Is Anyone Listening to Me?
- 2010 22 Mar
"Did you hear what I said?" "How many times do I have to remind you?" "I'll say it again . . ." "You're not listening to me." Wearisome comments, all. Are these common phrases in your house? I hate to admit that I make similar statements all too often. It can be extremely frustrating to think that someone is not listening when I am talking. After all, what I have to say is important or I wouldn't have said it, right? Not always. Sometimes I actually speak without thinking it through first and end up having to communicate my apologies thereafter. Then again, sometimes people are really just not listening to me. What should my response be at either end of the communication spectrum, i.e., talking or listening?
One of the many passages of Scripture that convict me in this area of communication is this well-known passage in the first chapter of James:
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: for the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." (James 1:19-20)
I've heard that so many times that I have it memorized. But memorization is not enough when I haven't applied a whit of it to my actual life. It seems that daily there are those justifiable situations that call for being just the opposite, and I am slow to listen and quick to speak my angry mind. I'd like to break these verses down into their most memorable parts:
Swift to Hear
Often times, I am quite the opposite. I am swift to ignore, swift to turn a deaf ear, especially if it's something I don't want to hear. I really hate it when others do that to me, but I don't seem to mind implementing the same tactics in reverse. I don't want to hear it when the kids want to tell me about someone else's offense against them, but boy do I want people to hear me when I've been offended! I hate to hear constructive criticism from my husband, but I sure love to dish it out to him and expect him to take it graciously. I don't want to hear my friends complain about things, but it sometimes tends to be what we all do best in a group setting.
Why would God want us to be swift to hear? I have found at least three reasons: (1) It is because He knows our propensity to turn a deaf ear, and (2) because He Himself has important things to say to us that require our attention, and (3) it is very conducive to a loving relationship when both parties are "hearers."
"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it." That simple statement from the glorious hymn writer1 sums up the human condition. And God knows we are prone to wander when we have chosen to ignore the voice of God. But God desires to arrest our attention in order to provide the wisdom, rest, and peace we so desperately need on this planet. Jesus knew those needs and also knew He needed to heed the voice of His Father in order to walk in wisdom, rest, and peace.
In Scripture, our Father often exhorts us with these words: "Hearken unto Me . . . ." That phrase conjures up in my mind a picture of the Father holding the face of one of His children and saying: "Please listen to me. I need your full attention."
And why does He need our full attention? Why can't we simply give concentrated attention to God here and there instead of making Him the focal point of our lives?
God is all about fullness. God has given us His fullness through Jesus Christ, in whom dwells all the fullness of God. (See Colossians 2:9.) And as such, He requires our fullness given back to Him. Thus, our full attention and devotion should be toward Him. And our full attention will not go unrewarded, as He always has something to impart to us if we would be swift to listen.
What does He want us to hear that is so important? I did a little study and came up with these things that God wants us to "hearken to" or hear from Him. I have a picture of God holding my face and saying these things:
• Remember where you came from.
Do you remember where you were before you knew the Love of God? I know that He has dragged me out of a pit and set my feet upon a Rock. I have come from the mud and now stand clean before a Holy God. Where have you come from? He wants you to remember.
"Hearken to me, ye that follow after righteousness, ye that seek the Lord: look unto the rock whence ye are hewn, and to the hole of the pit whence ye are digged." (Isaiah 51:1)
• Don't fear man.
The fear of man is a snare that is common to most of us. I fear others' opinions of me, sometimes more so than I fear God's opinion of me. My desire to please people is greater than my desire to please God. Why should I not fear what man thinks? Because God thinks the world of me and offered up His innocent Son in my shameful stead. I know the righteousness of God, and He has put His law in my heart. His law leaves no room for the law of man or the fear of man.
"Hearken unto me, ye that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear ye not the reproach of men, neither be ye afraid of their revilings." (Isaiah 51:7)
• I am the First and the Last, the Creator.
I sometimes think that my painful circumstances are causing me to fall apart. I can't do what is required of me because I think I have no help. I tend to look negatively at myself and the world and focus on the storms and tempests here and there, forgetting that the power of God encompasses it all and holds it together. In the same way, although my life may have its tempests and trials, God's power holds me together. And where I lack, He, as Creator, can create—from my absolute nothing—the very thing I need. Do you believe He has that power in your life? If you wonder, just look at Who's holding your face as He speaks.
"Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together." (Isaiah 48:12-13)
• I am your Teacher and Leader.
I have a lot to learn. One of the things I need to learn is how to profit or help make a return on God's investments. He's invested in me and in our children. If I would really pay attention and listen, I would hear God teaching me instead of relying on my own faulty wisdom. One of the things He wants me to learn is how to be led: to stop being in the lead and to step behind Him on the path. Because of the fact that I hold the reins over the day's agenda and the children's schooling, and most else that goes on in my world, I easily forget that I need to step behind the Leader and be led. When I lead myself and my children in my own wisdom, I end up where I probably shouldn't have gone. But when I listen to God's direction, I end up following God's path.
"Thus saith the Lord, thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; I am the Lord thy God which teacheth thee to profit, which leadeth thee by the way that thou shouldest go." (Isaiah 48:17)
Let's look at the flip side for just a bit. The Scriptures say that when I don't "hearken" to God, I am left to myself with no guidance, as I fall back into the muddy pit of sin. I am left with no protection from the enemy and left unsatisfied and without food. Oh, that I would hearken to Him and walk in His ways! Instead of trying to be heard, I need to practice hearing. Will you join me in being swift to hear from our Father?
Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee: O Israel, if thou wilt hearken unto me; There shall no strange god be in thee; neither shalt thou worship any strange god. I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken to my voice; and Israel would none of me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts' lust: and they walked in their own counsels. Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. . . . He should have fed them also with the finest of the wheat: and with honey out of the rock should I have satisfied thee. (Psalm 81:8-14, 16)
If we, God's people, would listen to Him, He would guide us and restrain our enemies. He would feed us and satisfy us. Why do our enemies rise up against us and why are we not ever satisfied? Could it be we have not really listened? Or maybe we have heard, but gone away unchanged, as did the man who looked at his image in the mirror, saw his ugliness, but merely walked away, doing nothing to change it.
But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (James 1:22-25)
If we refuse to hear, if our ears grow dull, we will no longer even recognize who is speaking. If we stop listening, our understanding will become darkened and we will begin to wonder where we are in our walk with God. But when we really listen, really hear, really understand, we are transformed and healed.
Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear. For verily I say unto you, That many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them. (Matthew 13:13-16)
Slow to Speak
Why slow to speak? Obvious reasons might be just the common courtesy of not hogging the conversation or being polite as you listen more than talk. But I think that there is a deeper meaning here. Being slow to speak entails a measure of self-control, discernment, wisdom, and compassion.
If you choose to be slow to speak, in humility you can yield your "right" to quickly interject your own wisdom. When you are slow to speak, you can exercise discernment before answering. When you are slow to speak, you have time to wait and hear from true Wisdom. Being slow to speak often reflects an understanding and compassionate heart.
At the other end of the spectrum, if you can't hold your tongue, the Bible says that your heart is deceived and your faith vain. (See James 1:26.) I'd like to be far away from that scenario! But, if that's not quite enough motivation to inspire you to be "slow to speak," then here's an even better reason: we are promised love, long life, and the blessing of God if we keep our tongue from evil.
"If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:26-27)
"Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.What man is he that desireth life, and loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile." (Psalm 34:11-13)
Slow to Wrath
This cuts to the quick in my heart. I am slow at a lot of things, but wrath seems to come hard and fast. And the reason you can tell is because occasionally it spews out of my mouth like hot lava. I can be like a Mt. St. Helens—nice and quiet for a very long time, even beautiful to behold. But then, deep inside, some little thing triggers that stuff that has been boiling and then an explosion that mounts to the heavens erupts and a flow of lava and debris descends to the earth and destroys everything in its path.
Speaking of debris, here's my true story. The toilet flooded the entire house this week. All of our recently completed, brand-new home improvements must be ripped out. What a waste (wastewater to be exact)! Water restoration experts have been working on the whole house while I am trying to contain and raise eight children in the middle of it. I would have left, but we had to wash all the buckets of dirty clothes and towels that had been used initially to try to mop up the water, and we also had to pack boxes and move things from room to room.
