Listening: active listening is a lost art in today’s world.

John 4:1-42 (NIV) This is a lengthy discourse between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

Jesus left us an example of how to listen to people. In order for us to be able to witness to them of whom and what Jesus is, we must be actively listening.  Within the context of an online witnessing environment; this means we must read, digest, and respond with questions that provide clarity to make sure that we are truly reading what the person intended and not what our minds are telling us that the person intended.  Miscommunication occurs when we read with preconceived ideas of how a situation is or should be.

The same thing happens when we do not listen to people intentionally.  Intentional listening validates the person to whom we are listening and encourages their human worth.  The inverse is also happening. When we choose to “jump the gun” and immediately respond to written communications and verbal expressions without thinking, we convey to the person that their thoughts are of no value and neither are they.  So, let’s look at a biblical example of how listening or reading written communication can powerfully impact a person or even an entire town!

JESUS and the Samaritan Woman

Jesus intentionally traveled to Samaria.  Remember that the Samaritans were not liked or cared for by the Jewish establishment. The hatred that existed between these two cultures was very intense.  So when Jesus intentionally decided to repair this breach it was earth shattering to the Samaritan woman.  How did he accomplish this?  He accomplished it by using intentional listening! David Wheeler [noted Christian researcher and author of many books on evangelism] stated, “He speaks to her, “give me a drink[1] (simple yet profound in application and meaning).He speaks to the reprehensible person in public. We will just drink from the same pail/cup.”[2] [This is the suggestion that the Lord God of Heaven-the maker of all that is was and will ever come John 1:1-5 New International Version (NIV).[3] Instead of projecting the same image of rejection that the rest of society has towards this person and her culture the Lord Jesus Christ, “affirms her humanity and her value; she too was created in the image of God.  She too had value simply because she was a human being.[4]  When speaking/or writing to a person who is not saved affirm for them who they are in God’s sight.  Wheeler stated that Jesus,” helped her come to the reality of who she really is to God The Father as her creator” simply by listening to her, without responding with a condemnative statement.[5] When witnessing to a person online believers can do the very same thing by simply stating who they are to God.  No condemning them, but stating the obvious love he had for them by sharing John 1:1-18.  Explain what these verses mean to you as an individual and invite the person with whom you are sharing to respond.  They should have an opportunity to voice their opinion and or understanding of what you are saying.   Let’s continue with the Samaritan woman.  What else did The Lord demonstrate during this discourse? “He obviously cared more about the woman’s soul than the people’s religious traditions, because he stepped outside the box of the religious culture of his time.  He listened to this woman without saying a single negative thing about who she was and or what she was. He demonstrated, “active, intentional listening”.[6]  We do the same thing when we listen, whether in person with our ears, or online with our eyes.  Wheeler continues with his explanation of how detrimental this is, “We are so in love with our traditions that we put them before people’s souls.  We value our properties more than we value people’s souls. Our buildings and what happen to them is more important than the souls of the young people who are playing on our basket ball courts and maybe damaging them.”[7]

Read the rest of the chapter and you will see what happened to the disciples when they showed up.  What did they do?  Did they practice active listening?


Five Levels of Listening/reading

  1. Ignoring:we do ignore people – the disciples ignored her and they ignored Christ and the intercourse that he was having with the woman.  We ignore people as if they don’t matter.  It is indifference.
  2. Pretend listening: multi-tasking while listening is ignoring people instead of being engaged with them.  We don’t value listening.  It is a new art form
  3. Selective Listening:We hear what we want to hear.  We only hear the positive/negative.  Wives submitting to their husband.
  4. Attentive Listening: We listen with our ears and also with our eyes
  5. Empathetic Listening: This is the deepest level of listening with eyes, ears, and heart. Reach out and touch them, engage with them and empathize with them.[8]

Think about the last time someone tried to convey their thoughts to you in writing or verbally.  What were you doing as they were speaking and or writing?  Were you ignoring them? Were you pretending to comprehend what they were saying and or had written?  Were you using selective listening and or reading?  Did you listen with thoughts in your head about just a few words of what they said?  Did you read a few of the words that they wrote and immediately think-I have been there done that this is not for me? Or did you attentively and emphatically listen and read?  These are hard-hitting statements.  However, an individual cannot effectively practice evangelism if they are not attentively listening and reading what people are saying?

Wheeler provides believers with some examples of listening mistakes that will impact their ability to evangelize others,

Three Key Listening Mistakes

  1. Makebelieve listening – this is the same as pretending to listen.
  2. One up listening- i.e. my lumbago is worse than yours.  We want to tell people what is happening to us rather than listening to the people
  3. Phil listening…we have watched so much TV and read so many books that we believe that we can fix people and know exactly what is wrong with them.  So, we don’t even hear what they are saying because we area already thinking about how we can solve their problem.  We use pop psychology to tell them that they have issues because of…..that is not empathetic listening.  We are not supposed to be analyzing people
  4. Barney Fife Listening: “Nip it in the bud listening!”   “I don’t want a solution I just want you to listen”  is what people are saying to us when we do this. We want to give quick solutions to the problem and not listen to the people and what they are saying!!
  5. iPod Listening: Have you ever experienced people around you and listen to what they are saying and what they are experiencing?  You can’t do that listening to your iPod. Don’t ignore people – they matter. [9]

What difference does this make to us?  It will determine whether or not we are being Jesus to the unsaved, unreached, or un-churched.  When we open our mouths, and or express our thoughts in writing, we represent God Almighty.  We must be aware of the impact that our publicized thoughts have on the Kingdom of God.

