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How to Bless Others by Really Listening to Them

How to Bless Others by Really Listening to Them

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).

It had been a very long and extremely hard day. My husband’s grandmother had died, and we had just returned from her funeral. Trying to establish a sense of normality for our two young children, I unpacked suitcases, started the laundry and spent some time playing with Jered and Danna. After a dinner during which Dan and I tried to lighten the atmosphere with silly bantering, we got the kids ready for bed. 

Dan and Danna headed to her room for one last game of “Pretty, Pretty Princess” before bed. (You have not lived until you have seen Dan Southerland in a tiara and pink plastic earrings!) Jered and I settled in his bedroom to read books, play with his Hot Wheels and just talk.

We prayed together and Jered climbed into bed. I gave him a kiss and a hug and tucked him into a blanket, a nightly ritual of creating a “Jered-ito.” As I turned on his nightlight and started out of the room, Jered’s question stopped me in my tracks. “Mama, do wrinkles make you die?” he asked.

Ordinarily, I would have dismissed his question as a childish ploy to delay bedtime, but in a rare moment of wisdom as a mom, I sat on the edge of our son’s bed, took his hand and asked, “Son, what do you mean?”

Jered smiled and replied, “Well, Grandmother died, and she had sooooooo many wrinkles.” Dan’s grandmother battled pernicious anemia for many years. The illness itself and the medications she had to take for that condition had left her skin damaged and very wrinkled.

“Yes, honey, Grandmother was sick and had a lot of wrinkles. I still don’t understand your question.” After a moment of silence, Jered said, “Well, at dinner tonight you and daddy were joking about who had the most wrinkles, and I just need to know if wrinkles make you die.”

Wow! Over the years, I have thanked God so many times for the Holy Spirit who prompted me to stop and really listen to our son. We talked for a long time about the fact that wrinkles don’t make you die, but we also talked about the fact that Grandmother Lois was in Heaven and did not have any more wrinkles or pain.

It was one of the most meaningful conversations Jered and I have ever had about life and death and the fact that when we know Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we will go to heaven where Grandmother Lois will be waiting for us.

I have had to learn how to listen--really listen. For years, I used the time someone was speaking to formulate a clever response. Oh, I looked into their eyes but did not really see them.

What Are People Really Saying?

I heard their words but did not really listen. I failed to hear what was behind the words--the hurt and pain or the confused and questioning heart. I now work hard to realize that every person God sends my way is really seeking His listening heart at work in and through me. 

I try to look for the pain hidden in each word. I pray for wisdom to respond in a way that will promote restoration and encourage healing. I have a long way to go, but I want to be “God with skin on” when it comes to learning how to listen.

Listening by definition means “attention, with the intention to understand.” James says we should be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Talking is sharing but listening is caring.

A little girl was eating breakfast with her Daddy. They were on a “date” spending some special time together. He was telling her how wonderful she was and how proud he was of her.

After he had done what he thought was a sufficient job, he picked up his fork and began to eat. His daughter put her hand on his arm and stopped him with these words, “Longer, Daddy, longer.” He didn’t eat much food that day, but a little girl’s hungry heart was fed because her father was willing to listen.

Are there any hungry hearts in your life who long for nothing more than your listening heart? I am convinced Jesus was an amazing listener. Children loved him and longed to spend time with Him.

Hurting people were drawn to Jesus. He was sought out by people from every walk of life. He always made time to listen. We need to do the same.

The right word spoken at the right time is as beautiful as gold apples in a silver bowl (Proverbs 25:11, NCV).

An Example We Can All Follow

I watched in awe as Mrs. McShan worked her magic on the group of third grade students seated before her. Mrs. McShan was the supervising teacher for my student teaching block in college. And she was a rock star in the classroom!

As I watched her teach, I mentally began to list all of the stellar techniques and valuable lessons I had already learned from this master teacher. She never raised her voice. If the classroom got a little noisy, she stopped what she was saying, smiled and stood like a queen overseeing her domain. It was only a matter of seconds until the room grew quiet.

That technique was one of my favorites – but one tactic stood out from all the rest. It was so simple--and so powerful.

Mrs. McShan knew how to listen. I mean really listen to each child that came up to her with a question. After teaching each lesson and assigning work based on that lesson, Mrs. McShan allowed the children to come up to her one-at-a-time with any questions they might have about the assignment.

And that is when it happened. Every. Single. time.

When a child approached Mrs. McShan with a question, she always turned to him or her, gently placed her hand under their chin and tilted their face up until she could lovingly gaze into their eyes. At that moment, I’m sure each child felt as if they were the most important person in their teacher’s world – and they were! She listened to every word they had to say and then quietly answered their question.

Listen and Ask Questions

Every relationship begins with listening. Listening is hard work and something we are not prone to do. I tend to use listening time as time to prepare the eloquent things I am going to say when the person stops talking!

There is a reason God created us with two ears and one mouth. We need to listen twice as much as we speak. Listening should always take precedence over speaking.

Anyone who answers without listening is foolish and confused (Proverbs 18:13, NCV).

Listening is the first step to act out Scriptural truth Jesus modeled this principle in a powerful way. If anyone had all the answers, if anyone had the right to do all the talking, it was Jesus. But if you read the gospels, you’ll find His conversations were always saturated with questions.

Remember when Jesus was just a boy, and was accidentally left behind by his parents when they went to Jerusalem for Passover? Where was He found? In the temple, with the teachers.

After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions (Luke 2:46, NCV).

Jesus knew how to ask questions! In the gospel of Mark, there are 67 conversations. In those 67 conversations Jesus asks 50 questions. Jesus asked questions and then He listened.


People listen to people who listen. Jesus had way of listening to people that reached into their heart and soul. In other words, Jesus knew how to prime the pump.

When we take the time to ask questions and then really listen to the answers people give, we are priming the pump of their hearts. What is inside will come pouring out! If we are willing to stop talking and really listen, we can bless others and bring them to Christ.

You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; You encourage them, and You listen to their cry (Psalm 10:17).

Listening doesn’t require that we fix anything or even that we arrive at a solution. Listening sends the message “I’m here for you. I want to understand your pain. I’m willing to share your pain.”

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about unless you are willing to listen. Listening validates people.

We invite them into our lives and give them the most precious gift we possess – time. Loving your neighbor is not something you feel. It is something you do. It's the act of sacrificing your own needs and desires for the sake of someone else.

I go to God because I need Him to listen to me--especially when I am in pain.

Why am I praying like this? Because I know you will answer me, O God! Yes, listen as I pray. (Psalm 17:6, TLB).

And I can bless others when I stop what I’m doing and listen to them.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/BananaStock

Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.

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