RPS #53 — Is Listening to the Bible on Audio Cheating?

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Have you ever felt guilty for listening to the Bible instead of reading it? In this episode, I try and answer whether or not it’s “cheating” to listen to the Bible on audio instead of reading it. We discuss the advantages and disadvantages of different modalities of Bible consumption. And at the end I share some of my picks for the best way to listen to God’s Word on audio.


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Time Stamps

00:00:00 Introduction
00:01:40 Is listening to the Bible on audio “cheating”?
00:03:40 Where does this question come from?
00:07:12 Reading the Bible at difference speeds
00:11:01 Listening to the Bible is the historic norm.
00:14:11 Dangers of listening to the Bible on audio.
00:16:31 Make sure you’are actually listening.
00:19:02 Only reading the Bible because you feel like you have to
00:21:22 Advantages to listening to the Bible.
00:23:21 The Bible is a book for life.
00:25:50 Ways to listen to the Bible.
00:27:52 Conclusion


Welcome to another episode of the Redeeming Productivity Show.

This is the podcast that helps Christians get more done and get it done like Christians. And I’m your host Reagan Rose.

Well, guys, we have a excellent episode for you today. What are you talking about? The subject of listening to the Bible? So audio Bibles, when we talk about apps, we’re going to talk about audio books, websites, that kind of thing. But actually the main thing I want to dwell on is the question of, is it okay to listen to audio books, audio Bibles? Is it okay to, uh, to listen to the Bible instead of reading it? Is it cheating before we get into that?

I also just want to let you know that at the end of this episode, there’s going to be a little bit extra, a little bit of a Patreon exclusive. So if you are one of my Patreon supporters, there’ll be an extended clip from this episode that only you can hear. And if you’re not one of my Patreon supporters, consider signing up, it’s just patreon.com/redeemingprod. And for a few bucks a month, you get access to an exclusive feed. I’m trying to share more and more there. I actually have some goodies coming up soon. I’m gonna upgrade what I’m doing on Patreon and yeah, it also just helps support the show. So if you liked the show, you want to help me keep going, please check out my Patreon. And thank you to my Patreon supporters. You guys are the best, keep up the good work.

So, is listening to audio Bibles cheating? And I think that a lot of you—I’ve, I’ve actually kind of run this by a few people and asked them if they knew what I meant by asking that question. So I asked my wife, I said, “if I ask you if listening to the Bible on audio is cheating, do you know what I mean?“ She said, “yeah, I know what you mean.“ You kind of have the sense that you should be reading the Bible with your old hose, with your eyes. And if you don’t, then your kind of cheating yourself out of studying the Word of God…or something like that.

In fact, I think this is something a lot of people think about audio books or books on tape in general is that it’s not quite the same. I remember talking to, somebody was asking—this was years and years ago—they were asking for recommendation for where to get a good copy of an old book. And it was a specific title. And I linked to them that, “Hey, there’s actually an audio version of this on sale right now.“ And they came—I was trying to be helpful—but they came back and they actually mocked me. They said, “ah, no, I actually want to read the book.“ And I was like, “okay, okay dude, fine. Don’t take my recommendation.“

But I do think that that’s indicative of this attitude that, uh, to listen to something is not quite as serious or quite as good as to actually read it. And so I want to question that assumption, uh, cause I think that hidden in there, there is some truth, but there also is some confusion about it. And if that’s an issue for people feeling like listening is kind of cheating when compared to reading with your eyes, I think it’s even more true when it comes to the Bible and as we’ll see I think there’s good reasons people think that way, but I also think there’s good reasons to question that assumption.

So as I was kind of researching for this episode I came across a thread on Reddit where somebody asked the following question. I feel like this is just like super representative of the types of thinking that a lot of us have when we think about that, maybe it’d be cheating, quote, unquote, to listen to the Bible.

He says, “so this is likely a dumb issue, but this is something I wrestled with fairly often due to constraints on my time. I’m sometimes unable to read as much of the Bible aside desire. So I will listen to it on my drive to, and from work on occasion. However, I have always had this unexplainable hangup about listening to the Bible versus actually reading it instead of listening to it is cheating and not as helpful. I know that listening to an audio Bible is not the best idea if you’re doing a serious scripture study or even trying to remember exactly what verse and chapter a particular passage is from. But honestly, is there anything wrong with listening to the Bible as much as you read it?“

Great question guy on Reddit!

