He Who Has Ears to Hear, Let Him Use Them
Proverbs 18:13 He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
James 1:19 So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath….
Proverbs 18:2 A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.
Scripture speaks in many places about loving and receiving others. One of the best ways we can do both is by listening—really listening. For some of us, listening is little more than not talking while someone else is, while we bide our time waiting until it’s our turn to speak. The first scripture above calls this foolishness—a moral failing—as well as shameful.
Of course it’s rude to speak before we really hear what’s being said. That in itself is disrespectful and unloving. But it’s also silly and counterproductive. We may think we already know the best response to what is being said, and are just waiting as patiently as we can to deliver our thoughts. But we truly don’t even know what to answer until we have heard everything the other person has to say. Until they’re done, we don’t have all the information we need to give an intelligent response.
Beyond that, really listening to what a person is saying goes far beyond just not speaking over them while they’re talking. It involves putting our thoughts aside for the moment and “leaning in” to take in words, body language, and intonation. That’s receiving and loving someone. It’s also the only real way of understanding what’s being said, a prerequisite to a good response.
James 1:19 (above) instructs and encourages us to act in what is often the very opposite of our nature. Many of us are swift to speak, slow to hear (really hear), and quick to wrath. Clearly, the first two admonitions are inversely related: the more we pay genuine attention (swift to hear), the more we are slow to speak because we are weighing our words based not just on our thoughts, but also on what we’ve just heard and absorbed.
Listening has become something of a lost art in our culture, which overvalues self-expression. As believers, though, we are called to love, and that includes opening our hearts and receiving others, preferring them to ourselves. This includes listening fully and deeply, taking in what’s being said, and working to hold our own responses—even our thoughts—in reserve until we’ve heard and received all that’s been said to us. In our listening, let us be examples of the kind of love that in lowliness of mind esteems others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).
Prayer: Father, help me to really listen to others, giving them the time and attention that love demands. Forgive me for the times I’ve run roughshod over what others are trying to say to me. Transform my communications that I may put my desire for expressions aside to instead honor and prefer the one I’m speaking with.