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God-Like Listening

Dale Johnson: What a joy it is for me to have this week on the podcast Dr. Robert Jones who is a professor of biblical counseling at the Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He’s an author that many of you are familiar with. He has written a recent book with Rob Green and Kristin Kellen that was just released called The Gospel for Disordered Lives: [1] An Introduction to Christ-Centered Counseling. Dr. Jones, it’s so great to have you here with me and to talk about this important subject of listening and listening in a God-like way. Thank you brother for joining me. 

Robert Jones: Glad to be here. 

Dale Johnson: Now this topic of listening is certainly familiar with counselors of all stripes in all spaces. It’s a topic that we speak about quite a bit. It’s interesting to me, particularly for biblical counselors, we love to talk about this idea of listening, and as a seasoned counselor, it’s interesting to me that you’ve revisited this idea. We talk about it a lot, but you’re focusing us in a direction of God-like listening. I love that direction. It tunes our ears in a different way. I want to ask you a couple of questions about this as we explore a topic that you’ve taught about. So what led you to address this particular topic of listening in counseling? 

Robert Jones: You know, years ago, Dale, I was a young pastor and I did a massive study about listening. I looked up every verse in Scripture with computer help to talk about “ears” and “hear” and “listen” and those kinds of words, and I was just amazed at how much the Scriptures taught about. That was before I was as heavily into counseling as I’ve been since then. Then since then, of course, I’ve done a lot of counseling and I just see the need for us to continue to focus on that. Particularly I think, as you and I would know, Dale, that our movement has sometimes been criticized as not being good listeners. I just wanted to give some greater emphasis on that again. 

Dale Johnson: I think that’s great, and this is something we need to constantly be visiting. I think, even as you warned in that statement, it’s easy for us to sort of get in a rut in the way in which we counsel. We think, “Oh I’ve heard anxiety and this issue a thousand times” and we just start speaking. We need to slow down and revisit and I think that’s wise. I want to also commend all of you as counselors. It’s a good thing for you to do exactly what Dr. Jones did. He wanted to sit down and study the Word to listen to hear what God had to say on this subject. We hear lots of people talk about lots of different subjects. I want to encourage you as a counselor, you need to pause your life at times and just hear what God says about a particular subject. I think that’s great. Now, from that study, Dr. Jones, what were some of the lessons from Scripture that most impacted you from it? 

Robert Jones: Let me echo one thought there that you just said and that is, what distinguishes biblical counseling from so many other forms of, you know, “christian counseling” is our intense desire to want to know what Scripture teaches. So as I dug into God’s Word, one of the first things that really jumped off the screen for me, Dale, was the way that God is a listener. Even particularly the first thing I began to see is how God listens to God, even within the Trinity. So you read in John 14, 15, 16, around there, and you just learn that the Father listens to the Son, the Son listens to the Father, the Holy Spirit listens to the Father and Son. It’s a very God-like thing to do. Then of course we moved into the rest of the Scripture where God is a listener to us. 

Dale Johnson: As you talk about God-like listening, it’s one thing to talk about this in the nature of the Trinity and it being exemplified even by God himself, but now bring something like that into the counseling room. So what would God-like listening actually look like in a counseling session? 

Robert Jones: Well, for me it begins with an intentionality that when I’m sitting down with that person, I’m very conscious of the fact that I have been listened to by the God of all Grace and so I have that model in my mind. I also have the model in which He is one who has called me to be a good listener, and so I think it really begins with an intentionality that I’m here to listen well to this person. When you begin to think about what that looks like more particularly, I’ve tended to break that down into the categories of listening actively and attentively. That’s sort of one of the major takeaways from that Bible study, by the way. The other one is, I would say, learning to listen in a caring compassionate way, inclining and asking God to give me a heart that really understands and weeps with those who weep and rejoices with those who rejoice. 

Dale Johnson: As we think about listening even more so, as I mentioned earlier, lots of counselors from all different stripes focus on this idea of listening and it’s a critical skill, certainly, that we learn. The Bible promotes it, so it’s especially important for us as biblical counselors. Secular researchers have made some helpful observations when it comes to effective listening, how to listen well, certain things to pay attention to. You know, Active listening is talked about quite a bit. So what do we as biblical counselors bring to the table that those secular researchers can’t bring? 

Robert Jones: I think it’s that sense of, God is present in this room. There’s a real sense in which it is the Spirit of God who’s the active agent in that room, and I’m trying to represent the Spirit of God as I’m trying to listen well to what the person is saying. I think the motivation and the presence of God just makes it totally different. As you pointed out, I think there are good observations that you get in the field, what they would call the field of micro-skills. There are a lot of books out there, and some of them can be very helpful in terms of just some of the observations they make and things like that, and some of its just common sense that we don’t even think about, but I really do find that Christ-centered motivation is what’s going to distinguish us from all those many secular books. 

