Listening with Care in a Noisy World

My mom has a hearing loss in her left ear.

As an extrovert, this meant that, growing up, I would walk on her right side so that I could continue talking… Or on her left side if I wanted to pull the “but I told you that my friends and I were getting together on Friday!” card.

It also meant that our family had to do a lot of correcting and explaining after family events, conversations, sermons, commercials, and TV shows.

At one point during the 90s, Old Navy had started running commercials to advertise their drawstring cargo pants. Check out the commercial to see the start of dog memes and the least catchy jingle imaginable:

After overhearing this commercial one day, my mom turned to our family, and exclaimed “How terrible!”

Now… There’s a reason that drawstring cargo pants never made it out of the 90s. They are a terrible fashion choice. 

But that’s not what she meant. “How terrible! How terrible that they would name it that!”

Old Navy Drawstring Cargo Pants?

No, that’s not what she had heard… She had heard “Old Lady Drawstring Cargo Pants.”

If we’re honest, we don’t need to be experiencing hearing loss in order to not listen well. In fact, recent research shows that, although listening makes up 60% of our conversation, we only retain 25% of what we hear. In Julian Treasure and Celeste Headlee‘s Ted Talks on listening and conversation, they offer three main hypothesis for this new era in verbal retention:

  • With the ability to rewind and replay our media (shout out to Netflix and Youtube), our brains are not used to having to listen with perfect accuracy.
  • Cell phones have reduced a majority of our conversation to text messages instead of phone calls and emails instead of face-to-face meetings.
  • The world is incredibly noisy.

In a world in which soundbites reign and it is harder to hear and be heard above the noise, the ability to listen with care is a blessing that the people of God have to offer the world.

In Acts 8, we’re privy to a conversation that happens between a man named Philip and an unnamed Ethiopian Eunuch. This conversation is unique for a few reasons. For one, these two men couldn’t have been more different – Philip is an early Jewish convert to Christianity who was tasked with caring for the widows, while the Ethiopian Eunuch is likely only nominally Jewish (evidenced by his lack of understanding of scripture) and tasked with caring for the royal family or nobles because of his inherent trustworthiness (you can Google what a Eunuch is later. With SafeSearch on.)

Scripture says:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”

And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. (Acts 8:26-39 ESV)

Through this passage, we have a lot to learn about what it looks like to listen with care to those around us.

The first thing that we learn is that God goes before us to prepare the way for us to be a blessing. In this passage, we see that Philip’s very first steps are a result of the Holy Spirit’s leading. It says that the angel of the LORD directed him to a specific location, and the Holy Spirit placed him in a position to be available to the Eunuch (see vv. 26-30).

Is it possible that our “right time, right moment” moments are actually evidence of a divine itinerary?

If we’re sensitive to the working of the Spirit – leading with prayer and listening to areas in which God may be guiding us forward – we will walk in the aftermath of the path he has prepared for us and find ourselves in more and more moments when the situation in front of us calls for grace-filled, gospel-inspired conversations that bless those around us.

This passage also teaches us that when we listen with care, we listen for our invitation instead of planning our response. So much of our conversations involve us not really listening because our minds are hard at work planning our next response. In this passage, Philip doesn’t run up and immediately begin sharing the Gospel or controlling the conversation. Instead, he merely listens and asks a well-timed question based off of what the Eunuch is doing.

In our own conversations, this may involve us listening – truly listening – to the people around us, and listening for what the Holy Spirit may be inviting us to do and say next.

So, what does it look like for us to listen with care in a noisy world?

  1. Listening with care involves asking the right questions at the right moments.
    We feel most cared about when other people show a genuine interest in the things that interest us, so ask open-ended questions about work, family, life, and faith. Just as Philip begins his conversation with a question, we’re invited to ask the right questions at the right moments.

    In this sense, listening with care may involve asking your coworker who is stressed what keeps them grounded in times of high stress, or asking your friend who is dealing with a long-term illness where they continue to draw hope and joy despite their diagnosis. When we listen with care, we ask questions that clarify, lead to deeper conversation, and show that we care.

  2. Listening with care enables us to inject conversations with the hope of Jesus.
    There is a difference between injecting and interjecting – interjecting makes it awkward… Injecting simply allows our conversations to be reflections of our natural Christ-centeredness. Philip doesn’t simply answer the Eunuch’s question, but continues to explain the hope of Jesus throughout scripture.

    Conversations about loneliness enable us to talk about ht community we’ve found in the body of Christ. Conversations about pain enable us to share our own stories of healing – or the reason why we continue to hope and believe when healing hasn’t come. Conversations about hopelessness enable us to share of our own source of hope.

  3. Listening with care will often result in action items.
    When we look at the ending of the story of Philip and the Eunuch, we see that this conversation didn’t end at the end of the explanation. Instead, Philip and the Eunuch travel together for some time until the Eunuch asks to be baptized (see vv. 36-40).

    When we listen with care, our conversations with often result in action items – future conversations, invitations, or demonstrations of love that occur later. Did you know that the loneliest time after a loss is six weeks after the funeral? Listening with care involves being intentional about following up with the people we love and care about.

Listening with care was a crucial part of Jesus’ ministry. As the Body of Christ, we’re invited to walk in those same footsteps and offer the gift and blessing of listening with care to a noisy world. Imagine the stories you would hear and be a part of if you were known for being an unusually good listener – one who listens well and asks good questions, injects conversations with the hope of Jesus, and followed up with tangible help to those around you.

For more on this topic, watch “Listen with Care” on my Sermon page.

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