“Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”

Solomon, King of Israel (Proverbs 18:13 NLT)

Mark Batterson relates how on a January morning in 2007, a world-class violinist played six of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most stirring concertos for the solo violin, on a three-hundred-year-old Stadivarius worth $3.5 million. Two nights before, Joshua Bell had performed a sold out concert where patrons gladly paid $200 for nosebleed seats, but this time the performance was free.

Bell ditched his tux and coat tails, donned a Washington Nationals baseball cap, and played incognito outside the L’Enfant Plaza Metro station [as an experiment]. The experiment was originally conceived by the Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten and filmed by hidden cameras. Of the 1,097 people who passed by, only seven stopped to listen. The forty-five minute performance ended without applause or acknowledgement. Joshua Bell netted $32.17 in tips, which included a $20 spot from one person who recognised the Grammy Award winning musician.

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the greatest musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, on one of the most beautiful instruments ever made, how many similarly sublime moments do we miss out on during a normal day?

Source: Mark Batterson, 2014, The Grave Robber, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, p.15-16

A responsible listener is a response-able listener: I once knew a man who had a most unusual recruitment technique that he used to sift out the very best salespeople for his organisation. This is how he would work it. In a hotel conference room, with maybe 100 prospective candidates applying for a sales job, the interviewer stands in front of his audience and explains that for the next five minutes he will inform them about the company’s history and the company’s products. He asks them to please pay special attention and then he commences. (Two or three minutes into the introduction, this set-up occurs). A man enters the room, walks towards the front and stops by an empty table in the corner opposite the interviewer. Without looking at the audience and without saying a word, the stranger begins putting paper plates on the table. (The interviewer completely ignores the man, he doesn’t even glance at him or acknowledge that he is there – he just continues talking as if nothing had happened.) The stranger meanwhile, takes a can of shaving cream, shakes it vigorously and then starts to fill the plates with cream. (The audience become bewildered and somewhat amused). Once all the plates are brimming over, the stranger leaves the room, again without saying a word. The interviewer continues for another 30 seconds or so, then he instructs the candidates to write down answers to the simple questions he is about to ask, on the subject he has just explained. The vast majority of the audience are unable to do this, as they had stopped listening to the interviewer. Instead they were distracted by the stranger and were paying more attention to him. However, there are always a small few, who are able to answer the simple questions and thus prove that they were not distracted and were in fact listening. These ‘listeners’ are the ones he employs: His theory being, the best listeners always prove to be the best salespeople.

R. Ian Seymour

Listening takes special concentration. I remember, some time ago, watching some film clips on TV, taken from an unknown management seminar, where one of the speakers was demonstrating how we, as human beings, have become such poor listeners. The speaker, to prove his point, asked the audience to participate in a little exercise that would last about ten seconds or so. This is roughly what he asked them to do: “Would each member of the audience please raise their right hand into the air and in a few seconds when I say, “Now,” put your hand down again and place it on to your right knee.” With that the speaker raised his own hand along with the audience and looked at his watch, nodding slightly, as if counting off the seconds. After about five or six seconds of silence, the speaker lowered his hand and touched his right knee and at the same time, he looked at the audience, raised his eyebrows and nodded for them to do the same. Everyone, bar a handful, followed suit and then two seconds later the speaker concluded the exercise by saying the word, “Now!” – Of the hundred or so people in the audience, every one of them heard the instructions but only about five or six of them actually listened to the instructions! (The speaker asked everyone to lower their hand when he said the word, ‘now’ – not when he nodded at them to do so!) The point was well and truly made! We hear with our ears but to listen we have to concentrate and use our minds as well. You see, hearing is a physical act whereas listening is a mental act.

R. Ian Seymour

R. Ian Seymour, Maximize Your Potential, Chapter 3

One day an old Cherokee Indian left his home on the reservation to make a trip to visit his nephew in the big city. The massive skyscrapers, the noise of the traffic and the sheer volume of people coming and going overwhelmed the old Indian. And yet, as he walked down the street he suddenly stopped in his tracks, turned to his nephew, smiled and said, “Shush, listen! I can hear a cricket.”

His nephew shook his head at the old man and said, “You must be crazy! How on earth could anyone possibly hear a cricket among all this hustle and bustle and noise?”

The old Indian said nothing but walked over to a nearby grass verge. Slowly, he pulled back the low branches of a shrub and then, quick as a flash, he reached into the undergrowth and pulled out a cricket.

The nephew stood back in amazement and stuttered, “How on earth…?”

“It all depends on what you focus your attention on and what you listen out for,” said the Indian. “Let me show you… watch this.” – With that, the old Cherokee put his hand into his pocket, pulled out a handful of loose change and threw the coins in the air. Up and down the busy street, hundreds of heads instantly turned to look for the source of the jingling sound!

“See what I mean?” said the Indian.

