The Difference Between Hearing and Listening

Undeniable differences separate hearing and listening. One involves passively processing sounds; the other includes attention and activation.

During a family gathering, the roll of laughter and friendly bantering circled through the family. A young mother suddenly rose, leaving the gathering to tend to an almost imperceptible whimper among the children. Some of us heard the child’s faint cry; only one person listened and responded.

Depending on where we live, sounds vary, but we are all bombarded by noise — most of which we hear and disregard. Unfortunately, we often become so skilled at tuning out unnecessary sounds that we sometimes fail to respond to those in our homes and workplaces that deserve our attention.

Lately, God has been whispering “listen” to me. I first heard the nudge in my spirit during prayer. Then I heard it included in the prayers of others. During the last few days, when I open my Bible, that word seems to appear again, prompting me to pay attention. Even the author of a book I’m currently reading points out the importance of both hearing and listening.

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

As always, I’m sharing not from my expertise in the matter, but out of a struggle to become better at listening. Technology appears to be substituting texting and email for the more basic communication skills of hearing and listening.

Some differentiate between hearing and listening as:

  • Hearing is the process, function, or power of perceiving sound. Listening is paying attention to a message in order to hear, understand, and physically or verbally respond to it.”
  • “The implication of hearing rather than listening is that it might be hard to feel connected to others.”

Connecting with Others

A small child might pull on her mother’s arm or her father’s leg to draw their attention in order to be heard. But the need to be heard doesn’t evaporate with age. When words go unnoticed, people eventually stop talking and we lose relational connection — sometimes permanently.

Because my mind races a mile a minute, I must focus my attention to become a better listener — setting down the book, turning off the device, tuning out the clutter, and looking people in the eyes as they speak. I need to develop and strengthen these skills if I want my relationships to improve. Connection with people is too important to ignore hearing and listening.

Setting a goal to improve and focusing attention forms the first steps to improve communication. Too often, we discount others through critical judgment even before they speak, thinking that what they have to say isn’t important or won’t benefit us. At other times, instead of listening, we are so eager to interject our own thoughts that we’ve lost an opportunity to hear theirs.

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Proverbs 12:15

And …

“”Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.”
Proverbs 18:13

But when we see others as valuable, we will pay closer attention and listen to the things that interest and excite them, as well as to their struggles and conflicts. These skills are essential for developing authentic relationships.

Authentic Relationships

No relationship will thrive, let alone survive, without hearing and listening to each other. Listening and asking questions expand our understanding beyond mere words. It helps us to respond in thoughtful ways and gives opportunity to validate and encourage others. Giving premature advice, quoting Bible verses, or sharing personal expertise often quenches a conversation. Listening, however, enhances connection.

The silent contemplation of good listening creates a path for authentic relationships to grow — no quick fixes, no should-have-could-have advice, just genuine listening to and caring for others.

Listening applies not only to human relationships but also between us and God. Perhaps it is impossible to have authentic relationships with others if our relationship with Him is strained or stretched. The most important hearing and listening we can do is to Him — through reading the Bible, other Christians, and biblical counsel.

“My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don’t lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart.”
Proverbs 4:20-21

Hearing and Listening

The most important hearing and listening applies to our relationship with God. We appreciate His attentive ear and quick response when we call to Him.

“In those days when you pray, I will listen.”
Jeremiah 29:12

The Bible gives so many illustrations of the consequences of failing to practice both hearing and listening. Sometimes, we cannot hear His voice, because we will not listen. Unintentionally, we may have tuned out His counsel or disregarded His instructions. Other times, pride or selfish ambition may have led us to disregard His ways.

Let’s pay Him and others the same respect we desire as we tune our ears to hear and hearts to listen. One dictionary defines listening as “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention, and to give consideration.” If anyone is worthy of our thoughtful attention and consideration, surely our heavenly Father tops the list.

Serve only the Lord your God and fear him alone. Obey his commands, listen to his voice, and cling to him.
Deuteronomy 13:4 NLT


Father, I am sorry for not listening well to You and to others. Help me, Lord, to not just hear words, but to truly listen and respond to those speaking to me. Replace my judgment with Your compassion and my selfishness with Your love. May I see in others someone You truly value and deeply cherish. May I listen in ways that validate and affirm them.

