The Gift of Listening
“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 of God.” (James 1:19-20, ESV)
It has been observed that God gave us two ears and one mouth. From this observation it has been said that we ought to listen twice as much as we speak, and speak only half as much as we listen. In our gabby culture where almost everyone seems to be constantly talking (or texting; or tweeting; or whatever), and where few seem to make the effort to listen to others thoughtfully, carefully, and with polite consideration and genuine interest, one of the greatest gifts that you and I can give to others is the gift of listening.
Picture this scenario: You run into an old acquaintance you haven’t seen for awhile. You exchange polite greetings and a conversation begins. “Why, I haven’t seen you for quite some time! What on earth have you been up to lately?” she asks you. Interpreting this question as an indication of genuine interest on the part of your acquaintance, you begin to explain what has been going on in your life. But after just a few short minutes of conversation you notice that your acquaintance begins to look distracted and fidgety. Maybe she looks off to the side or checks her watch a few times. In any case, it becomes clear from her body language that she has lost interest (if she ever was genuinely intersted to begin with), and that she isn’t really listening to what you are saying. You feel a sense of disappointment inside, but you are used to this. So you take your cue from her body language and politely wrap up what you were saying, since it is obvious now that your acquaintance was just trying to be polite when she asked about you.
I think we can all relate at some level to the above scenario. I would venture to guess that we all have been not only on the receiving end of this kind of treatment from others, but we’ve also all been guilty of treating others this way at times. But have you ever had the experience of talking to someone who seemed genuinely interested in you and in what you had to say? If so, you will understand that this is a rare and precious gift.
The art of good listening can take discipline and hard work. But it is one of the greatest gifts you can give to another human being. It is one of the ways that you can “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (the golden rule) and “love your neighbor as yourself” (the second great commandment).
So how do we cultivate the discipline of good listening, so that we might better offer this gift to others? Here are some suggestions:
(1) Remember: Believer, remember that God, your loving heavenly Father, is always interested in what you have to say. Through Christ He graciously heard your prayer for forgiveness when you called upon the Lord Jesus for salvation (Rom. 10:13). By His grace He continues to hear your cries and prayers. Since God in His grace always listens to your prayers, even when you ramble and even when your prayers are not all that “interesting” or eloquent, should you not be willing to show the grace of attentive listening to others?
(2) Consider: Consider the fact that the person who is speaking to you, no matter how awkward or annoying or uninteresting you might consider that person to be, is an image-bearer of God and a child of God by creation. If he is a believer then he is also a child of God by redemption, one for whom Christ laid down His life. Therefore, should you not show honor to this fellow human being by being willing to deny yourself the time and mental energy needed to show genuine interest in this person? Should you not be willing to deny yourself by giving this person the gift of attentive listening? Should you not be willing to close your mouth and open your ears?
(3) Engage: Prayerfully put all distracting thoughts from your mind. Look your conversation partner in the eyes, and continue throughout the conversation to engage in appropriate eye contact. Show by your body language (the nodding head, appropriate facial expressions, etc.) that you are listening attentively. Avoid body language and mannerisms that would appear to show disinterest in the conversation (wandering eyes, looking at your watch, slouching, etc.). It may take some self-discipline and hard work (especially if your conversation partner is talkative), but through this discipline of careful listening you may find yourself being a real blessing to others.
God has spoken His Word of grace to us in Christ, and He has opened our hearts to listen to His Word and believe. But our heavenly Father not only speaks to us. He also listens to us. And He summons us in His Word to display this gift of listening to others. By His grace let us be a blessing to others by giving them the gift of listening. And as we do, we may find that others return the favor by listening all the more attentively to us.