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What makes a good listener?

The accompanying Chinese symbol for “listen” incorporates the characters for ear + eyes + undivided attention + heart.

This combination is an insightful description of how we listen well.

Recall that, in prayer, we listen before we speak. Do the elements of the Chinese symbol describe how you listen to God?

In the last post, Martha manifested four negative elements of how not to listen well.  In this post, Mary demonstrates five positive factors for listening well to God.  

Here are those five factors.

1.       Mary’s Posture 

Let’s revisit the scene in Martha's home. Click here and take a moment to read Luke 10:38-42

Mary’s posture is described simply:

Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.

The narrator refers to Jesus as “the Lord” (10:39). This shift of language from “Jesus” to “Lord” is significant.

That Jesus is Lord means that he transcends every other ‘voice’ speaking into our lives. He has priority over culture’s demands; over government, employers, and other authorities; over personality inclinations; over self-oriented preferences —he, and he alone, is the Lord

What are the implications of this for each of us?  

We hear thousands of voices every day. Family, friends, and strangers; teachers, supervisors, and customers; commercials, movies, and lyrics—myriads competing for us to listen to them. 

Do you acknowledge that listening to Jesus has priority in your life because he is your Lord?  

Jesus then describes four further characteristics of Mary’s undivided attention in these terms:  

one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her. (10:42 ESV) 

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

2.       “One thing is necessary” 

Lots of things make life better, easier, or more fun – but “one thing is necessary.” This “one thing” is indispensable; it is like water for fish. What is it? 

Jesus gives us a clue as he points us to Mary’s ‘posture’. What is it about Mary that identifies the “one thing … necessary”? 

In his commentary of Luke’s Gospel, Joel Green describes it this way:

she is fixed on … Jesus, and his word

Take a moment to acknowledge what Jesus is saying here and what that means for you.

One thing is necessary: listening to Jesus

3.       “... Mary has chosen …” 

Mary was intentional in choosing to sit at the Lord’s feet, listening to him. 

There were many pressures working against Mary’s choice. Picture Martha bustling to prepare a meal: cutting, mixing, cooking. Perhaps she nudged Mary to get her attention or sighed dramatically to lay on some guilt—then she complained to Jesus.  

The pressures working against us are no less. Consider such things as the demands and expectations of our culture of ‘busyness,’ of relationships and events, or of an attitude of ‘driven-ness’. These threaten to distract us from listening to our Lord. Unless we are intentional about choosing a ‘posture’ like Mary it will not happen—anything and everything will press in to fill our time and demand our attention. 

Will you choose to listen to Jesus? 

4.       “... the good portion …” 

This ‘posture’ of listening to Jesus is “good.” Some may criticize it as lazy, unconstructive, or even wrong—but Jesus says it is good. It is beneficial. 

In the first instance, the benefit of this ‘posture’ is experienced by the person who chooses it. Inevitably, that benefit enriches the lives of others. 

Expect the divine benefits of choosing to listen to Jesus

5.       “... which will not be taken away from her” 

What Mary received endured. 

I recall a time when I was studying for some university assignment late into the night. The entire day had been so busy, and I had not chosen the ‘necessary thing.’ By default, all my energies had been poured into other things that wouldn’t last long—perhaps only a few decades. That day I made a bad trade.  

Know that you receive from Jesus as you listen to him. Whatever you receive in this ‘posture’ will never be taken away from you.  

Some Action Items

What are your takeaways? What are you learning from Mary’s ‘posture’?

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • How can you choose this ‘posture’? Are you intentional about sitting silently and listening attentively to the Lord (ears + eyes + undivided attention + heart)?
  • What benefits do you receive as you listen well to God? Do you experience His love and acceptance? His wisdom and guidance? His correction and encouragement?  

What else can you add? You can contact me by clicking here.

FORWARD TO the next post in this series

BACK TO 4 elements that will hinder active listening

Photo credit: the source is believed to be, but its IP could not be found. A similar image was also found on the website of the United States Department of State: (accessed October 13, 2022). 

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