Where does this question come from? Why, why would we kind of instinctually think listening to the Bible on audio is not as good as reading it with our eyes? Well, I think it comes from a lot of places, you know, probably the result of how we’ve been taught to approach the Bible, um, you know, about studying it, uh, which is good about Scripture memorization about that. We go to Bible studies where it’s very in depth and we’re taught to go very slow. We’re trying to really understand each and every word in each in reverse. And so how you approach the Bible is kind of colored by those things. And again, those are all very good things. Obviously we want to study the Bible. Obviously we want to go deep. Obviously it’s the word of God. So we want to know exactly what every little aspect of it means. But I think some of that has kind of colored our thinking where we think, well, um, you know, if I’m listening to it, I’m not studying it. And I think that that, that part of it is probably mostly true. If you’re listening to the Bible, you’re not, it’s going to be a lot harder for you to study it. You know, you’re going to hit, hit pause a bunch. It’s hard to look up the words. It’s hard to look exactly what verse was, which, you know, there, there are limitations to it. But I think a lot of those limitations are also there. If you just read the Bible, if you just read it, um, you know, like big chunks of it at a time, you’re also not studying it in depth, which is okay. That’s okay. I think you need to do both.

Some of the ways that our Bibles are designed actually kind of makes us think that we really only should be studying them. Uh, so like our traditional Bible, you know, with the two columns, all the cross-references, all the extra stuff, it looks like no other book that you would find is that maybe a dictionary or something, the way that it’s laid out, it doesn’t look like a book. Um, it looks like a reference material. And so I think there are even in that, like these subtle hints that you shouldn’t approach, you shouldn’t read this book, you should, you should study it. It’s, it’s more of a technical book. Um, but you know, more recently in the last, I don’t know, 10 years, the popularity of single column Bibles, or even Bibles you can get that don’t have verse numbers at all and kind of encourage you just to read it and not be stopped every 10 words by a superscript of the verse or with a cross reference, but just to try to take in the Bible as it is, as a book.

Um, so I think that a lot of the, a lot of the hang ups we might have about listening to the Bible would also be equally true of just reading long portions of the Bible. That’s my point there.

But again, I don’t think that we should feel guilty listening to the Bible. I don’t think we should be guilty. We should feel guilty if we’re reading long portions of the Bible and not always studying it in depth. I think you need to approach the Bible at different speeds. Sometimes you go fast. Sometimes you go slow. Sometimes you stay on the surface and you’re just trying to get the larger context. And sometimes you go really, really deep because you really want to understand some technical details. And you need to approach it in all those ways.

Back to the, uh, the question at hand: Is listening to it cheating? Is listening to the Bible cheating? Well, I think one reason we might think that it’s cheating. Um, and probably the same reason that we might think about people who listen to books on tape as a bunch of no good cheaters is because retention. There is this notion that if I listen to it, I’m not retaining the information as good as if I read it with my eyes.

That’s actually, probably per chance-ive-ly, not true.

So there’s actually a 2016 study that was done. Um, and it was led by Beth Rogowsky, uh, who is a associate professor of education at Bloomsburg university. And she wanted to prove or disprove some of her own assumptions about audio learning. Um, and she, she said, even in the abstract to it, or maybe the introduction to the study, she says that, you know, she always had this feeling that listening was cheating because you couldn’t possibly retain the same amount of information by listening than if you read it with your eyes. So she did this study of a bunch of different people who were like 25 to 40 and college educated and just, they, they did this study on retention. They read this book on World War II, it had lots of facts, lots of figures. And at the end of it they quizzed them. And then there was a two week gap and then they quizzed them again. And they had three groups. One would read it with their eyes, one that listened to an audio version, and one that did both at the same time. So both modalities they listened to and read at the same time.

And the results of the study were that there was actually no discernible difference in any of the groups, even the one that you would assume, you know, taking in through two senses, listening and hearing you’d assume all that one’s going to be the best, no discernible difference. And I think that that’s interesting, you know, she even said it in the conclusion of it—you can read the study, I’ll link to it in the show notes—but in conclusion, she said, you know, this may, this was narrative form nonfiction, so right? It was history of World War II. So maybe something to do with the narrative structure helped. Maybe this wouldn’t work as well for technical things or, you know, like a textbook or something, but even still, at least it calls into question some of our instinctual assumptions about audio learning as a format and as it applies to the Bible.