Soren Kierkegaard wrote: ‘A man prayed, and at first he thought prayer was talking. But then he became more and more quiet until in the end he realised that prayer is listening.’ – Interesting that the same letters that make the word ‘silent’ also make the word ‘listen’.

Prayer is not just monologue. It is dialogue. God speaks to us as we pray. Samuel said, “Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10). But we all too often say, ‘Listen, Lord, for your servant is speaking!’

Dr Joe R. Brown of Rochester, Minnesota, tells of the frustration he encountered while trying to take a physical history on a patient. The man’s wife kept answering every question. Finally, Dr Brown requested that she leave the room. But after she left he discovered that her husband couldn’t speak. Calling the wife back, Dr Brown apologised for not realising the man had aphasia (loss of speech) and couldn’t speak a word. The wife was even more astonished because she didn’t know either!

Cited in The UCB Word For Today, 13/04/2016

“Hearing tells you that the music is playing; listening tells you what the song is saying.”

John Mason

Have you ever tried to quiet a loud room? Attempting to yell above the crowd usually doesn’t work, does it? It’s far more effective to shush the crowd with a shhh! That’s the method God employs. His whisper quiets us, calms us, stills us.

Mark Batterson

A short meditation to help us really listen to Jesus, taken from Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, and which is based on this familiar story – Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand.

Close your eyes and sit quietly. Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly, Be still…

Begin by imagining yourself as the child who gave his lunch, or perhaps the child’s parents: at any rate, try to place yourself in the actual scene. Try to see the story – the grass, hills, the faces of the people. Try to hear the story – the sound of the water, the noise of the children, the voice of the Master. Try to feel the story – the texture of your clothing, the hardness of the ground, the coarseness of your hands. Finally, try to feel with your emotions – hesitancy at bringing your lunch, astonished at the miracle of multiplied food, joy at the gracious provision of God. (…)

Then in your imagination watch the crowd leave and Jesus go up into the hills. You are left alone. You sit on a rock overlooking the water re-experiencing the events of the day. You become quiet, and after a while Jesus returns and sits on a nearby rock. For a time you are both silent, looking out over the water perhaps, and enjoying one another’s presence. After a bit, the Lord turns to you and asks this question, ‘What may I do for you?’ then you tell Him what is in your heart – your needs, your fears, your hopes. If weeping or other emotions come, don’t hinder them. – Jesus is asking, ‘What may I do for you?’

I am going to allow five full minutes of silence for you tell Him what’s on your heart. (I will give you a 30 second warning before the five minutes is up.) When you have finished, become quiet for a little while.

Jesus is the great provider.

Now, still sitting on the rock, I want you to turn to the Lord and ask, ‘What may I do for you?’ And then listen with your heart quietly, prayerfully. No instruction needs to come, for you are just glad to be in Jesus’ presence. But if some word does come to you, take it with utmost seriousness. Often, it will be some utterly practical instruction about seemingly trivial matters, for God wants us to live out our spirituality in the ordinary events of our days. So again, in the silence ask Jesus, ‘Lord, what may I do for you?’ Again I am going to allow five minutes of silence so you can do this. Jesus wants you to follow Him; He wants you to listen. (I will give you a 30 second warning before the five minutes is up.)

Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 1989, London: Hodder & Stoughton, p.38-39

“Listening, not imitation, may be the sincerest form of flattery.”

Dr Joyce Brothers

A good listener is silent flatterer.

“What people really need is a good listening to.”

attributed to Mary Lou Casey


When I ask you to listen to me

And then you start giving me advice,

You have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me

And you begin to tell me why I shouldn’t feel that way,

You are trampling on my feelings.

When I ask you to listen to me

And you feel you have to do something to solve my problem,

You have failed me, strange as that may seem.

Listen! All I asked was that you listen.

Not talk or do – just hear me.

Advice is cheap: 25 cents will get you both Dear Abby

And Billy Graham in the same newspaper.

And I can do that for myself; I’m not helpless:

Discouraged, maybe, and faltering, but not helpless.

When you do something for me

That I can and need to do myself,

You contribute to my fear and weakness.

But, when you accept as a simple fact

That I do feel what I feel, no matter how irrational,

Then I can quit trying to convince you,

And get about the business of understanding what’s behind this irrational feeling.

And when that’s clear, the answers are obvious and I don’t need advice.

Irrational feelings make sense when we understand what’s behind them.

Perhaps that’s why prayer works sometimes for some people,

Because God is mute and he doesn’t give advice or try to fix things.

He just listens and let you work it out for yourself.

So, please listen and just hear me.

And, if you want to talk,

Wait a minute for your turn, and I’ll listen to you.


A Ladder To Becoming A Better Listener (Step by step instructions)

L: Look into the eyes of the person speaking to you.

A: Ask questions.

D: Don’t interrupt.

D: Don’t change the subject.

E: Empathise.

R: Respond verbally and non-verbally. (Anon)

“Many people may listen, but few actually hear.”

Harvey Mackay