Listening and Hearing

“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

I wonder how wide that difference really is?

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once made the correlation between the practice of listening to others and being able to listen to God. People who lose their ability to hear what others are saying often stop hearing what God is saying to them as well. He also wrote:

“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God. It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community

Have you ever just sat there and decided to keep your big mouth shut and hear all that’s going on around you? It’s usually very difficult for me. I’ve got very important things that should be said! Ha. I wonder how many times it will take me to just sit and listen (practice) before I actually begin to hear.

  • I’m too busy to hear.
  • Can you just text me?
  • Interruptions are so frustrating.
  • There are a thousand things racing through my mind.
  • Oh, I’ve got some great advice for you.
  • You always say the same thing.

Listening and then hearing takes practice. You have to be still. You have to PAY attention. You have to focus on someone other than yourself – instead of rehearsing your response. Sometimes it takes too much courage to be silent. It’s always easier to hide behind shallow responses or run away to the safety of my own bloated opinions.

I know that it takes deliberate (thoughtful) attention. Thinking about other people takes time, understanding, empathy and sacrifice. Hearing means that I’m asking questions instead of shooting off about my own experience. When I decide I want to hear someone I have to let go of my own agenda and accept a different kind of invitation.

 “It takes two to speak the truth – one to speak and another to hear.”  ― Henry David Thoreau

Live in the truth. Practice the truth with one another. Practice listening and hearing.  Come out of the fog of selfishness.

“We live in the bold confidence that God hears our voices…” (I John 5:14, The Voice)


2 thoughts on “Listening and Hearing

  1. Really good Randy, except that it hit home with me. I’m not always the best listener. Will try to be much more attentive.
    Sharon Beal
    Asst. Director of Admissions
    The Graduate School
    Houston Baptist University
    Hinton 108B
    P: 281.649.3744
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    1. I keep working on it – and failing! As someone who talks for a living (and who is an introvert), listening is a great challenge for me. I’m always kicking myself on the way to the parking lot for not having listened to what I needed to hear. I hope it’s not too late for my transformation 🙂


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