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What Kind of Listener Are You?

Are you a listener, active listener, reflective listener, soulful listener, or spiritual listener? How do you listen to God?

We’ve all heard how important listening is in the communication process, especially in communicating with God. After all, how can you really understand what people are saying? How can you love God, obey Him, and serve Him if you don’t communicate properly with Him.

Thinking about the different types of listening can be a useful way to explore how we interact with others, especially God, and how we really understand them, really listen to their story, the narrative of their lives, the narrative of what God is doing.

It’s often said we hear but don't listen. Many times, especially if we’re busy or disinterested in what’s being said, we are aware of the sound of someone talking, but are not listening, in the sense of paying attention to what is being said. The words are background sounds.

Five Types of Listening

Basic Listening, just beyond hearing, is the first type of listening. We listen, pay attention to and discriminate what is being said, but our engagement stops there. The speaker, and what he or she has said, has been acknowledged.

The second type is active listening. When we actively listen, we make an effort to pay attention to and discern what the speaker is saying, including concepts and fact, how it’s being said, and even aspects of body language as it’s being said. You are being informed, comprehending, and learning something.

Thirdly, there is soulful listening, paying attention to the speaker in a way that you are acknowledging the way they feel. You empathize with the speaker, and feel compassion for what is being said and how it unpacks the experience with all its emotions. You and the speaker feel you have connected, not just intellectually, but also emotionally.

Fourth, we listen reflectively. We listen to what is being said, consider it, and seek to clarify it. We reflect on what was said, what was not said, and what meaning might be hidden between the lines. Our mind dwells on a thought and revisits what was said, and even body language, for further clarification.

Fifth, when we bring the Holy Spirit into the listening process, we spiritually listen, seeking spiritual discernment of the way in which God is working through what is being said. Along with the speaker, we feel we've have been in touch at an authentic spiritual level. There's deepening sense of relationship, of commonality in God's purpose, His plan.

Whereas in the active, reflective, and soulful types of listening we are discerning the meaning of what is being said or even not said with our faculties, in spiritual listening we rely upon the Holy Spirit to make us aware of how God is speaking to us through the speaker regarding His guidance and wishes, for us and the speaker.

How We Listen to God

When we apply these types of listening to our relationship with God, we can easily see how our attentiveness to God can run the gamut from hearing through spiritual listening.

God's primary way of speaking to us is His Word.

When we just hear or read His Word, the words go in one ear and out the next, or get a passing glance as we read scripture passages.

Listening to God's words in Holy Scripture, we make an effort to pay attention and discriminate what is being said, but there is no attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning.

When we actively listen to what God is saying in His Word, we are seeking to go beyond the face value and meaning of the words and concepts to comprehend them intellectually and learn something.

When we reflect on scripture passages, we seek the meaning hidden between the lines and in context with the rest of Scripture. We delve into the meaning of the passages as pieces to a larger puzzle.

If we take a soulful approach to reading Scripture, we in a sense put ourselves into the emotional narrative of what we're reading. We are there at Christ's birth, full of wonder. We are at the foot of the Cross, full of sorrow and remorse.

Finally, when we spiritually listen to what God is saying in His Word, we rely on the Holy Spirit to open our minds and heart to discern how the passages can draw us into a deeper relationship with God and His Son, Jesus Christ. We are Spirit-lead, but willingly submitting to what God has to say at that precise moment.

Listen to God's Words

My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you, making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding; yes, if you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them,and they follow me. I give them eternal life,and they shall never perish;no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:27-28)

Also read: Job 33:14-15, Mark 4:24, Romans 10:17

In the Words of Others

"Of all human activities, man's listening to God is the supreme act of his reasoning and will." Pope Paul VI

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Stephen R. Covey

“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.” Bryant H. McGill

Things to Consider

  • Reflect on the Parable of the Sower found in Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:4-15. Compare the explanation Jesus gives for the parable to the five types of listening above. Can you identify similarities?

  • We can all exercise the various types of listening throughout our day, and even throughout a single conversation. If you were to classify yourself as one of the types, which would it be? Why?

  • When you read the Bible, what type of listening to God's Word are you most often using? Explain why and what you could be doing differently to enhance your relationship with Him.

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