And that led me to think, why is it that we kind of even have this instinct? Why do we think that it’s not going to be as good if I listened to it? I think the main reason we think this is because usually when we’re listening to something we’re multitasking. And so we’re not going to retain the information as well, because we’re not actually listening. I think the same would be true. Um, is if you were reading the Bible and you were also going back and forth and reading a different book at the same time. Like if you had them both open and they just had nothing to do with each other and you’re just flipping back and forth. Of course, you’re going to miss parts of the Bible text and you’re going to skip around, you’re going to, you’re going to, you’re not paying attention. Uh, so I think that’s a big part of it is if you actually listen to the audio, um, it’s not gonna be that big of a difference.

But also something to consider if you’re asking the question, should, uh, should I listen to audio Bibles? Is that wrong? Is it cheating? One thing you should consider is that listening to the Bible historically is the norm, right? It’s a, it’s actually, we live in a very strange time. Uh, historically speaking that we all have easy access to written Bibles and that we’re actually literate that we can read them, um, this for the majority of Christian history. And, and before that was Jewish history, like you, most people did not have their own copy of the Bible. Um, I talked about this some in an episode a long time ago, uh, I think it was the one on the perfect morning devotions plan, but I’ll just rehash some of it briefly, uh, before Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable type printing press you couldn’t, it was hard to get up. You had to have a lot of money to afford, to have a Bible. And even if you did have a Bible if you can’t read it, you couldn’t read it.

So, um, it was pretty normal that the way you consume the Bible was you heard it read to you in church. And this was true also, um, in the synagogues, this is true. Historically someone would read the Bible, you would hear it. You would hear the word of God. And you see this throughout Scripture, you know, um, in the book of Nehemiah, you remember, you know, the rebuilding, the wall around Jerusalem and Ezra is there and he pulls out the Law of God and he reads from early morning until midday. Remember, all the people were crying, they were weeping? Some of them out of joy, some of them out of, “Oh my goodness, we’re hearing the word of God finally again.” It’s this amazing occasion. And then during the Feast of Booths, he, he read for seven days straight from the law of God.

And again, you know, you see that Scripture commands people to hear and learn. Deuteronomy 31:12. You see this all throughout the old Testament. It’s hearing the word of God. Um, Joshua 8:35, Joshua read before all the assembly of Israel. So the way that they heard the word was that it was read to them.

And you see this, of course, in the new Testament as well. Um, in the apostle Paul’s letters he indicates that they’re supposed to be read before the church. It wasn’t, you know, they didn’t get their, uh, you know, their, uh, their Xerox machine and make a copy for everybody. Um, they didn’t have Xerox machines, so they couldn’t do that. But Colossians 4:16, listen to the apostle Paul says, about his letter, he says the intent was that it would be read among you. People needed to hear it. That was the intention.

So this is always been the case, historically our access to physical printed Bibles and our ability to read them is unique. If you look at it historically speaking, um, that doesn’t mean that it’s not good. This is not an anti read the Bible with your eyes podcast, but that would be an interesting, a whole podcast themed, um, about, uh, being against reading the Bible with your eyes. That would be very niche. No, that’s not what this is, but I am saying that trying to shake off some of the unusual illness or the cheety-ness in our thinking about listening to the Bible. It’s okay to listen to the Bible. That’s what the do the church has done for a long, long time. But let me circle back to some of the potential pitfalls of listening to the Bible on audio. And then I’ll give some advice, some different ways to think about when you’re reading through it. And I’ll, I’ll wrap up at the end here with a couple of suggested apps and stuff.

And I’m planning to, Lord willing, produce a little video with a roundup of some of the different apps and some of the different suggestions that many of you gave to me when I asked over the last weekend about how you listen to the Bible. So I ask that on Twitter and I got a ton of responses. It just keeps blowing up. It’s even going right now on my phone as I’m recording this. Lots of good answers, but I tried to distill them down to the ones I think are best. So keep an eye out for that video later this week.

