listens.

Must be what God feels like.

The other leaders of our small group decided that four classes in Ephesians was more than enough. They skipped through chapters 5 and 6 in 40 minutes and proclaimed we had learned!

But I’m still stuck in the letter. I’ve never studied it in detail. It is a marvelous piece of writing.

Paul prays for us to be filled with God. Then he shows us a glimpse of spiritual formation in the life of the church and the family and the household. Then he goes  back to the part about filled with God and extends it with the metaphor of spiritual formation as personal body armor in our fight against the evil one who attacks us with insidious thoughts, emotions, and desires.

So, right after he prays for us, he begs us

Be worthy of the calling to which you have been called…

If we have been called by God, then we must listen so that we hear that voice calling us. Otherwise, how do we know about that calling?

At Willow Creek, they teach about the whisper. Sometimes God calls us and it’s not a thunderclap. Like Elijah when God called him to a mountain top to talk to him. He spoke not in the mighty wind or the loud thunder from the lightning. He spoke in a whisper.

To hear a whisper, we had best be still. And attentive. And prepared to respond. Maybe God just whispers, “Go say hi to that person over there.” Or sometimes, “It would be good for you to volunteer for that trip.” Or even, “Quit your job, simplify your life, and follow me.”

Listening is the foundation of spiritual formation.

How Much You Care

July 28, 2016

“People don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.” B Haley, drummer with Toby Mac and The Diverse City

John Fischer, pastor and Jesus Movement worship leader/composer, has a blog, email newsletter, and podcast called The Catch. (Get it, fisher–catch?). This week he interviewed B Haley. B is drummer and speaker with Toby Mac and The Diverse City–a Christian music group.

By the way, B is African-American. Part of the subject of the interview was the strained race relations we’re seeing in America right now. I don’t remember the exact quote, but B said that what we need is to forget the divisive language and use Jesus language. He never asked who you were or what race or whatever. He just cared about people he met and asked how he could help them.

B says, remember how Jesus gave us the command “Love others as we love ourselves”? That means we love others as brothers/sisters. That’s the language Christ-followers need to be using.

Then he said something that sounds trite until you digest it, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Walking up to someone in emotional distress and quoting from page (whatever) from the DSM and saying, “Just think better thoughts and you’ll feel better.” Or saying to someone, “I’ll pray for you” and then leaving them.

Quoting a scripture may show your knowledge, but how much does it really help someone?

What do we need to do?

Listen. Active listening.

Many people (most?) never feel like someone cares enough to really listen to them. When I hear husbands talk about how they suggested all manner of remedies and solutions to their wives–only to be met with indifference or worse–I counsel them to listen. “She doesn’t need solutions,” I tell them. “She’s smart enough to figure that out. She just wants someone to listen to her.” Then I make my own feeble attempt to practice what I preach.

Sometimes I think it’s my calling in life to listen. Ask me a question about something I’m passionate about, and I’ll talk all day. But for some reason, people sense that they can talk to me, and that I’ll listen with empathy. But it helps them. And I’m here to serve. I can listen for hours.

And I get along with all races and socioeconomic groups. Always have. Don’t know why.

I wish I could teach this to everyone. And our lives, the lives of those we care for, the lives of our community, and the shape of the world would all be so much better if even just all Christians could do that. Let alone all the other people of the world.

Show how much you care by taking the time to listen. Then you can help guide.

Listening Builds Trust

June 21, 2016

Whoever answers before listening is both foolish and shameful. –Solomon, Proverbs 18

Have you ever been in a group when someone has something important to share, but the leader cuts her off and moves on? It could be business where a great idea for moving the company forward was just lost. Or maybe a small group of friends where someone was hurting or puzzled and now will not get solace or an answer.

Sometimes you are in a situation where the speaker is so full of himself or herself that listening is not required. Probably happens way too often.

But perhaps you are in a situation where you ask for help from someone who has been there before and has developed wisdom. And you don’t listen. You actually want to tell them.

“I will rarely invest [time or money] in or with someone who doesn’t listen.” Henry Cloud

Listening is not an “ear” thing; listening is a “heart” thing.

Your ears pick up sounds. Your brain translates the sounds. But your heart ponders and digest and relates. Listening with only your brain only generates responses with what is on your mind. Listening with the heart is relationship. It shows caring, trust, empathy.

So many people seem to hear only for words they can agree or disagree with. Then they pounce like a cat on a mouse.

Listening with the heart takes time. Therefore it builds a relationship with the other.

I work mornings in a coffee shop. If I’m home, it’s High Grounds. If I’m on the road, it’s a local shop if I can find one or it’s a chain. I don’t make coffee, I read and write. I observe–always an observer. Friends come to have a coffee and a conversation. You can tell the extent of the relationship by the energy and body language.

Some appear somewhat distant. Others make eye contact. The lean slightly forward. They affirm they are listening. You can tell. I’m sure the other person can tell (unless they are so narcissistic that they don’t need reassurance, but that’s another post).

On the foundation of such heart listening are trusting relationships built. As Henry Cloud described in The Power of the Other, the qualities that lead to great performance are enhanced by great relationships. You help each other on many levels just by beginning with listening with the heart.

Speaking That Leads To Anger

March 14, 2016

He would say something about another person. That would lead to something else. Another thought would pop into his mind and out of his mouth with no filter in between. His face would get red. He’d grow agitated in movement. More, and worse, stuff would flow from his mouth.

