Hearing with New Ears

by Stephen Trout

Have you ever considered that, like your eyes and mouth (see Lk. 6:45), your ears have a wireless connection to your heart?

Sound strange? It’s true.

In fact, your “heart” – which scripture describes as the center of your being, comprising your thoughts, will, and emotions (see Mt.9:4, Acts 11:23, Jn. 16:22) – directly influences how well you’ll listen. 

We’ll dive into that and its ministry implications in a moment; first we must acknowledge an obvious fact: we live in a world with a lot of sounds to hear. (Take a moment to notice the sounds around you right now). 

From instant music and video streaming to social media platforms and 24-hour cable news, the options are endless. We even have headphones to feed them directly into our ears, and noise-cancel everything else.

With so much to hear, you might assume we’ve got this listening thing down.

Yet as Jackie Knapp writes:

“It is amazingly hard to really listen to people. It is increasingly harder as we’re more plugged into mobile devices. We must put them down and focus on the human in front of us. The discipline of listening requires patience and learning to ask questions, so that people feel free to be honest without feeling condemned.”

For some, breaking free of their virtual “stream of consciousness” and steady consuming of media to listen closely to another person – with undivided attention – can feel like stopping an addiction. And it may be exactly that. 

Or, perhaps we can find ourselves distracted by what we’d like to say next, our latest hobby, or our plans for the weekend. 

Yet tuning into someone else’s story – carefully, with receptive ears, eyes, and heart – is a necessity for wholistic “data gathering” about another person. 

So how do we become better listeners?   

As with all true movements of love, “heart-listening” is always more than just “going through the motions”, pretending to be attentive while your mind is elsewhere.  

Real heartfelt or heart-engaged listening happens with a heart first connected to (or reenergized by) the Gospel. 

Three points (call them “trees”) can help us:

1. First, identify the idol that is blocking your listening. Picture a thornbush.

A helpful tip here is to look for the “sin underneath the sin.” In other words, not just the action (thorn), but the heart root underneath it. 

Since we know the heart is always worshipping (Rom. 1), we can ask about the object. What “must-have” has captured the heart and is blocking love? 

For example: craving entertainment as a way of escape can have us looking past a person at a television. Instead of saying we were just “distracted by a show,” we can ask why that need was so important. What did we want at that moment? To avoid conflict? Be soothed? These are pseudo-idols, looking for peace in things rather than God himself. 

Other idols can include workaholism (because success trumps people); pride (we’d rather not be challenged); etc.

Seeing the “sin beneath the sin” helps us name the root problem which is producing thorns. 

2. Turn to the 2nd tree – the cross. See Jesus there, giving himself for you.

When we turn to the cross to confess our idols, we see Jesus enduring the silence of not hearing his beloved Father’s voice: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:45)

Why did he choose the silence of God? So that you and I might be eternally heard, forgiven, and loved.

3. See the 3rd tree – a fruit tree producing specific fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control)

As we repent, a fresh application of forgiveness and acceptance (not that it was ever absent, but we receive its promise) brings gratitude.

This is how fruit is produced by the Spirit. (Note how different this is from “Just do it,” which bypasses the diagnosis and cross-transaction brought by the “3 trees.”

A new humility to love – and listen well –  is formed in a changed heart – an indispensable requirement for ministering to another person.

So there it is: your ears are always connected to your heart! 

May God give us the grace to see those connections and repent of our idols, so that we might become better listeners and lovers of others!

*Note: I owe the “3 trees” analogy and diagnostic tool to my former teacher, David Powlison of CCEF, who went home to see his Lord in 2019. He was a gift to both the church and the counseling world, and one for whom I and many others will be eternally grateful. 


Seeing with New Eyes

by Stephen Trout

It’s an odd (and humbling) thing to wake up and realize that the glasses you’ve relied on to see are suddenly blurry.

Yesterday, they worked just fine; overnight, the darn things seem to have lost their focus.   

It’s an apt comparison to the eyes of our hearts.  

In fact, the need for clear “heart sight” is a central prayer throughout Scripture:

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Ps. 119:18). 


“… remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…” (Eph. 1:16-18)

Seeing with new “heart eyes” is both a gift and a multi-faceted reality. It includes having:

  • our imaginations engaged and purified (Genesis 6:5)
  • our understanding submitted to His Word (Prov. 3)
  • our thinking transformed (Matt. 15:19)
  • our faith redirected (Romans 10:9)
  • and our loves rightly ordered (1 Peter 1:22). 

And though we might have expected a list of “how-tos,” the “Spirit of wisdom” accomplishes all this by focusing our vision on a Person

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 1:30, 31)

Note how this leads not to a puffed up or arrogant spirit, but actually produces less boasting in self, and more in him!

Why do we take the time to remember these things?

