The way we listen determines what, if anything, we learn.
That truth nugget is fleshed out beautifully by this story.
“When I was young my father said to me: “Knowledge is Power….Francis Bacon”
I understood it as “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon”.
For more than a decade I wondered over the meaning of the second part and what was the surreal linkage between the two? If I said the quote to someone, “Knowledge is power, France is Bacon” they nodded knowingly. Or someone might say, “Knowledge is power” and I’d finish the quote “France is Bacon” and they wouldn’t look at me like I’d said something very odd but thoughtfully agree.
I did ask a teacher what did “Knowledge is power, France is bacon” mean and got a full 10 minute explanation of the Knowledge is power bit but nothing on “France is bacon”. When I prompted further explanation by saying “France is Bacon?” in a questioning tone I just got a “yes”. at 12 I didn’t have the confidence to press it further. I just accepted it as something I’d never understand. It wasn’t until years later I saw it written down that the penny dropped.” (- Lard_Baron of Reddit)
I really admire that kid. Mostly, for sharing that story. But also, for keeping at it.
He was pretty sure that something wasn’t right, so he kept trying to find out what it was. Now, if he had just come out and asked somebody, he would have saved himself some trouble. But then we wouldn’t have that story. And I’m glad we do.
It reminds me of this teaching from Jesus.
Luke 8: 16-18
16 “No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.”
These verses kind of sound like a riddle, don’t they?
I mean, what is something that:
- lights your way,
- that you shouldn’t hide, but
- be put on a stand, but
- that you also listen to, and
- have to listen to in a particular way?
- Something that reveals secrets, and here’s the twist,
- that people who already have it, get more of, and
- those who only think they have it, lose?
Truth gives light, but you listen to it.
Truth uncovers hidden things.
And those who understand truth get more and more of it, but those who believe they already know everything, one day are shown to be fools.
Let’s unpack Jesus’ teaching here just a little bit more.
8:17 – “For nothing is hidden”
This word for hidden is kryptos which means “secret, concealed, like a puzzle”
that will not become evident,
The word for evident is phaneros , which means apparent, manifest i.e to be plainly recognised or known
nor anything secret that will not be known
The word for known here is ginosko, which means “to learn to know, come to know, get a knowledge of perceive, feel”
and come to light.
So Jesus says here that everything secret and hidden, isn’t going to stay that way, (and a lot of people say “Gulp”) but that it will become visible, as in, observable, and known.
Another way to put it could be seen and remembered.
So Jesus says, Everything that no one knows will one day become known by everyone.
But then he follows it up with
8:18 – “Pay attention to HOW you listen;
Not take care who you listen to, or what you listen to, or where or when, or why you listen,
What is the manner, the way, the method you use to listen?
Pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.(even what he thinks he has shall be taken away)
Because when you listen correctly, you learn more and more. The things you learn combine and shed light on each other.
But when you listen incorrectly, when you can’t learn new things, when you can’t discover that you’re wrong, (because you’re listening in such a way so as to prevent that from ever happening)… All of the truth you think you have is like a house of cards that one day is going to collapse. All at once.
Because of how you listen.
This idea makes me think of Francis Bacon.
He thought a lot about truth, and how we come to know it. He thought about it so much that he is known as the father of modern science.
He wasn’t actually a scientist himself. More of an astute observer of things and of people.
In addition to coining the phrase “Knowledge is power” he also wrote the following about how we listen.
“The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion … draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects.”
That’s a way of saying “Pay attention to how you listen.”
The biggest contribution Francis Bacon made to the world is that he rejected the authorized way of being right at the time, which was memorizing and regurgitating whatever authorities like Aristotle taught.
The essence of his philosophy is induction: instead of deducing the truth from authorities, scientists should build from the ground up. Gather facts. Measure things. Collect and organize evidence, then build a hypothesis to explain them. Then test all hypotheses against the facts.
Bacon was convinced this method would provide a more certain path to truth, and would issue in a golden age of discovery. Which it did!
Countless things that were hidden have been disclosed. In large part because Francis Bacon decided to pay attention to how he listened to the world.
Francis Bacon revolutionized the way that we listen to the world around us, the way that we notice truth. Specifically observational truth.
How to Listen
So how do we go about listening for truth? We are listening all the time. Sometimes closer than others, but unless we are plugging our ears, we are listening. What are some other things that we listen to?
We listen to other people, for one.
Some of us are good listeners, and some of us need some work. We listen to people we love and people we hate, people at work and people at home.
