“He who has ears to hear, let him hear”

Empathic listening is “hearing with your heart”
Empathic listening is “hearing with your heart”

This is a third post about the value of listening skills in cross-cultural partnerships. The first was Slow down: listen with your heart, featuring the video “Alan & Pauly Heller: On Listening.” Yesterday’s post was Thank you, Mission ONE team, that you have blessed us”—these two posts are connected by the fact that Alan & Pauly Heller taught their listening workshop at the Mission ONE-sponsored marriage retreat in Thailand in March.

Today, I want to make some observations about the words of Jesus used in the title of this post. I recognize that in the context of Matthew 11:15, Jesus is referencing the need of the people in his immediate context to hear—specifically to hear his teachings in that setting. At the same time, I believe that in this short verse, Jesus is teaching something universal about our nature as human beings concerning our basic ability to hear God; Jesus is addressing our usually ironclad disposition of being hard of hearing. Below is my meditation on these words of our Lord Jesus Christ …

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15)

1. Hearing comes from within. Hearing with your heart is a self-motivated behavior. A person can look like he or she is listening—despite the fact that their heart is far away. We all know when someone is physically present, but emotionally and spiritually distant. Jesus recognizes the freedom of conscience in the act of listening; he realizes that the turning of one’s attention away from self to another person is a free, deliberate action of one’s interior mind, heart and soul. It’s as though Jesus is saying to me: “Hey, Werner, you have two ears, yes? Well then, why don’t you let Werner know—the Werner deep inside—that he can go ahead and begin to truly listen.” Could it be that Jesus is telling me, that I must tell myself in an act of deep self-awareness, “Hey me … Stop being distracted by empty activity and superficiality. Slow down. You have two ears; reconnect your ears to your heart. Just … listen. Listen to God. Listen to His Word. Listen to the Spirit dwelling within. Listen to your spouse. Listen to your children, your neighbor, your co-worker. Listen to your conscience. Embrace silence, and hear. Be present to The Person and the persons around you. Honor their sacred lives by being completely present in their presence.”

2. Being hard of hearing is part of the sin nature. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”  Jesus is using sarcasm to point out the reality that even though everyone has two ears, no one is truly listening! This speaks of the depravity of man, “as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10) … “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Could it be that one great result of the Fall is the refusal to listen to God along with the chronic disease of being hard of hearing?

3. By God’s grace, everyone has the possibility of keen hearing. Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Everyone has two ears … but practically no one is truly listening. Nevertheless, anyone CAN hear because they do have two ears! This speaks of the wideness of God’s grace and mercy: “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires [whoever!], let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17 NKJV). Could it be that one of the confirmations of our new life in Christ is the ability to listen to God along with the desire to truly listen to the people around us?

4. Everyone is fully designed to be able to hear well. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What? Do only some people have ears? No! Everyone has ears. Everyone has the necessary “equipment” to truly hear the Lord and to truly hear people. And through Christ, what once was burdensome (hearing God and obeying Him) now may become light and easy. With His spirit inside of us, we truly can listen to God, we truly can hear our Shepherd’s voice. With the nature of Christ merged with our own, we can be present to others with sincere love and a hearing heart. Why is this? God designed us fully equipped with two ears, a keen mind, and a heart that was designed for fellowship, for hearing the Lord. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

5. My spirit desires to hear God, but needs permission from my will. This goes back to the phrase in the verse, “let him hear.” I am connecting the word “let” with the idea of permission, and it’s consistent with the fact that we often have an ongoing inner dialog, or silent conversation, with ourselves. Here’s the idea: In our inner dialog with ourselves, the will gives permission to the spirit—to hear. If this idea of permission is correct, it appears that Jesus assumes that the inner spirit of the individual wants to hear God. So for me to apply this verse, my will says to my spirit, “Go ahead, I give in, I give you permission: Listen to the Lord.” In effect, I (my will) say to my inner self (my spirit), “let him hear.” This is an act of deep intentional hearing, a key to opening the door of my heart with intent to obey. This is real soul-work, I believe. It takes self-awareness, a disciplined prayer life, and lots of practice. And it takes faith to do this. Faith that God is speaking, faith that his Word is reliable, faith that he is for me, faith that I can discern and distinguish his voice from strangers.

I admit, as I continue exploring this meditation on hearing, I feel like a novice. Lord, help me.


“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Obviously, this applies to all of life, but what does it mean for cross-cultural partnership? For now, I’ll mention just this: Cross-cultural partnership is more about building relationships—serving and knowing one another in love, respect and humility—than about getting stuff done. What do you think?

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