The main answer to this, of course, is that he alone is worthy of our heart’s worship. He is good, exchanging blindness for sight, and a vision for love where there was none. 

But we might also consider these two, common challenges: storms and headlines.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you about storms. As the rains hit and we’re taking on water, our vision for life and ministry can begin to blur. We may even lose hope, feeling that Jesus is asleep in the boat!   

God knows, that is why the prayer is so central: Faith and rest in the finished work of Christ are the daily “spectacles” (faith) we all need to see clearly. Yet the good news is that even when our vision does get blurry, he continues to see us clearly:

“The eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” Ps. 33:18

In addition, wisdom and renewed vision help us make more sense of the headlines. Like the sons of Issachar, we must learn to “understand the times” (1 Chron. 12:32) – even if the story’s details aren’t clear. 

But perhaps you will respond, “What do you mean, ‘understand the times’? There’s nothing new under the sun!” 

True enough. But sometimes, when this greater clarity comes, we realize that our old ways of interacting maybe weren’t the best after all.

New Ways of Interacting

Consider a case in point: 

One popular view of ministering to people is to first show them their sins, so that they will hopefully see their need for Christ. Essentially, the starting place is Genesis 3 – the Fall of man into sin. 

The classic tool for this is the “Roman’s Road” approach of scripture sharing. You may have even memorized the verses (good for you if so!)

Typically, the first step onto the road is to say something like this: “Do you admit that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God”? (Romans 3:23).

But let’s pause for a second: is that always the best first step? Besides the fact that your friend may not even have a clear understanding of “sin,” we might in fact be sending a moralistic message that they are merely “sin on two legs” (as someone put it), and nothing more.

Don’t get me wrong – our indwelling sin is indeed our greatest problem. Our greatest need therefore is to be forgiven, “justified by his grace, through the redemption that comes by Christ Jesus” which brings us into right relationship with God (3:24). (Note how Jesus actually demonstrates this with the paralyzed man, Lk. 5). 

This goes deeper than our concerns about poor self-image, broken relationships, or woundedness. 

Of course, those things certainly matter. But they’re the results of sin’s entrance into the world; the root cause being turning from worshipping God to ourselves and creation (Rom. 1).

(We hasten to add that abuse especially may not be the result of our own sin, but the sins of others against us. This is important to stress, for no one asks for abuse – though they can sometimes feel as if they did. Responding with compassion is critical to help them see a loving God; One who knows what it is to be abused and who intimately and emotionally involves himself with our pain).

But what if our starting point instead was Genesis 1 – where Scripture starts?

Here we see that every person – whether they know God or not – is made in his image, possessing inherent dignity and an honored place in God’s creation.

So what might we see if we aim for dignity first, instead of trying to convince someone of sin (which can come later by confessing our own!)? 

I want to suggest that this can lead to four things, at least:

1. Finding common ground. 

Rather than assuming a defensive posture where we “lob grenades over the wall” at all the ways an unbeliever is wrong, we can realize and affirm our common ground with them. 

For instance, our shared dignity as image-bearers will translate into both of us reflecting God’s heart in some way – maybe a passion for justice, or artistic creativity.

As John Calvin put it: “the mind of man, though fallen and perverted from its wholeness, is nevertheless clothed and ornamented with God’s excellent gifts…” 

They themselves may not acknowledge where these things come from, but we can certainly express our appreciation when we see them. And since everyone longs to be valued, our enjoyment of them will help build relational currency and trust, rather than immediately creating a spirit of opposition.

2. Being quick to listen, slow to speak.

We are called to this as believers, but it’s an area where often fail because we like to hear ourselves talk. We might tell ourselves it’s about righteousness, but usually a pride thing, this needing to be right, and approved.

In contrast, when someone feels heard, they will (again) feel valued, noting that someone took the time to listen carefully, see them more clearly, and not assume things about them.   

3. Asking questions, graciously. 

When we do open our mouths to speak, what if we began by asking some clarifying “get to know you better” questions? 

This too is a gracious way to build relationship, demonstrating the humility of wanting to understand, and that we’re more interested in them than being right, or heard. 

 4. Serving in love. 

This should really be #1, though it is actually a part of each point. 

We don’t listen and ask questions so that we might now set about fixing another person.

What if, instead, our main intent was to empathize; to comfort? 

Maybe we could pray with them – the very act of which demonstrates that we aren’t “the Fixer.” In truth, we’re both needy for grace, and can cry out together to the God who hears and is “close to the broken-hearted” – who alone can rescue and save. 

This shows them too that we’re not the Holy Spirt, who alone can convict. No one wants to know how much you know – until they see how much you care.

Our hope and prayer in mentioning these four things is that we’ll see others more clearly, with a “renewed mind” and heart that will help shape our ministry focus. 

If so, your writing, preaching, teaching, and website content will be more graciously informed, with the stronger, more pleasing aroma of Christ as a result. 

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