The apostle James (1:19) tells us to be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

I never connected the speak –> anger continuum until I read this thought and then remembered a guy I knew.

How often we get ourselves wound up. And the more we go, the louder we get. The louder we become, the more violent our language.

I still remember with much shame the last time it happened to me. It was years ago. I knew it was happening. I couldn’t stop. I can advise others; I can’t do it myself.

News reporters continue to talk about how presidential candidate Donald Trump uses inflammatory speech that appeals to the “angry white man” foundation to his campaign. I don’t know how true it is, but it makes sense. I know many “angry white men”. Not all will vote for Trump, but all are sympathetic.

Now I read about how violence among supporters and detractors breaks out at his campaign appearances. It works from the outside, too. One person getting more and more belligerent incites others to become more belligerent.

James is right about our words. It is useful in life to be careful what we say. Words reflect emotions. Then they incite emotions. Then we get angry. Anger leads to regret.

Most people need to be listened to. Be swift to hear, James says. Help other people feel worth something. After all, they are all God’s children, too.

Be swift to hear. Learn what bothers them. What brings them joy. Why they are in sorrow. Just listen. Most of the time there’s no need to commentary or advice–especially advice. Just look them in the eyes and nod your head.

James was wise. Follow his advice, and you’ll fool people into thinking you also are wise.

What Is Our Influence on People

December 16, 2015

Oh, sweetie, just put on a smile and you’ll get over it.

God will heal you if you believe hard enough.

Just stop sinning and then come to our church.

Sometimes I wonder whether in my social awkwardness whether I’ve said something as callous and stupid as one of those statements. Or maybe in a spiritually blind moment.

Have you ever heard someone approaching someone in need and just trampling all over their feeling seemingly oblivious to the person beneath the skin?

There are two reasons that people don’t come to know Jesus

  1. They don’t know any Christians.
  2. They do.

People need a guide and a mentor. They need someone who has battled the demons and come through on the other side. The 12-step people have something there.

There are people who think they have great knowledge and want to go around like Santa depositing gifts of advice on everyone.

Then there are people who really do have knowledge and wisdom, but they don’t realize it. They don’t know when they really could step in and help. These people need to be awakened. Then they could join the mentor group.

Lean Manufacturing, or Lean Thinking, teaches us that people are important. It also teaches to keep probing around a problem until we finally come to the “root cause”. Then, and only then, can we begin the process of finding a solution.

Same with people. If we don’t want to be either 1 or 2 above, then what we do is stop thinking advice and start thinking about the person. The problem probing technique is called “5 Whys.” If you keep asking Why, eventually you will come to the root of the problem.

When you are working with a hurting person, you don’t begin with advice. You ask them in a trustworthy way what is wrong, how they feel, why they think it happened, when did it start, who caused the problem. Rudyard Kipling’s six faithful serving men, who, what, when, where, why, and how.

Asking shows interest. It helps the other figure out things. Answer when asked, ask when they’re silent.

Be the type of Jesus-follower who shows concern and offers help–not the “Christian” who pompously showers advice upon unsuspecting victims.

Respond To Others Rather Than Giving Speeches

December 15, 2015

“My wife told me about a situation at work. I told her how to solve it. Now she’s mad at me. What gives?”

“I told him over and over about the gospel, but I can’t seem to make him understand.”

Have you ever heard comments like those or something similar?

I’m following up on yesterday’s post on listening.

Did the wife ask for advice? I doubt it. She’s probably smart enough to work out things. Why treat her like a child?

What would be a better response? Discussion. And Empathy. “Gee, honey, that’s too bad.What are you going to do?” (OK, the actual conversation would be longer, of course.)

Let’s look at evangelizing.

How well has speaking at people worked for you? Not well? Of course not.

Once again, what does the other person want? Did you ask? Are you merely offering simplistic advice? No one appreciates advice.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, said, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.”

What is that key? Respond. In order to respond properly, first we must listen actively.

Why Is It So Hard To Listen?

December 14, 2015

Why is it so hard to listen?

I walked into the President of the company’s office. I was head of marketing and engineering at the time.

“Gary, nobody listens to me,” he moaned.

“Huh?” I tactfully replied.

“Nobody listens to me.”


“Gary, nobody listens to me,” he tried again.


I finally broke his mood, and we got productive.

OK, what I was trying to do was break through his “woe is me” mood and move on. Problem was, the team of vice presidents (including me, too) just didn’t listen to him. He had lost us.

One reason people don’t listen is that either you don’t have much to say, or you say it way too frequently.

More often the problem is with the listener. We just don’t practice active listening.

Some are trapped inside a narcissistic personality. They are so focused on themselves that they don’t hear other people. Ask a narcissist if they are, and they’ll tell you. “You seem to think about yourself first.” “Well, yes, of course.” (As in, doesn’t everyone?)

Narcissism is a major problem in society right now. But not everyone is narcissistic.

Some just have problems of their own. Like my boss, they just can’t break out of the cycle of despair to even see other people.

Some people are easily distracted. They may be talking with you, but their attention keeps drifting elsewhere. Smart phone notifications anyone?

How about caring? I should have known about the Baby Boomers’ self-centeredness way back in my senior year in college. I was tutoring a guy in German so that he could graduate and accept a good job. I said something about having empathy for a professor. “I don’t have time for someone else,” he replied. Well, at least his wife smiled and thanked me when he passed and graduated.

Why is it so hard to listen? Probably because we just don’t try.