A counselor friend recently received this email from a couple that he and his wife had counseled: “It was great to be with you yesterday and I want to thank you. You guys were great listeners. Allowing my wife to share the depths of her pain and express a brief picture of the extent of suffering we have experienced over these past two years was healing. She really felt heard and not overly diagnosed or analyzed. Before coming, she was afraid of having all her phrases picked apart for their rightness and wrongness. Instead, you really hurt for her. Your sympathy and expression over the severity of the trials were a great comfort. Thanks for being the body of Christ to us.”
Two sentences particularly struck me: “You guys were great listeners.” “She really felt heard.” May I suggest that no ministry action we take is more Godlike than good listening?
God Listens to God
Just how Godlike is listening? It’s what God does toward God. The Persons in the Godhead listen to each other. The Father listens to his Son: “Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” (John 11:41-42). The Son listens to his Father: “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is reliable, and what I have heard from him I tell the world” (John 8:26). “These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me” (John 14:24). And the Holy Spirit listens to both the Father and the Son: “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13).
God Listens to Us
But God not only listens to Himself. He also listens to us. As biblical counselor Wayne Mack put it, “The fact that our triune God is a good listener should powerfully motivate us to improve in this area. The three persons of the Trinity listen carefully to each other and, amazingly, to us!”
Consider the moving story of the Egyptian slave woman Hagar in Genesis 16. Mistreated by Abram and Sarai, and pregnant and alone as a single mom, she fled and began her journey back to her homeland. But God’s eyes and ears of grace were open toward her. As she headed home, the angel of the Lord (an appearance of God himself) found her in the desert. He spoke to her, counseled her to return, and promised great blessing to her and her son. The angel then told her to name her son Ishmael. Why? “For the Lord has heard of your misery” (v. 11). (In Hebrew, the name Ishmael means God hears.) God’s love and care for this distressed woman began when God heard her cries. And it continued in an equally stirring scene in Genesis 21:17, when the angel of God assures her, “Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying. . . .”
God Our Listener-Redeemer
When did God’s deliverance of Israel out of Egypt begin? While we might look to his burning bush appearance to Moses in Exodus 3, the previous chapter highlights something that was prior to and causative of all of the Exodus actions: “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (Exodus 2:23-25). The Lord later repeats the same point to Moses when he appears in the burning bush (3:7-8): God’s hearing initiated the Exodus sequence. Israel’s salvation began with the eyes and ears of a Redeemer who sees, hears, feels concern, and then acts.
Do you ever delight in the saving ears of God? “The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer. . . . The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles” (Psalm 34:15, 17; cf. 1 Peter 3:12). “I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry” (Psalm 40:1). “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live” (Psalm 116:1–2).
Listening to Others with the Ears of God
One takeaway for counselors seems obvious: Listen to others as God has listened to us. Here Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s rich insights remain unsurpassed: “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. . . . It is God’s love for us that he not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. . . . But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God” (Life Together, chapter 4).
Thank you, God, for being the Great Listener and for savingly listening to us. Help us to be like you in this way, knowing that there is nothing that we do that is more like you.
Posted on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website July 17, 2013