The Twelve wanted to know why Jesus taught in parables. Their query followed his teaching commonly known as the Parable of the Sower (see Matthew 13:1-23; mark 4: 1-20; and Luke 8: 4-15). Over the years analysis of the various texts have renamed the lesson the Parable of the Soils. It is laced with profound truth about the authority and sufficiency of the Word of God that is sown and the types of heart prepared to receive it. In it's largest context, however, it is instruction about perception, that is, the ability to understand by seeing and hearing. That is perhaps why the follow-up verses to the parable are so significant. What and how we hear are central to his teaching in each Gospel.
This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they
do not hear, not do they understand. Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is
fulfilled that says: You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but
never perceive. For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely
hear and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with
their ears and understand with their heart and turn and I would heal them.
Matthew 13: 13-15, ESV
And he said to them, Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use it will be
measured to you, and still more will be added to you.
Mark 4: 24-25, ESV
Take care then how you hear, for the one who has, more will be given, and from the one
who has not, even what he thinks he has will be taken away.
Luke 8: 18, ESV
The immediate context of Christ's teaching addresses human listening to the Word of God, his teaching, and spiritual truth. The promise is that listening and hearing with care will open our hearts to additional spiritual truth. Poor listening with little care to what we hear and how we hear it will reveal the shallowness of what we think we have stored in the treasure of our heart to the point that it makes little sense in living the life God planned for us. Listening is portrayed as a significant spiritual discipline that opens the door for additional learning.
In some ways superficial listening is an outcome of our exponential times. The complexity and velocity of our connected world has created levels of distraction few of us could have imagined just a few years ago. We are device driven multi-taskers who communicate with an uh-huh, shrug, nod, wink, or shake of the head. It's not odd to hear someone say "text me" when asked for a few moments to share a few words.
Even more, and this is a hard one, our ability to listen is often hindered by value considerations. That is, the significance of what is being said to us, or by whom it is being spoken, is weighed of little import in our measure of the moment. This is sadly a relational reality of these times in families, work places, across the back fence, and even at church. Few of us like to be interrupted.
So, how can to-do list people always on the move become more careful in the discipline of listening? In my experience, the "one another" passages of the New Testament have been a central learning point in overcoming poor listening. Careful listening involves---
1. The recognition that I should consider others more important than myself.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more
significant than yourselves.
Philippians 2:3, ESV
2. The truth that my listening may encourage another person.
...encourage one another...
Romans 14:19; 15:14; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13;
3. The reality that I don't know everything and may be taught by someone.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all
Colossians 3:16, ESV
4. Even when the timing is bad I should at least tolerate an interruption.
...with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one
another in love.
Ephesians 4:2, ESV
There are, as usual, many other Scriptures that can teach us the value and entry points for becoming careful listeners. But, these few from the fifty-nine "one another" passages have given me clear direction about being a better, more deliberate listener in the largest people group of my personal circle---fellow believers. Perhaps these will be a great starting place for you as well.