How To Be A Better Listener

Growing up, some of our very close family friends were Messianic Jews. For those unfamiliar, Messianic Jews are a movement of Jewish people who believe that Jesus is the Messiah and Savior of the World (to put it simply). This relationship with our friends led to the attendance of Jewish events, Seders, learning about Chanukah, and also developing a deep appreciation for Hebrew. So much so that my husband and I even chose to give our daughter an old Hebrew name! Hopefully sharing a bit of this back story gives you an idea of why this topic is special to me.

“Which commandment is the most important of all? Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”

“Hear, O Israel.” The word hear, in Hebrew, translates to the word Shema. What is Shema, you say? Oh, I’m so glad you asked! Shema means to hear or listen, yes, but it isn’t quite that straightforward.

Shema was introduced to me at a young age when my Mom realized that just instructing and then asking “Are you listening?” wasn’t getting the response she desired. What she wanted was for me to hear her, truly listen, and then obey. THIS is Shema! Ancient Hebrew does not really have separate words for listen and obey. It is all Shema. Shema doesn’t just mean to let the sound enter your ears, it means to listen, reflect, and respond. Listen AND obey. They are two sides of the same coin. Shema requires a response. An action of submission and follow through. It requires a posture of truly listening and a heart of obedience.

Shema requires a response. An action of submission and follow through. It requires a posture of truly listening and a heart of obedience.

Have you ever tried telling someone about the most exciting or interesting part of your day only to realize that they weren’t really listening? Oh, maybe they heard what you said but they’ve been too busy texting or looking at Instagram to really listen, digest, and respond to the words you just shared. Your story might have had the potential to spark further discussion, given them a new perspective, or simply brought joy and encouragement to their day. But they don’t really seem to have the desire to actively listen and respond. It’s frustrating, isn’t it?

So then, how can we take this commandment “Hear (Shema), O Israel. The Lord our God, the Lord is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” and apply it to our lives? I think it’s pretty clear, really. Love is an action. Think about the love you carry for your friends, parents, spouse, or children. There is loyalty, service, defense, sacrifice, and fierce faithfulness. You don’t tell the most important people in your life you love them and then ignore them, deny them, never serve or honor them. No, you demonstrate that love through action. You delight in them. And to love the Lord with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength means to delight in him above all else.

To love the Lord with all you heart, soul, mind, and strength means to delight in him above all else.

Do we do this with God? Or do we spend our 5 minutes with him in the morning, check it off our to-do list, and then go about our day not giving him another thought? Does our language, our actions, and our thoughts reflect the commandment to love God with our entire being? Are we living a life of Shema? Are we hearing, truly listening, processing and generating a holy response or are we toddlers who say “Ok, Daddy!” and then run to do exactly what we know we should not do? Are we half listening, yet not doing the heart work? Heart work is hard work, don’t get me wrong. But we also know that a heart that truly receives the Word of God does the work of God.

In the gospels, we can find many parables of which Jesus often ends with “He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Shema).” Knowing what we now know about Shema, we can see that what Christ is saying is “now that you have heard my teaching, take it to heart, and obey it.” When we hear the Word of God, do we go about our day or do we allow it to take root and produce fruit in our hearts? The natural instinct of hearing the Word of God should be obedience and follow through. It should be Shema.

What can you do right now, in this season of life, to be a doer of his word, not just a hearer? Let’s keep God’s love and loyalty at the forefront of our mind and respond with “I will listen to you, and do what you say.” When He speaks, let’s move!