Dale Johnson: Now as a seasoned counselor, and you’ve been doing this for many, many years, I want to throw out one additional question I think might be helpful for those who are listening, who maybe are at the beginning of their time learning how to counsel. They’re novices at counseling. How do you think you listen differently now after years of experience, some of the things the Lord has taught you? What are some ways that you’ve improved along the way at how you listen and pay attention to your counselees? 

Robert Jones: I think early on, as I studied the Scriptures, I saw the categories and began to understand what the Bible teaches about anxiety or about adultery and things like that. Probably what’s shifted more, Dale, in more recent years has been a recognition that I don’t counsel a worrier, I counsel Jill who struggles with worry. I don’t counsel an adulterer, I counsel Tom who committed adultery. It’s just understanding how the Scripture speaks into the individual world. So we’re starting with Bible categories and we’re letting the Bible drive all our thinking, but we’re recognizing that what’s coming out in Jill or Tom or whoever is specifics and peculiarities in their life that need the Bible to be tailored well, and that’s only going to come when I listen well and effectively enter their world. 

Dale Johnson: All right, so we’ve talked about secular research and things that can be helpful, but there’s definitely something distinct and different in the way that we as biblical counselors hear and listen to passages of Scripture that are very encouraging. So as you work through this study, were there any particular key passages that just, you know, sort of lept off the page? That happens to us when we study and we see things at particular times that the Lord just makes very meaningful to our ministry. Are there any passages like that that lept off the page at you?

Robert Jones: Some of those examples of how God listens to his people—one that just jumped off for me is the story of the Exodus. When we think of Exodus, we might think of the splitting of the Red Sea and all that, but it didn’t really begin there. It didn’t begin with the ten plagues. It didn’t begin with Aaron’s rod doing things that the magicians couldn’t do. It didn’t even begin with a burning bush. It actually began at the end of Exodus 2 where it says, “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.” Then Exodus 2:24, “God heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” That’s where the Exodus begins. It begins with the ears of God who hears His people in their suffering and makes this commitment to pursue the redemptive story. You go on to Exodus 3 and the same thing is happening again where God meets with Moses and explains to Moses exactly what He’s up to and how God came down and heard His people. So, that has just been almost a visual model in my mind of God coming down and listening to His people and bringing the redemptive work, culminating for us, of course, brother, in Jesus Christ. 

Dale Johnson: Well, even as you talk about that, I’m just so encouraged as a counselor that we can be encouraged by the way in which God hears, and we can bring our request—Even as counselees are burdened, they’re heavy laden with issues, not only are we trying to listen to what they’re saying, but we can help them and encourage them that God is a God who hears. He listens to us and we can bring our cares and concerns before Him 

Robert Jones: Sprinkling all throughout the Psalms too, of course. We could go all over the place. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, that’s exactly right. He’s not afraid to hear our cries. That’s exactly right. Now, before I let you go, I want to ask you about this new book that I mentioned at the beginning that I think would be helpful. I’ll remind you again, The Gospel for Disordered Lives. It’s an introduction to Christ-centered counseling. 

Robert Jones: Christ-centered biblical counseling.

Dale Johnson: Christ-centered biblical counseling. I mentioned a couple of co-authors with you. The one thing that was really great to me is you certainly revisit some of the basics for us and we always need to revisit that. That’s not just for novices. We all need to revisit those basics. But even toward the end of the book, you guys go into great detail about so many issues that we see in the counseling room and learning how to put some of those basics to practice, certainly listening being a part of that. Talk for just a second about that book, sort of how it came about and the direction you guys tried to take it. 

Robert Jones: Well, all three of us are professors and teaching and we wanted something that could be a one book introduction, truly an introduction. So yes, it does begin with some basics about biblical-theological things and then we move into a middle section on methodology, and then the last section, which is almost half the book, 20 of the 40 chapters, just short chapters on a whole bunch of topics. So we just wanted to give everyone at least some basic biblical categories and biblical resources on anxiety, anger, depression, just the typical stuff that we run into in counseling.

Dale Johnson: Well Dr. Jones, I pray that this book goes well. I’m excited that it’s out. I do think a healthy introduction is something that’s going to be really helpful to so many for somebody who teaches in a seminary. I think this is going to be something that’s useful and so hopefully you all will pick it up as well. Thank you so much for being with us and helping us to revisit this very important topic that sometimes gets overlooked, this issue of listening. So thank you.


Helpful Resources

Godlike Listening- Improving Our Listening Skills in Counseling [2] by Robert Jones