It’s not that it’s been so long since i’ve presented the life-lesson (sermon) in church in that long a time. I’ve just forgotten to post them here over the last long while. I spoke last week on the theme of good listening as the title above suggests, as we went through a series on Hearing God. Below is the text i went into the pulpit with. As is often the case, not all of what was written was said, and not all of what was said was written, or else was said differently, etc.
Lessons in Good Listening
Sunday, February 26, 2017
John 4:1-26 – Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
Today we’ll be concluding our series on Listening to God. We’ve looked at a number of topics: Preparing our hearts to hear; how do we hear God; and even last week, What if I can’t hear God? Today, we’re going to look at a few things about what good listening can teach us? If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to John 4. We’ll be starting at verse one, and we won’t be reading all of the story, but a sizable portion of it.
Text – John 4:1-26
Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus himself didn’t baptize them—his disciples did). 3 So he left Judea and returned to Galilee. 4 He had to go through Samaria on the way. 5 Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. 7 Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” 8 He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. 9 The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” 10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” 11 But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” 13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.” 16 “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. 17 “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—18 for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet. 20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” 21 Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. 23 But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. 24 For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”
There are a few lessons we can learn about good listening from this passage that we’ll be looking at this morning.
- Good Listening Requires Patience
The first thing we see in this passage is that good listening requires patience. Look at the progression throughout the passage. Two people who have never met each other. One of them, at least in this case, has an idea of where the conversation may go, but the other does not. The woman has no idea who Jesus is and as far as she’s concerned, he’s just another guy.
The same can be said about us in our lives. Whether having a conversation with another person or with God, we don’t always know where the conversation is headed. Regarding patience Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Avoid a kind of listening with a half ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. This is impatient, inattentive listening, that… is only waiting for a chance to speak.” In other words, in our conversations we make assumptions about where we think the speaker is headed with their thought so we already try coming up with our response.
In our Christian lives we do the same thing when we approach God. We think we already know where God is leading the conversation so we interrupt him, or else we don’t even give him the chance to speak.
Another danger with impatient listening is that we are distracted, and so we’re only waiting for the other person to finish so we can do what it is that was distracting us. Maybe it’s our phone or computer or maybe we’re due for a meeting, and someone starts talking to us and our only thought is, “How can I wrap this up as quickly as possible to get back to what it was I was doing?” We do this with people and we do this with God as well.
Janet Dunn in her book How to Become a Good Listener writes, “Unfortunately, many of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy either deciding what to say in response or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view. Poor listening diminishes another person, while good listening invites them to exist and matter.”
Rather than trying to come up with what to say, good listening means actively seeking to concentrate on what the other person is saying and listen all the way to the end of their thought. It means turning away from the TV or computer screen or phone. It takes some effort to learn this, but we can do this in our relationship with God as well. We see this in our passage today. Both Jesus and the Samaritan woman throughout the passage listened to the other’s statements or questions attentively until they had finished their thought and then responded in a manner they thought suited the situation. They had each other’s full attention.
One final thing that I would add when it comes to patience: We don’t always know what is happening in the spiritual realm, and so we must learn to be patient and persevere. Daniel chapter ten shows us this. We read in Daniel 10:12-13,
Then [the angel] said, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day you began to pray for understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your request has been heard in heaven. I have come in answer to your prayer. 13 But for twenty-one days the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia blocked my way. Then Michael, one of the archangels, came to help me, and I left him there with the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia.
Daniel started praying and God heard him and answered right away. But for 21 days the angel did battle in the spiritual realm until Michael the archangel came to help in the fight.
We don’t always know what’s taking place in the spiritual realm. It may be that God has heard and answered your cry. It may be that it’s not about not hearing God. It may be that there is a battle going on in the spiritual realm, and we’ve got to be patient and continue in prayer until we see that breakthrough.
- Good Listening is an Act of Love
Which leads us to our second point that good listening is an act of love. Continuing his thought on half-eared listening, Bonhoeffer writes, “Half-eared listening despises the other and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other.” In other words, poor listening rejects while good listening embraces.