Having said all of that, how can we show Jesus in how we listen? Wheeler provides us with four specific hints that will enable us to grow in this area,

Four Hints for Active Listening with Understanding 

  1. Reflect back the other person’s feelings by stating, “Is this what you are saying? Or, is this what you mean?
  2. Seek to determine their perspective in life.  Listen intentionally instead of figuring out what to say next.  We need to seek the other person’s perspective and listen to where they are.
  3. Ask good strategic question. Questions like, (“Tell me your story . . .” [Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman. He asked her questions, then he clarified her response to him John 4:13-26– [Can you ask the person with whom you are sharing Jesus this question], “Tell me where you are in your walk with the Lord?  How did you come to know the Lord?”
  4. Give the other person room to respond to you before you provide an answer to what you think the question was. Give them physical and emotional space.  Seek to continue to conversation with the person.  Talk to them for long periods of time if you need to.  [Evangelism is not a checklist process.] Give them time to think about what you have said/written to them.  It may take an entire year before someone actually accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. (Continue the Conversation). In our religious culture we should be more tour guides than we are ticket takers.  The key is to be empathetic…to be willing to drink from the same cup as the other person.[10]

Listening intently does not seem to be so mountainous now does it?  The creator of the universe took the time to listen, even though he already knew the answers.  Remember that Jesus had the ability to read people’s thoughts, but he still chose to listen to them intently.  Wheeler continues to define who the Lord is,

  • a man of great compassion
  • a man of unconditional love
  • our great example[11]

If the I AM did not push who he was on the Samaritan woman [and or what she was] can we not do the same thing? Here is something that Wheeler wants us to think about,

When people dialogue with you do they see Christ? Or do they hear you, who you are, what you have done?

Acts 4:13 Christ is the hope of glory.  When people look at us do they know that we have been with Jesus?[12]

 The Disciples and the Samaritan Woman:

The Disciples Rejoin Jesus

27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4:17-27). Wheeler diagnoses their behavior,

  1. They were rude.  They refused to acknowledge Jesus and the woman.  They would not even discuss the situation with him or her.
  2. They did not affirm the woman’s humanity
  3. They did not affirm her eternal value—they denied her humanity and had no regard for her soul . . . their reactions were, (you are not even worth our words they simply did not care about her![13]

When we listen and respond intentionally the result is astounding,

John 4:39-42 the people believed him, because of his words many more became believers. Why? They believed because they heard from him themselves.  He was a tour guide.  He was willing to stay and talk with the people for 2 more days. The world really does not believe that Christians care about them. Satan has deceived us and indifference has consumed us.  What is indifference?  It means no difference.  It is tempting and seductive.  It is easier to ignore people, and not to be truly involved in their pain, and what they are truly going through.  Indifference towards a person reduces an individual to a distraction.

A greater harvester [has already come and he will be coming again]… and His name is Jesus.[14]  Are you ready today to emulate him and to listen/read intentionally, attentively, and emphatically as The Lord demonstrated?  If you are then you will see amazing results.  Many will come to know the Lord Jesus as their personal Savior because of your empathy.


Wheeler, David. “Learning to Listen.” Lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, January 13, 2015.


[1] John 4:7

[2] David Wheeler, “Learning to Listen” (lecture, Liberty University, Lynchburg, VA, January 13, 2015).

[3] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

[4] Wheeler, Learning to

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Bueller
    Jan 14, 2015 @ 10:14:42

    I have read and am astounded by what I have read. A lot of what Wheeler says is the same thing we learned in psychology, but which psychologists may not actually use as they say “uh, huh” all the time. To me that is not listening. This is entirely different than what I have grown up with as even though Pope Francis tells us to be evangelists, not many know what that is and that includes those who are priests and are supposed to be teaching others. I find I need to read this more times to really capture the entire essence of what Jesus is telling us. He used many parables that may or may not be easy to understand. This discussion with the Samaritan woman is completely understandable and the reaction of his disciples is the same as one sees when someone from one religion thinks theirs is the only true religion and doesn’t listen to someone from another religion. That is what gets in the way of the world today. No one wants to listen and everyone wants to be right.


  2. Joyce
    Jan 14, 2015 @ 19:33:03

    Jeleane that is a perfect synopsis of the problem. Because our ministry is an online one I decided to include the implications for online evangelism and personal evangelism online. Ea has been telling people that it is all about relationships. Listening to people and what they need then asking the Holy Spirit to use you to meet their needs. Then you can start to talk to them about how important God is to you in your life. You can talk to them about how your life has changed since you have come to truly know him. Sharing specific scriptures – which I will be posting. The final part of the process is to just love on the person. You hardly ever have to ask them if they would like to know Jesus. They will ask you if you could tell them how to get to know Jesus. I have much more to share and I will as the weeks go by. God bless you Jeleane for being willing to step out of your comfort zone and answer the call.


  3. Sherri Rogers
    Jan 15, 2015 @ 21:55:43

    All of these things are fantastic tools to practice and to “learn” in the areas I am lacking. I am thankful for reading this!


  4. Joyce
    Jan 16, 2015 @ 09:25:12

    we all need help in t his area!


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