We listen to the Bible.
As in, we read it and try to hear what it is saying. We open up to a text like what we are doing today, and we listen to what it has to teach us.
We listen to the news. Or maybe we don’t.
We are listening all the time.
So how can we pay attention to how we are listening?
How can we listen better to all of these?
First, be aware of what you want to hear.
We all tend to hear what we want to, sometimes, don’t we?
So when you listen to other people, be aware that you might just want to hear them say they’re okay, even if they’re not.
Or you might want to hear that you “get it” and understand what they mean, that you know what they’re talking about without having to listen very long.
When you do that, you are listening from what you want to hear.
This doesn’t happen only when we listen to other people.
When you’re listening to the Bible, or listening for God’s voice in prayer, be aware that you might just want to hear that God agrees with everything you think. and want.
If every time you read the Bible or pray you walk away thinking “That’s what I thought too, God” you might need to think about how you are listening.
When you’re listening to the news, be aware that you might want to seek out information from only one source, or only one side, because it makes you feel right. This is one way we control how we listen, by limiting what we are listening to.
So, the first step to thinking about how we listen is being aware of what we want to hear.
Second, listen to actually hear.
One thing that really helps with actually hearing is reflective listening. It’s basically repeating back what you hear someone say.
(So what I hear you saying is that, and then you just say whatever they just said in your own words.)
It sounds like a trick, but it really helps. It helps the person you are listening to feel heard, and it helps you actually hear them because you are making yourself just listen and not respond. If you can’t echo back to someone what they just said, then you aren’t hearing them.
You can also use reflective listening when reading the Bible.
Another name for it is inductive Bible study. That’s where you do what I did with the scripture above, and you just restate what it says, and look for how it fits with what came before it in the previous verses and chapter, and how the following verses and chapter develop it.
Inductive is also the word that Sir Francis Bacon used for his work that changed the world. So it’s like listening to the Bible like a scientist. It helps us listen for what the Bible is actually saying, not only what we want it to say.
So first be aware of what you want to hear, then second, listen to actually hear.
Third, compare the two.
Compare what you wanted to hear with what you actually heard.
If you consistently hear what you want to hear, then you need to pay closer attention to how you listen. Because the world doesn’t work like that.
Jesus just taught us that people who think they have all the answers will soon find out that they have none of them. And that people who have real knowledge will get more and more. So compare the two.
The way you’ll find out if you’re actually listening to God, and the world, and each other, is if you compare the two and then say, “Wow! I was wrong.” (I think adding that wow in there makes it sting a little less.)
That’s the essence of listening to understand.
That’s the essence of science.
And it’s the essence of finding the truth as a Christian.
That’s what Francis Bacon was, by the way. A devout Christian, who developed the scientific method out of his devotion to God, and because of the way he read the Bible.
Wouldn’t it be great if we were all listening that way?
What if we were the most reasonable, rational people in the world? What if following Jesus made us more serious about finding facts and not scared of it? Because it should.
As Christians, we have nothing to fear from observational truth. We have nothing to fear from putting the light on a lamp stand so that everything can be seen. God has made us with eyes to see and ears to hear so we can be seekers of truth. So why don’t we act like it?
What if Christians were the most reasonable, rational people in the world?
That question feels strange to us, because Christians don’t exactly have a reputation for being reasonable and rational people. For lots of reasons, but partly because of how we listen.
People will talk to Christians about their doubts, about their struggles to believe in God, and we rush to what we believe instead of really listening to their concerns. Or scientists comes to us with an amazing new observation and instead of celebrating how intricate God’s world really is, we see science as a competition for faith and fight against it.
We don’t listen.
But what if when people had a problem, or a question, they would say, “We should go talk to the Presbyterians about this”?
What if people knew church as a place to ask hard questions? That we can really listen to one another? That perfect love really does cast out fear, so that there was nothing people couldn’t talk to us about?
And what if that same love meant we loved God so much that we weren’t afraid of any of the facts about the universe that he made?
And we sought them out with telescopes and microscopes?
What if we loved God so much, and loved the truth so much, that we got mad at our own side too, when they twisted it, or ran from it, or ignored it?
What if we were so committed to learning how to listen that we threw out everything we thought we knew and listened, really listened, to the one another, to the people around us, to the Bible, to God?
What if we, as Christians, were the most reasonable, rational people in the world?
About the Author
David Collins is the co-pastor of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find him on Twitter @davidrcollins