Forgive me for not responding to Your voice whether it is through Your Word or through the counsel of others. Open my ears to hear beyond words and perceive the thoughts of hearts. May I respond to everyone with compassionate care and loving grace. Thank You for patiently reminding me to listen with my heart to You and others. May I become increasingly responsive to Your voice as You speak through various ways.

I recognize that attentive listening is a valid form of loving those around me. Continue, Lord, to teach me Your ways so that all my relationships will strengthen and improve.

God Still Speaks

God Still Speaks

Prayer is powerful! God still speaks and He reminded me again today that prayer is a two-way conversation.

While shopping, I encountered a woman incessantly talking on her phone. She was having a non-stop, one-way conversation with someone who could not possibly have gotten a word in edgewise! I’m not even sure when or how she found time to breathe. Her voice could be heard throughout the entire store.

I’m afraid our prayer conversations with God might all too closely resemble this scenario. Do we do all the talking, or do we take time to listen, expecting to hear from God? God designed prayer to be a mutual exchange of dialogue.

Do you ever feel like your prayers hit the ceiling and go no further? From time to time, I think we have all experienced the feeling. Let’s be encouraged. God hears and He answers! In many places throughout the Bible, He encourages, “Anyone with ears, let them hear” (Matthew 11:15). But how does God speak to us? And how do we know that it is God speaking and not just our own thoughts or imagination?

We don’t need any unique gift to hear from God. The only qualification is to have ears. That includes most of us. Contrary to what some people might believe, God still speaks. Let’s explore what the Bible says about the topic.

He spoke to an incredibly wicked king, King Nebuchadnezzar both through dreams and through the prophet Daniel (Daniel 4). He spoke to Moses face to face, like we would speak to our friends (Exodus 33:11).

“Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
Jeremiah 33:3

God Speaks Through the Bible

The most common way God speaks to us is through His infallible Word — the Bible. Scriptures form the plumbline for every other way God speaks. He will never say anything that contradicts the Bible. So whatever way He might speak, we measure against the accuracy of His Word.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.”
Hebrews 4:12

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.”

Psalm 119:105

All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”
2 Timothy 3:16

God consistently speaks through the living words recorded in the Bible. His Word remains relevant and undiminished in power.

God Speaks Through the Holy Spirit

God has given us the Holy Spirit to teach, comfort, and direct us. Holy Spirit waters God’s Word within us causing it to grow and become fruitful.

But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.”
John 14:26

The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 2:14

The Holy Spirit brings the truths we read in Scripture or receive from biblical teachers and leaders, making God’s Word relevant and alive. He affirms God’s words written or spoken to our hearts to our spirit, in a Spirit-to-spirit communication.

God Speaks Through Nature

Like many people, I feel the closest to God while walking in nature. In His creation, my heart seems the most sensitive to hear His sacred echoes. Jesus used many illustrations from nature to reveal God’s character, purposes, and truth. Whether birds, sheep, storms, plants, or so much more, Jesus strung His parables around everyday life and the land people were familiar with.

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
Psalm 29:3-4

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
Psalm 19:1-2

For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.
Romans 1:20

How God speaks through creation remains one of His many mysteries. Yet we find ourselves filled with awe as we gaze into a starry sky or hold a newborn baby. We can’t help but worship Him as we watch ocean waves crash against the rocky shore or feel the power of a summer storm. God is in it all. He speaks through a gentle breeze as clearly as through the intricacy of a flower. God speaks the language of a listening heart.

God Still Speaks

The limitations we have to hear from God rests within ourselves. God speaks in limitless ways. I love the way Job phrased it:

“For God does speak — now one way, now another — though no one perceives it.”
Job 33:14

Why is perceiving His voice so difficult? Has the overture of busyness dulled our hearing? Oh, may we give God opportunity to speak, and tune our ears to hear what He is saying. May we have a willing heart to receive His words. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, compared us to sheep — His sheep. He said,

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.”
John 10:27

God speaks through gifted authors, teachers, and speakers. He speaks through circumstances and the difficulties we face. He speaks through dreams and visions, just as He always has. Because of His unending love for us, He invites us to draw close and to listen.

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