So the Bible audio Bible, what would be some potential pitfalls there of listening? Well, I kind of touched on it earlier, but I think the biggest one is are you paying attention? Um, you might feel like listening to an audio Bible is cheating because you’re cheating because you’re, instead of reading the Bible of your eyes, you’re playing on audio so that you can kind of assuage your guilt at not reading the Bible as closely as you ought to do and just doing something else while it’s playing in the background. You know what I mean? That’s uh, yeah, you should probably feel bad about that, honestly. If instead of reading the Bible with your full attention, you’re saying I’m going to play the Bible in the background while I do something else. I think that’s a problem. I think that is a problem. I think you do need to, if you’re going to listen to the Bible and read the Bible, you should pay attention to it.

There are times maybe additional reading, additional listening that you’ll do that, have it in the background with the understanding that you’re not fully paying attention the whole time. But I just mean if you’re you’re picking one or the other, whether I’m going to read it with my eyes or I’m gonna listen to it, all I’m saying is like for your daily devotions, all I’m saying is if you are going to do the audio version, well, make sure you’re actually listening. Because then it is, is not the same if you’re not.

You know, the Bible is God’s word, right? It’s inspired. It’s breathed out by God. When you read the Bible, it is, it is the very word of God. It is an incredible book, but it is not magical. And what I mean by that is simply having the Bible playing in the background or reading the Bible and not understanding it doesn’t really do anything for you. It doesn’t do anything for you. If it doesn’t penetrate the understanding, then it will not transform the heart and it will not result in actions. So you have to understand it. So that’s another reason why you have to be listening closely. Back to Nehemiah 8:8. It said that they read from the book from the law of God. Clearly they gave the sense so that the people understood the reading. And my pastor, pastor John MacArthur, often says that “the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture.” If you don’t understand what you’re listening to, because you’re not really paying attention, then there really was no point in doing it that, why did you, why were you listening? Why did you have it playing if you weren’t going to listen to it and try to understand it? So that’s just a little warning there about if you’re going to listen to audio Bible, make sure you actually listen to it.

I also think that there’s a consideration here when you’re asking yourself, is it wrong for me to listen to an audio Bible? I do think it’s worth considering the aspect of reverence. Um, multitasking while listening to the Bible, I don’t think is necessarily wrong. Um, you know what I mean? Like cleaning the kitchen and having the Bible on in the background, uh, I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong. Like I said again, I think if you’re, if you’re doing audio to supplement your daily devotions, where you have like a focus time of reading the word, I would try to as much as possible, um, keep that time, uh, you know, kind of sanctified and make sure that you’re actually listening during that. But if the option is okay, I’m going to clean the house and I can either listen to, um, gangster rap or the Bible. I would, I would say, yeah, put the Bible on instead (that’s a false dichotomy). But I mean, if you’re going to be listening to something, my point is, if you’re going to be listening to something, why not have it be the Bible? Why not? Even if you don’t catch every single part of it, some of it will penetrate the understanding. Some of it will sink into your heart. So why not have that in the background? You know what I mean?

The point really is just that in your own, thinking in your heart, just make sure that you’re not treating God’s word lightly. But again, our approach to the Bible, I really don’t think it should be guilt based where we feel like we have to check the box every day. I think it’s, it’s a great discipline to study the Bible every day to read a little bit every day. But that doesn’t mean that you should be doing it simply because you feel like, well, I’ll be a bad Christian if I don’t. Do you know what I mean? That’s a negative motivation. It needs to be from a positive motivation, like, like in Psalm one, one in Psalm 1:1–2, it talks about the blessed man. It says the blessing, man. “His delight is in the law of the Lord on his law. He meditates day and night.” It’s positive. The motivation is I want to hear more of God’s word. I want to hear it on my commute. I want to hear it when I’m out jogging in the neighborhood that, that audio Bibles make that super possible and awesome that you can constantly be meditating and hearing God’s word throughout your day. Um, but your reason for doing that needs to be because I love it because I want to hear from God, not because you think that the more hours of Bible listening you get in the more, um, you know, having the brownie points you get or something like that. Okay. So don’t take it for granted. God is speaking. Whether you read or listen to the word of God, he’s speaking. So take that seriously. But yeah, I do think that if you’re giving it the appropriate reference in your heart, man, audio Bibles are awesome.