Philippians 2:5 says, “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” Jesus has a humble heart that is always looking for the well-being of others. He is more concerned about others interests than his own. We see this in our passage, where ultimately Jesus is more concerned about the salvation of the woman, yet eagerly listens to her about the things that concern her.
- Good Listening Asks Perceptive Questions
That leads us to our third point: Good listening asks perceptive questions. I would say that you can narrow questions down to two kinds. First, there are closed questions that don’t invite any discussion. Questions like this are yes/ no questions, where the respondent only needs to answer with a yes or a no. Secondly, there are open-ended questions. These are questions that invite discussion and draw the other person into engaging with you about what is being discussed. For example, you could ask, “Do you think Jesus was a pretty swell guy?” to which anyone can simply answer “yes,” or, “no.” Or, you can say, “What is your opinion on the character of Jesus?”
We see this interaction taking place between the Samaritan woman and Jesus. It starts off with the woman asking a probing question in verse 9, “Why would you ask me for a drink?” Jesus’ answer draws them into a deeper discussion and prompts her to ask a second question in verse 11, “Where would you get this living water?” And the questions in verse 12, “Do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” only add to the depth of where the conversation is going.
Jesus’ response isn’t what is expected. He catches the woman off guard by saying, “Yes, I can give you water that will last for eternal life.” Of course this intrigues her and she asks for this water. It is at this point that Jesus does something no one would expect. He asks her to bring her husband. There is nothing in the conversation that would indicate this ever being part of the discussion. However, if someone is going to get into a deeper relationship with Jesus, ultimately he will start pointing out things in our lives that need to be forgiven. When you start asking God questions, be prepared to go places you may not have expected to be taken.
The woman responds to Jesus without fulfilling his request but instead recognizes there is something different about who he is. This response by the woman leads her to another question about worship and this leads to a conversation where Jesus reveals he’s the Messiah.
Asking good questions is like peeling away the layers of an onion. You’re not just cutting into the onion and causing agony. You’re peeling away one layer at a time until you get to the root of the discussion.
In your time with God, don’t be afraid to ask questions. “God, I don’t understand what you mean by this verse. Can you explain it to me?” “God, what does it mean for me to minister to my neighbours?” “God, how can I use the gifts that you have given me to glorify your name?” You might get an answer that you don’t expect, like the Samaritan woman, so don’t get caught off guard. She wasn’t expecting Jesus to bring up five past husbands and a current fling. But it brought her into a position where she could receive from God in a way that she might not have otherwise. You might not like where God takes a discussion, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it or decide not to engage with it.
- Good Listening is Ministry
Which brings us to point number four, that good listening is ministry. I won’t spend a lot of time on this one, as I think Pastor Abe did a great job explaining some of this last week when he talked about What if I Can’t Hear? Sometimes it’s just better to shut up and not say anything. Bonhoeffer says, “Sometimes listening can be a greater service than speaking.” For instance, there may be times when someone is hurting, and we don’t have the words to say, but we try to come up with something and it does nothing to console the hurting person. In those times, just being quiet and being a shoulder to lean on is better than having all the answers. Janet Dunn writes, “Good listening often defuses the emotions that are a part of the problem being discussed. Sometimes releasing these emotions is all that is needed to solve the problem. The speaker may neither want nor expect us to say anything in response.”
Sometimes God wants to use us more as affirming love than anything else. This involves compassion and understanding, and not being a Mr. Fix-it.
- Good Listening Prepares us to Speak Well
The fifth thing that good listening does is that it prepares us to speak well. The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman shows us this. Throughout the conversation they listen to each other carefully and so were able to respond in a proper way. And it’s not just Jesus. The woman does a great job of this as well. Even as Jesus challenges her on her past husbands and current fling, she recognizes that there is something deeper to his challenge. Because she heard distinctly what he said, she was able to discern that he was at least a prophet, as we see in verse 19. Knowing that, she responds with a question about worship, and she’s actually the one who turns the conversation to a spiritual nature.
