Listen Up

Growing up I was often told by those in authority, “God has given you two ears and one mouth, you should think about using them in those proportions!” Pretty harsh hey! To be fair I was a chatty kid and I had lots of ideas and silly theories to share with the nearest pair of ears.

But looking back there was wisdom in what my critics had to say.

In James 1:19 the apostle reminds his readers that “…Everyone should be quick to listen and be slow to speak.

“… Everyone should be quick to listen and slow to speak.” James 1:19

Generally listening is not is a popular concept, I mean when was the last time that you heard somebody being criticized for listening too much! This is especially true in today’s fast paced world of multi-platform social media and on-demand everything. It is clear to see that lots of people have a lot of things to say but finding a good listener isn’t so easy.


As the learning mentor for need-orientated evangelism I could be tempted to buy into the lie that to be a good evangelist, I need to focus my efforts on how to deliver a perfect gospel presentation, become an expert in apologetics or put on a slick event with all the bells and whistles (all of which are great things), however all my efforts are wasted if fail to attentively listen to:


            I.         What God is saying (through prayer and reading the bible).

          II.         The cultural context that I live in.

The reason for this being that if we fail to listen to God we run the risk of becoming unfaithful and if we fail to listen to what our culture is saying before long we will become disconnected or at worse irrelevant. As John Stott concludes: ““Bad listeners do not make good disciples.”

The next two blogs will seek to unpack why listening is one of the most unused and underrated tools of the effective evangelist. Part one of this blog will briefly explore how we can become effective listeners of God and the impact this can have for out outreach and evangelism. Part two will seek to explore the importance of listening to what our culture has to say are explore the effect that it may have for the church in that context. We will then draw together what it looks like to be people of God who listen to both God and culture.



PART ONE – Listen Up: Listening to God

“Your word is a lamp unto my feet, a light to my path.” Psalm 119:105

Have you ever played pin the tail on the donkey? If you have you will know that when we are blind folded and lose our vision it doesn’t take long until we are embarrassingly dis-oriented. In Psalm 119 we glimpse some understanding into what helps King David to be a ‘man after God’s heart’. It is meditating on the word of God, and as a result is acts as the light which guides him through life!


Plumb lines and Spirit levels

Earlier this year I moved house and as a result I had to put up some shelves. I must confess that I am not the most practical person when it comes to DIY, there was one shelf in particular that I put into position, and I could swear that it was perfectly level, it wasn’t! When I put the spirit level on the shelf the bubble was nowhere near the middle, it was miles off. The problem was that I had trusted what I perceived as level. The shelf was perfectly parallel to the ceiling (which I assumed would be level) and from my perspective it looked good. It was only when I put a spirit level on top of the shelf that it became clear that the ceiling was not level at all and neither was the shelf! It is only when we put a spirit level or a plumb line next to something that we can confirm whether or not that we are on the right track. That’s because plumb lines and spirit levels are an absolute reference point they do not change.

“We must not be enticed to sacrifice truth on the altar of modernity.”

John Stott, The Contemporary Christian 

As Christians our reference point must be the Word of God. God’s word is the anchor that keeps us grounded, even when the fiercest currents threaten to pull us here and there. As King David said it is the word of God that is a lamp unto our feet.  

When we neglect the word of God we will be influenced by the shifting sands of culture and what we stand for will be inevitably be compromised. I see this happening in our churches today as we try to navigate being Christians in a 21st century world. Often scripture can take a back seat as we can pay more deference to being relevant when we should first seek to be faithful followers of Jesus, even if that means we don’t agree with the popular opinions of society. 


I don’t think that this is something we do in a purposefully sinful way. Often the rationale can be from the positive place of wanting engage with those outside of the church family, to be relevant and inclusive. However moving the goal posts, or watering down biblical precepts is not the way to go about reaching those in our communities. As Stott says “we must not be enticed to sacrifice ‘truth on the altar of modernity.’ We often speak most authentically to the world not when we compromise, but when we refuse to do so. We are not called to be indistinguishable to the world but to be salt and light, or as Paul describes, “to shine like stars” (Phil 2:15).


As you would expect Jesus modelled how it should be done perfectly. He spent his time with tax men, sinners and prostitutes, but he never once compromised his message. For example, just read His interaction with the woman caught in adultery John 8:1-11. There was such grace as Jesus refused to condemn her, (even though he was the one person that could have) but he did say to the woman ‘sin no more’.


Hopefully part one of the blog has highlighted the importance “listening up”. When we take the time to ask God, read His word and listen intently we put ourselves in the position to be used by Him. However the listening should not end here. We then to understand how we best serve the people in our care practically and in way that resonate with them authentically. Next week we will explore the benefits of effectively listening to culture. 

Gareth Fitzpatrick
Learning Mentor for Need-oriented Outreach.