And then I guess I kind of touched on this earlier, but I would just sum it up this way: Supplement don’t replace reading with your eyes. If you have the benefit of being literate, you have the benefit of good eyesight and you can read a Bible with your eyes, just because it’s not historically the norm that we’ve had this blessing, doesn’t make it any less of a blessing. The fact that we have access to all these translations and all these great printed Bibles take advantage of that study deeply use that become a scholar of the word of God. But in addition to that, I’d say, yeah, listen to the Bible, listen to it. You read deeply for depth and read widely and lots of passages for breadth.

And then just some kind of some advantages that I see of listening, uh, versus reading. Uh, so I, I focused mostly on trying to, um, do away with some of the negative, uh, assumptions we might have about listening to the Bible. But I think there are many positive reasons that you should listen to the Bible that actually it is, has advantages at edges out reading and some really cool ways. One, is that listen to the Bible affords you insights that you might miss when you’re just reading it. I think you can all the time, just because you’re listening to different modality, it it’s helpful in that way or, or the way that the speaker emphasize a certain things, you know, adds a layer of interpretation to the reading of the word that might help you to understand something kind of a different way than you had when you just read it yourself.

I think there’s even this interesting juxtaposition that can happen when you’re doing something while listening to a certain passage that can bring you new insights. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this happen where you you’ve been reading something in the morning and it’s a familiar passage, something from the New Testament, and then something you’re doing later that day, uh, helps you to under that passage comes to mind in the context of doing whatever it is you’re doing. And you start to understand the passage in a new way. What I mean like for example, is maybe you’re listening to Jesus talk about the four soils while you’re working in the yard. And you’re thinking about the, the, the soil and the seeds and, and, and you’re like, Oh, that’s, that’s interesting. Okay. So I see the thorns and things like that. And just being there, it just adds a shade of color to it. Um, or hearing Paul talk about running the race, right, while you’re out, jogging around with your AirPods in, listening to Paul talk about running the race and you’re actually running. I do think that that there’s an immersive aspect of that that’s really good. That’s really good. And it’s hard to get that when you’re just reading it.

Um, I think there’s a reason Deuteronomy six, seven. I think there’s a reason that in Deuteronomy six, seven tells parents to teach their children as they sit in the house as they walk in the way as they lie down, as they rise that the Bible is a book for life, not just ivory study. The Bible comes alive when you are thinking about it and meditating on it and even consuming it throughout your day. And audio provides a great way to do that.

Other advantages are kind of obvious and probably the reason that you would even want to read, uh, the Bible via audio time redemption, right? Driving exercising time that might otherwise be spent listening to gangster rap can be spent, uh, listening to the Bible. And that’s, you can’t do that. Um, at least not safely, you can’t read the Bible while running or, um, or driving cause you’ll crash your car or you’ll run into a ditch. And I touched on this before too, reading for breadth of context. It’s just awesome to sit down and just hear someone read the Bible for, you know, 20 minutes or an hour. That’s yeah, it’s just great. You get a whole bunch of context at once. And really the big thing is—and this goes along with supplementing your reading with listening—is it can allow you to consume more of the word of God than you would, if you only limited yourself to reading so huge advantages worth doing, it’s a good thing.

So my advice to you when it comes to reading the Bible via your ears is do both do both. I don’t think you should think of it as cheating. Uh, I think if at all possible read with your eyes, listen with your ears, do both, don’t feel bad about it, make sure you do it with reference, uh, but take advantage of this awesome blessing we have where we have this great technology where you don’t just have to have like some servant jog alongside you and read the Bible to you. There’s a little robot in your phone that does it. That’s pretty awesome. So do both do both.

Just wrapping up here. I want to give you a few suggested apps and some different ways of listening. Like I said before, I’m going to (Lord willing) be doing a video that I’ll release later this week. That does kind of a roundup of some of the top, uh, ways of listening to the Bible, but just briefly things to look, look at: YouVersion, which is you probably all have that Bible app on your phone, uh, has a great audio feature for, you know, most of the Bible translations that has. So if you want an all in one option, YouVersion already has it use it. It’s free.

