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The Act of Listening

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

As a children’s ministry leader and mother of three, one of my many passions is to teach children the act of listening to God! Children aren’t born knowing how to listen, they have to be taught. You might say, “Of course they can listen—as long as they can hear, right?” Well, hearing and listening are two different things. Any parent would agree to that. Hearing is the process of perceiving sound–that includes that mechanics of your ear that make it possible to hear. Listening however is very different. We must define what listening actually is. Miriam Websters Dictionary states that to listen, is to:

  1. pay attention to sound

  2. to hear something with thoughtful attention; give consideration

  3. to be alert to catch an expected sound

I want to focus on the second definition of listening.

To Hear Something With Thoughtful Attention

Do you ever try to share something really important with your kids, only to realize they are staring at you with blank faces while they daydream about their nerf guns, video games, or barbies? As a parent or teacher of children, we’ve all been there. We’ve experienced the disappointment that goes along with a class that just won’t listen. They aren’t giving thoughtful attention to the words coming out of your mouth. Maybe they don’t see the importance of the things you’re saying, so they feel that if they miss something it won’t be a big deal.

Whatever they case may be, you know they are missing something very important!

Missing the Important Stuff

Ever think about how that relates to our relationship with God? Do we miss some really important stuff God is trying to speak to us simply because we are not actually listening? I think so. We get distracted these days just as easily as the kids do. Between juggling a household, job, kids activities, ministry, and a million other time eaters (Facebook, YouTube, social media, Netflix, etc.), we have a hard time paying attention when God speaks.

God probably gets frustrated with us, just like we do when ‘little Joey’ answers every question about God with a description of his latest game. We know their eternal life depends on the very message we are sharing, but they don’t. I believe that the Holy Spirit is constantly speaking God’s words to us, but we, like ‘little Joey’, are too busy in our mind with other things to really pay attention. We don’t even realize the treasures we are missing.

Learning How To Listen

I can honestly say that I’ve always been blessed with the gift of listening. Whether it was to an adult, peer, or to God. Most likely I wasn’t born with this gift, it was something I learned from my surroundings. I was a shy girl who learned through trial and error that it was better to observe and listen before speaking. It helped me see the bigger picture of my surroundings, and how to approach people in a more compassionate way.

I gave my life to Jesus when I was five years old, and I will never forget the day. I had a true desire to hear God, and so it helped me take the time to actually listen to Him. His Spirit would help guide me in my decision making. I made a lot of mistakes in life, but I know without His guidance I would’ve made a lot more. He kept me, led me, comforted me, and strengthened me.

Something I have learned over the years is that the more I would listen to Him, the better I became at listening! It took time to become a really good listener. I had to practice by actually giving my attention to Him.

Teaching Kids How to Listen

One of my cousins was born deaf, and yet she was a very good listener! She learned at an early age to pay attention to everything. Sign language was the way she learned to communicate. The first thing she had to learn was that was necessary for her to give her complete attention to the person speaking. She couldn’t look away, or close her eyes and daydream. Watching attentively, she would be able to understand what the person was trying to communicate.

Paying Attention and Self-Control

Teaching kids how to listen should start with being able to pay attention and self-control. When my kids were in preschool, every once in a while I would put an M&M on the table and tell them that they were not allowed to touch it unless mommy gave them permission. They were also not allowed to ask for it. It seems cruel, but I wanted them to learn self-control.

At first they would sit there and stare at it, until I decided to let them have it. Eventually, they would learn that they could go play and do other things while they waited for the exciting moment when mom said they could have it.

Every once in a while, one of my children would sneak it when they thought I wasn’t paying attention. Well, on those days I would give an extra M&M to the ones who were obedient and waited patiently. Needless to say, that didn’t happen very often.

Our World Isn’t Made For Listening

Sadly though, we live in a world where kids are not always taught self-control, patience, obedience, or listening skills. To top it off, our digital world has made kids trained the opposite way. They think everything is instantaneous, which makes waiting patiently that much harder to do. Now, imagine telling them to wait on God in the quiet. To them that’s like asking for the impossible. It doesn’t come naturally it has to be taught, and yet we live in a world designed to make this process harder.

Make Listening to God FUN!

One of the things that God put on my heart as a children’s ministry leader was that the kids need to Hear God’s Voice; to distinguish His from all others. But how? Over the years, God has shown me ways to help kids learn the skills of listening and hearing God’s voice through fun games. We teach them the skills of listening in a game and have them learn how to apply it in ministry.

This experiential based learning has really helped our children learn to have ears to recognize God’s voice. They learn to sit and be still, and move around and have fun, all while listening to God. My goal has always been to help them develop the listening skills and the discernment they need to grow in relationship with the Lord.

If you are looking for a great series of children’s church curriculum that teaches kids to listen to God’s voice, check out Prophecy: Made to Listen. It is just one of the curriculum’s we have used to teach kids to listen to God in a fun and experiential way.


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