Being Quick to Listen in a World of Talk
by Mike Pohlman
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires.” –James 1:19-20
We live in a world of talk. Talk, talk, talk. Speak, speak, speak. Ours is the age of talk radio (news talk, sports talk, money talk, self-help talk, car talk, I-just-want-to-talk talk), podcasts and cell phones. Everyone, it seems, wants to be heard.
Speaking of cell phones, the other day I was in line at one of my local Starbucks and the gentleman in front of me was ordering a caramel macchiato while talking to a buddy on his iPhone. The barista was more than gracious as the customer stopped and started his order apparently not able to put his other conversation on hold (I like what one coffee house in Bellingham, Washington has done by posting a sign that says, "We'll serve you once you hang up the phone").
But it's not just at Starbucks. After arriving home recently from a business trip, I left Los Angeles International Airport in one of those shuttle vans. I shared it with seven other passengers that were making the 40 mile trip north. While most of us were quiet, preferring to read or look out the window at the sea of cars that had us moving at a crawl, there were two college-age men who had to talk. They made call after call on their cell phones to chat with friends about all the amazing things that must have happened during their several days away. I got to hear about the party later that night, the car that broke down, the lonely girlfriend and the overbearing parents. Let’s just say they were conversations I didn’t need to be a part of.
We have become a culture full of talking heads regardless of where we find ourselves. And the chatter is deafening.
Into this noise come the words of James: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak. This exhortation is almost unintelligible to a culture intent on talking. We have it backwards: we are quick to speak, slow to hear.
But God would be the primary voice heard in the universe. He is the One who has much to say. He speaks, in the Bible, of the riches of His mercy in Christ. He broadcasts His forgiveness and love. He heralds the wonder of redemption. He calls us to repent and beckons us to draw near.
Am I listening?
Do you remember the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42? Luke offers us a helpful contrast in speaking and listening. Martha was frantically trying to make dinner preparations for Jesus and the disciples. I envision her running around the house uttering things under her breath like, “I can’t believe Jesus is here on such short notice—not to mention all his disciples—and I have to pull this dinner together.” And, “Why doesn’t Mary get in here and help me?” Unlike Martha, Mary "sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching" (10:39).
Not surprisingly, Martha gets a bit frustrated at Mary’s lack of effort with the event. So Martha does what we probably all would do under similar circumstances—she starts talking: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me” (10:40). We are not left to wonder which course of action Jesus commends. We see it in his gentle rebuke: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Mary was quick to listen and slow to speak. She knew when to be quiet. In a culture full of chatter I want to learn the discipline of silence so I can hear what the Lord wants to teach me. He’s speaking; am I listening?
Intersecting Faith & Life: What radical measures can you take to help you listen not only to God but to other people? What things in your life are blocking out the voice of God?