Dwell. This one got recommended to me like a bazillion times in that Twitter thread. And I actually signed up for a subscription to it. You have to pay, I think it’s like 30 bucks a year or one 150 for a lifetime of it. But if you think about what you’re getting, it’s pretty well worth it. They’ve recorded the Bible—It’s an audio first Bible app basically—and they’ve recorded the Bible with a bunch of different voices and different translations. And the app is just incredible. You can play different types of music in the background, which I personally don’t like, but you might. And all the voices are super high quality and it’s just a really, really well done app for audio Bible listening, probably the best one out there. So check out Dwell, um, the Grace to You Study Bible app, which I actually helped work on. Um, that one has an audio feature too. Uh, the ESV App is excellent.

Or if you want to just buy a Bible from Audible, uh, or from, uh, Christian Audio, check out the ESV here, the word Bible. And then also if you like that voice, there’s a podcast, um, by Crossway and it’s the ESV audio Bible, but it’s broken up into chunks and it follows the Robert Murray M’Cheyne reading plan. So just look up ESV Daily Bible on your podcast player. And basically you’ll get like one Old Testament or no two Old Testament, uh, one New Testament and one either Gospel or some section a day. It’s about 10, 15, 20 minutes a day. And you’ll work your way all the way through the Bible. If you listen to that year round, um, in one year we work all the way through the Bible and listen to the Psalms and the, uh, new Testament twice. So the old Testament once Psalms twice new Testament twice, I believe so check all of those out. Um, and yeah, hopefully those are helpful to you. Well, that’s all I have for you this week. Thank you so much for listening or watching and to you Patreon supporters, I have an additional bonus content after this available. If you go log into Patreon, you’ll find it there. I’m going to be talking about how audio books and specifically audio Bibles changed my life. So if you’re interested in that had an over to patreon.com and if you’re not a Patreon supporter, consider becoming one, you help support the show. And also you unlock bonus content like this additional, uh, time for the podcast. And I actually have a lot of things cooking right now for more Patreon perks, more on that coming soon. So check that out. patreon.com/redeemingprod. And thank you again to all my patrons. Appreciate you guys so much.

Well, I’ll see you again here next week, but until I do remember this, that in whatever you do, do it well and do it all to the glory of God.

Join the discussion

1 comment
  • Thank you Reagan for this good video. I’ve often wondered about listening to the Bible by audio. But what I have found (and I listen while doing my art: painting and drawing – I have a tshirt company so I spend my days alone and just designing) and I listen all day. I can have my earphones in all day. I cycle out listening to Psalms for a week, or Proverbs for a week, or cycling through the Torah and the Prophets, Letters, Gospels etc what ever is on my mind that week). This is what I have found:

    – in my Bible Studies and Fellowships my knowledge and recall is astounding! I know this DOES NOT come by my doing, I think subconsciously listening feeds your spirit, and like you said it’s way better then punk music (or rap or whatever you called the music). I used to listen to podcasts or teachings about about a topic I was reading and you know what I found? I found that man’s interpretations are nothing compare to The Most High’s voice.

    The other thing that I have found that is interesting? I have found my brain has become like my own personal Concordance. I know again it’s Him NOT me, but now after a year while listening I hear something and jot it down because I am like “I heard this before“…or think maybe my audio got reset to a new book…but no…it’s something I heard during another listening and my brain connects them. I have found so many parallels or duplicate verses or duplicate themes and they weren’t pointed out to me by a commentator. I found them on my own. And it was sooooo beautiful.

    I also found that when I am sharing in Bible Studies, when I am using a reference (as in ….well we aren’t supposed to do…because BOOK Chapter) spill out of my mouth. and I know I am not personally memorizing the Bible but I think my Spirit is speaking through me. (Because I know this simple Island Dweller doesn’t know the Word like the stuff that comes out of my mouth).

    I want to challenge you to start in Genesis and commit to 30 days to just listening to the first 5 books of the beautiful words from your Heavenly Father. I know your a pastor and you have a million things on your plate and your juggling so many things, but this is the perfect time to start. Let Him show you His story from the very begining! Don’t do the Bible school read – hear His words again for the first time. I 100% guarantee it will change your life.

    If you listened to the audio Bible reading Gen to Deut – takes about 2.5 days all the way through so you can do 2 x in a week and 8 times in a month. The Book of Psalm can almost be heard 20 times in a month. (On day 6 and 7 look up any words or ideas from listening and spend time researching what you heard all week).

    I know if you do you will have like I did an Isaiah 45:3 moment. He is speaking…are you listening?