Bonhoeffer suggests that “the wise person tries to resist defensiveness, and to listen from a non-judgmental stance, training themselves not to formulate opinions or responses until the full update is on the table and the whole story has been told.”
These are great words as we converse with God as well. God may point out something in your life that needs addressing. Don’t get defensive. Listen from an objective point of view and trust what God is showing you. Or God may be trying to encourage you, but if you approach with a defensive attitude you may miss the encouraging word he has for you. When we approach God this way, and we patiently listen to what he’s saying, it prepares us to respond in a way that glorifies him and we’ll be better equipped to speak and respond accordingly.
- Good Listening Reflects Our Relationship with God
The final, and perhaps the most important lesson we can learn is that good listening reflects our relationship with God. We see this in our passage this morning, where two people who started out as strangers ended up in a relationship that will last forever. Not only did this conversation affect the woman’s relationship with Jesus, but a few verses later we’re told that many from her village believed in Jesus following her encounter with Jesus.
The story is told of a young man. This young man had grown up in the church, knowing who Jesus is, and at times served in different ways in the church. In 2005, this young man was going through a bit of a difficult time and began questioning a lot about faith, life with God, and the church in general. He had seen how Christian people treated each other and had thought, “If that’s how Christian people treat each other, maybe he didn’t want any part of it.” In 2005 his church attendance was sporadic, not committing to any church in particular but visiting different ones occasionally, not really knowing why anymore.
The story goes that in October of 2005 that young man had gone to a house party. He would say that he never was much for parties, but he knew that some of his friends would be there, and he would go to parties just to make sure everyone was safe. The story goes that throughout the night people came and went, including some of the friends the young man had gone with. As is often the case, there happened to be a girl there that the young man liked, and, at one point in the evening they even talked about what a relationship together might look like. As it got late, the young man told that friend, “Don’t leave without me. I’ll walk you home.”
Some time had passed and the young man decided to find this particular friend. He couldn’t find her, and as he had an early morning decided to leave. As he walked home he left a message on her voicemail, “Hey, just thought I’d leave a message seeing if you got home alright. Have a great night.”
He found out the next day that in the block between where the party had been and where she lived, someone had jumped his friend and raped her. Confused and hurt and angry the young man brooded over that news for a week. The story goes that a week later, the Saturday a week after that event, the young man went home, angry at God. He already had so many questions about faith and God and church and was on the verge of walking away from his relationship with God, ready to walk away from his faith, and then this happened to one of his friends.
The story goes that the young man went home, locked himself in his room, and started yelling. He yelled at God. He asked questions like “Why could he let this happen?” “How could he let church people treat each other so horribly?” He swore at God. He used words that if they were repeated here, you might have a heart attack. He vowed never to go to church again. He yelled at God so much that night that he lost his voice. And after all the yelling, and after all of the screaming and all of the blaming, and when that young man had no energy left inside himself, he simply sat down on his bed.
What kind of response would you have to a story like that? What goes through your mind when you hear that someone could yell at God with such anger?
The story doesn’t end there. It is said that as he sat on his bed the Lord spoke to him with an audible voice and said, “Now you’re beginning to understand the kind of relationship we can have together.” The story goes that the next day, being a Sunday, that young man got up determined to chase God to the end of the earth. That Sunday, I got up and it was the first Sunday I started attending Fourth Avenue Bible Church.
Friends I’m here today to tell you that you can hear the voice of the Lord. It’s not a fairy tale. That night was the second time in my life I heard the audible voice of the Lord. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about the first time. You can hear him when he speaks through his word. You can hear him when he speaks through a friend or mentor. You can hear him in the quiet, locked up in your room. We know this because God wants that kind of relationship with us. Jeremiah 33:3 says, “Call to me, and I will answer….” God guarantees that if we’re serious about approaching him, he will talk to us. The more real, the more open and honest you are with God, the more you will hear his voice speaking to you.