For such a soft-spoken woman, the influence of Sterling O’Neill runs deep. Her work for the NextGen Gatherings is to equip us as mentor/facilitators which a special focus on learning to listen well and wisely.

She has, of late, helped to give me yet another way to think about pastoral ministry. I am starting to believe that my primary calling as a minister of the Gospel is not to proclaim, but to listen.

Matthew 13 is a fun chapter for those of us who love to teach the Bible. It forms a hinge for the entire Gospel. It is characterized by eight parables. Jesus begins seven of those parables with the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is like.”

But right before the “kingdom of heaven” parables, Jesus must explain to his disciples why he goes around teaching about such a wondrous thing using earthly stories. Jesus’ response is to quote what God told the prophet Isaiah many centuries before.

‘“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.’

We should each be open to the idea that Jesus is speaking about us when he says what he is doing so that “this people” can understand the kingdom of the heavens. We each have a difficult time with listening. Leaders especially have difficulty listening.

I’m reminded of Dallas Willard’s rendering of the phrase as “the kingdom of the heavens.” Jesus uses that phrase in Matthew so that we can see (and hear) that his kingdom is surrounding us. Our great need is to know what we are listening for.

Isn’t it wonderful that Jesus tells simple and beautiful stories so that our ears can be opened?

What else is imploring you to listen for as you go about your daily ministry?

The skills I’ve gleaned from Sterling to equip well for the NextGen apply to all areas of ministry. I encourage us to begin to think well and wisely about listening and then learn how to put into practice the things Jesus teaches us as we become those who see and hear…well.