The workmen placed huge fans in every room of the house, as well as a couple of large dehumidifiers. These fans are loud. All of our belongings are askew as they have been dragged out of closets and cupboards and dumped in the middle of each room. My head is ringing with the noise, my mind is confused (because I don't know what I am doing), my body is tired from exhaustion, and even my soul is weary. The insurance company hasn't gotten back with us about a hotel. So, I try to put my head under my pillow to drown out the noise.
Where am I going with this story? Well, two places. First, to my horrid fury that flew forth a couple of times as the stresses left me open and vulnerable to my flesh. And then, to the place of purposely quieting myself enough to hear from God even in the midst of the great noise. You see, when I stopped myself in the midst of it all, and quieted my soul, repented of my sin, and really listened, God spoke calm to my storm. I heard from Him in many ways through His Word. He also used others to show me direction and peace through the Word of God. When you stop to hear God before you erupt, He can calm the tempest within. If you stop to hear God after you erupt, you can repent and turn to Him again and He will hear you.
On a practical note, I have learned that if you lower your voice to a soft answer, even the bubbling wrath within your own heart will be turned away. And as you practice self-control with your tongue, that mountain just may not ever choose to erupt. So, in learning self-control, putting yourself under God's control, and studying (hearing) the Scriptures, the wrath of man that would have easily controlled us can now be contained and controlled.
The Righteousness of God
If the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, then what does? Our silence? Our obedience? Our example? Good things, all. But what really produces the righteousness of God is God Himself. And as we yoke up with Him, we learn righteousness, meekness, and humility, and we finally find rest. But what about those who don't hear us when we speak? Sometimes people don't hear us because they don't understand us. We are different. We don't live or believe like they do. God has something to say about that too:
"They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them. We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us." (1 John 4:5-6)
If our loud anger doesn't cause people to hear us and it does not produce the desired effect of righteousness, how can we get people to really hear us? The Scripture says that with patience and a soft tongue we can persuade others.
"By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone. . . . It is better to dwell in the corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman and in a wide house. . . . He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls." (Proverbs 25:15, 24, 28)
Another way we have to persuade others to listen is by communicating with our whole lives. How we live our lives communicates our true nature more than any words we can preach. Even our children learn more when we show them how to do something instead of just expecting it to be done. God communicates to us in the same way. He communicated His very nature to Moses as He passed before him:
"And the Lord passed by before him [Moses], and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." (Exodus 34:6)
I was so heartbroken when I realized that these were all the things I am not! Am I merciful, gracious, and longsuffering as I "pass by" others, including my family? And then I realized that the key was not in me but rather was Christ in me. Through my own efforts (which are as filthy rags; see Isaiah 64:6) I can never achieve righteousness or become merciful, gracious, longsuffering, abundant in goodness and truth, but in dying to myself, my rights, my needs, even my need to be heard, and as I invite Christ to live His life of righteousness through me, I can be victorious in Him and for His glory.
Is anyone listening to me? If so, what are they "hearing" through my life? What kind of life am I "speaking" to my husband and my children?
The next time you find yourself asking, "Is anyone listening to me?" ask yourself two questions: "Am I listening to God?" and "What is He saying that will change me into the kind of person my family needs to really hear?"
God really is speaking through His Word about who He is; are we really listening? Do we have ears that hear? God takes listening seriously, as we should also. He knocks on our door, and if we hear and open that door, God Himself will come in! There's our victory! He that has an ear, let him hear!
"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches." (Revelation 3:19-22)
Deborah Wuehler is the Senior Editor for The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, editor of the Schoolhouse SupportE-Newsletter, wife to Richard, and mom to eight gifts from heaven. She loves digging for buried treasure in the Word, reading, writing, homeschooling, and dark chocolate!Endnote:
1. This phrase is found in the familiar hymn titled "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing," written by Robert Robinson. A copy of it can be found at this address: www.cyberhymnal.org/htm/c/o/comethou.htm.
Copyright 2009. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, Winter 2009/10. Used with permission. Visit them at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com. For all your homeschool curriculum needs visit the Schoolhouse Store.