Being Quick to Listen
- Cliff Young Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2007 5 Dec
Have you ever watched one of those news programs where guests with opposing viewpoints are asked their opinion? They seem to always end up in a “shout-fest” with the moderator becoming a referee.
It’s similar to those “dating” and “relationship” reality shows which become a finger-pointing, screaming, blame-game confrontation. It’s surprising (to some extent) that people would want to highlight their deficient communication “skills” for the entire world to see.
I’m reminded of one of my favorite passages in the Bible, James 1:19 (NIV), “My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” My desire is to live out these character traits and at first glance this verse doesn’t seem too difficult to follow; however, I often find myself missing the mark.
In a three-part series we’ll go deeper in looking at how being “quick to listen,” “slow to speak,” and “slow to become angry” can directly affect our relationships—now and in the future.
I love how James serves us this edict. …
First, he tells us to “take note of this.” Other Bible versions translate this to mean, “you must understand this,” “know this,” and “remember this.” He’s not simply suggesting that we do these things, he’s commanding it.
Secondly, James specifically says this is for everyone. It’s not just for Jews, Gentiles, or a specific group of people, but for everyone. When the Bible says everyone should, it is probably something we need to “take note of.”
Quick to Listen
“Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen.”
—Margaret J. Wheatley, management consultant
Listening, in and of itself, may seem to be a simple act, but it does takes practice. Why should we become quick to listen? Three reasons stand out to me—understanding, learning, and remembering.
According to Merriam-Webster.com, quick means “capable of acting with speed, readiness” and listen means “to hear something with thoughtful attention.” So, being “quick to listen,” is being “capable of acting with speed in hearing something with thoughtful attention.”
How often do we do that? In our age of technology, we are trained to be quick to answer, quick to receive, quick to desire, but rarely “quick to listen.” E-mails, text messages, and instant chat rooms have all decreased our need to be good listeners.
Even electronically, it’s easy to get into trouble for replying to e-mails without thoroughly reading (or understanding) them. Many times I have been in such a hurry to respond or return an answer that I have misunderstood what was being asked.
Philip was a great example of someone who listened and understood.
“An angel of the Lord said to him, ‘Go south down the desert road …’ So he did …” Acts 8:26 (NLT).
“The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’ Then Philip ran up to the chariot …” Acts 8:29(NIV).
Philip reacted quickly because he listened to the angel of the Lord. As Philip listened, he gained understanding in what he was being asked to do and after obeying, recognized the purpose. He didn’t interrupt to ask “Why?” He didn’t try to interject his idea about what should be done. He just did what he heard because he was quick to listen.
How many of us are quick to run toward a person or situation that may be difficult and really take the time to listen or discern? It’s so much easier to have “Selective hearing” or even ignore it all together. I know that I am guilty of this at times.
In any relationship, taking the time to understand one another is vital to the success and life of the relationship. Conflict arises when two people don’t stop to listen to each other and instead misinterpret what has been said. Dr. Emerson Eggerichs, author of Love & Respect, says that men and women listen through “blue and pink hearing aids,” respectively. Jesus said, “The Creator made them male and female …” (Matthew 19:4 NIV). Because men and women are different, we need to take the time and try to understand each other and our differences.
How can we listen to understand during a conversation? A great tool is to repeat back to the person you’re talking with what you are hearing them say. If there appears to be a misunderstanding or confusion, it can be corrected immediately. A second tool is to ask specific questions back to the person for clarification or to help the conversation go to a deeper level.
“If you don’t listen, you’re never gonna learn.” Frank Iero, musician
Most of us have spent at least 12 years in school with the majority of that time listening. The purpose wasn’t to talk, but to listen and to learn. I paid for another six years of schooling for an opportunity to listen to additional instructors with the hopes of learning more. If there was one thing that I did learn it is that I’ve never learned anything by talking.
Mary, sister of Martha, wanted to listen in order to learn from Jesus’ teachings:
“She (Martha) had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. … Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” Luke 10:39 (NIV).
Mary chose what was best by stopping what she was doing and eliminating distractions that might cause her to miss what Jesus was teaching. She didn’t busy herself with trying to “do” or “say” something, instead she sat, listened, and learned.
Being “quick to listen” takes patience and practice in all of our relationships. Many times while a person is in the middle of talking, we rush to formulate an opinion, ask another question too quickly or segue into another topic without finishing the current one. In our relationship with the Lord, it’s much easier to do all the talking rather than listening for his still small voice.
Genesis 19 tells us of how Lot warned his daughter’s fiancés about the destruction of the city, but they “thought he was only joking” (Genesis 19:14). The angels led Lot, his wife and two daughters outside of the city before they destroyed it and warned “Don’t look back! ... or you will die.” (Genesis 19:17), but Lot’s wife looked back and became a pillar of salt.
How often do we hear something, but fail to believe or learn it? The path to learning about each other is through understanding one another; to understand we need to communicate, and listening is a foundation of that communication. Whether it’s listening to a family member, a friend, a spouse (or potential one), or the Lord himself, being “quick to listen” takes patience, practice and time. It is an important building block to a healthy relationship.
Do you ever meet someone that you met years ago and they greet you by your name and pick up where your last conversations left off? Do you wonder how in the world they remembered? I meet a lot of people during a typical day and need to remember many names and facts about them. Sometimes I find it difficult to remember because I was distracted by what I was doing, I was passing judgment, or I was thinking about someone else. In other words, I didn’t have “thoughtful attention” and I didn’t choose to listen.
In Nehemiah 9:16, those of Israelite descent said of their ancestors, “Our ancestors were a proud and stubborn lot, and they refused to obey your commands. They refused to listen and did not remember the miracles you had done for them.”
Sometimes we get so wrapped up in ourselves and what we have to say that we don’t listen to another’s thoughts, opinions or ideas. If we are looking for validation for our own thoughts, we will not be able to remember what the other person is saying.
Jesus had to constantly remind his disciples of things that He had told them earlier.
“’You have eyes—can’t you see? You have ears—can’t you hear?’ Don’t you remember anything at all?” Mark 8:18 (NLT).
“Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master’” John 15:20 (NIV).
“Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?” 2 Thessalonians 2:3 (NIV).
Have you ever forgotten something what someone close to you had shared? Learning to remember better will speak care and love in your relationships because you cared enough to listen.
One of the greatest strengths of the enemy is helping us make our days full and busy. Our schedules are packed with work, taking care of our personal necessities, and enjoying our “toys.” We can even become too busy and distracted working in “ministry.” After filling up our days we don’t leave much time for the thoughts and care of others. We also tend to leave little room for communicating (and listening) to friends, family, and most importantly the Lord.
Throughout the Bible, we are shown examples of people like Lot’s wife who don’t listen or heed warnings and others who sit and listen for the Lord’s voice like Philip and Mary. Before you get too wrapped up into your own world, be quick to listen so that you will understand, learn and remember. Look for opportunities to listen to others and listen to the Lord. You’ll be amazed at what you hear.
Cliff Young is a contributing writer to Sandlot Stories (arose books). An architect and former youth worker, he now works with Christian musicians and consults for a number of Christian ministries. Got feedback? Send your comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.