Jonah 3: 1 – 5, 10 The Art of Listening   January 24, 2021


The Art of Listening

Jonah 3: 1 – 5, 10


(preached on January 24, 2021)


In our passage for today from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find two examples of good listening. First, Jonah listens to what God is calling him to do.  Second, the people of Nineveh listen to Jonah.  In both cases, when people listen well, they become more in tune with the loving ways of God.


If you know the story of Jonah, you know that Jonah did not always listen well.  In fact, the first time God calls him, Jonah does the exact opposite of what God is calling him to do.  God calls Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and warn the people to renounce their evil actions and follow in God’s ways.  But Jonah goes in the exact opposite direction from Nineveh, to Tarshish.  He boards a ship, but a great storm comes up.  He lands in the sea.  Swallowed by a big fish, he calls upon God to help him.  He appeals to God for help, and at God’s command, the fish spews Jonah up on dry land.  The next time God calls, Jonah listens.  He prophesies to the people of Nineveh.  They listen to him and turn from their evil ways.


Jonah listens; the people listen.  It might seem that listening is a very ordinary, easy activity.  But listening, listening well, doesn’t come naturally to everyone.  A man discovered this one day when he paid a visit to his doctor.  The man’s name was Joel Harris.  He was the producer of the Thornton Wilder play Our Town and number of other plays.  Harris had gone to this doctor because he was convinced he was losing his hearing.  After giving Harris a thorough check-up, the doctor pulled out a gold watch and asked, “Can you hear this ticking?”


“Of course,” Harris replied.  The doctor took a few steps back and held up the watch again.  “Can you hear it now?”


Harris concentrated for a minute.  Then he answered, “Yes, I can hear it clearly.”  The doctor took a few more steps back and asked once more, “Can you hear it now?”


Harris answered, “Yes.”


At that point the doctor put his watch away and said, “Mr. Harris, there is nothing wrong with your hearing.  You just don’t listen.”


You just don’t listen.  How often do we hear that complaint?  We hear it from teachers to students, parents to children, wives to husbands.  You just don’t listen.  Whether we’re old or young, married or single, city dwellers or country folks, we don’t listen.  We don’t listen well.  We don’t do the kind of listening that leads to healthy, trusting relationships.


Sometimes we don’t listen well because we’re distracted.  We might be thinking about what to make for dinner or how we’re going to get the car fixed.  Or, instead of really listening, we’re hearing what we expect the other person to say.  We’re thinking about what we might say in response.

I think one of the biggest reasons we don’t listen well is that listening feels passive to us.  When we listen well, we simply sit still and give our attention to another person.  We might feel as if we’re not accomplishing anything.  That might make us uncomfortable.


We like to be people of action.  We take pride in solving problems, accomplishing goals.  Listening, really paying attention, feels passive.  But while it may feel passive, good listening is active.  Good listening does accomplish a goal: the goal of a healthy, trusting relationship.


One father got some help learning to listen from his young daughter.  The father was Charles Swindoll, a busy pastor.  Swindoll describes his hectic life, “I remember some time back, being caught up in the undertow of too many commitments in too few days.  It wasn’t long before I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at unexpected interruptions through the day.  Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style.  It was becoming unbearable.”


Swindoll goes on, “I distinctly remember after supper one evening the words of our

younger daughter, Colleen.  She wanted to tell me about something important that had happened to her at school that day.  She began in a big hurry, ‘Daddy-I-want-to-tell-you-somethin-and-I’ll-tell-you-really-fast.’”


Swindoll saw her frustration.  He said, “Honey, you can tell me…and you don’t have to tell me really fast.  Say it slowly.”


He remembers, “I’ll never forget her answer.  She said, ‘Then listen slowly.’”


When we listen well, it may feel passive.  It may feel as if we’re not accomplishing anything.  But good listening isn’t passive; it’s active.  And active listening is an art.  Like any art, active listening takes practice.  It doesn’t happen by magic, or good intentions, or wishful thinking.  You learn the art of listening the way you learn anything: practice.  You practice listening to your friends, your children, your spouse.  You practice focusing your attention on what they’re actually saying, not what you might say in response.


The art of listening is an art that can bring healing.  People who work with members of the military returning from war zones know how important it is to listen well.  They often say that when someone is tormented by memories of a horrific event, it helps them to talk to an attentive listener.  It helps to tell the story again.  If they are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they may need to tell the story many times, before they begin to heal from the trauma.  Being able to put the traumatic experience into words, in the presence of a good listener, can help them come to terms with their trauma, and begin to put it behind them.


Jonah the prophet listened to God.  The people of Nineveh listened to Jonah.  Because they listened, they became more in tune with God’s loving ways.  Listening is an art, an art that can strengthen relationships, an art that can bring healing.  It doesn’t happen by magic, or good intentions, or wishful thinking.  Like any art, it takes practice.


So this week, I’d like you to try something.  Practice listening, really listening.  Sometime this week, when you’re in a conversation with your spouse, or your friend, or your child, try really listening to them.  Try to focus on what they are saying, not on what you’re expecting them to say.  Listen without planning what you’re going to say in response.  Practice the art of listening.  It will make your relationships stronger and more trusting.  It will bring your life more in tune with God’s loving ways.



“Gesu Bambino” Pietro Yon

Maria Ferrante, Soprano           

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist










Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Epiphany 3