The joke is told of an elderly man who finally decided to get a hearing aid. Some time later, he stopped at the store where he’d bought it, The beaming manager greeted him and said, “Your relatives must be happy that your hearing is so much better.”
“Oh, I ain’t told ’em,” the old-timer chuckled. “I’ve just been sitting around the house, listening. You know, I’ve heard enough to change my will twice already.” (Attributed to Mrs. R.J. Kalisek, Howells, Nebraska as cited in Overheard at The Country Cafe, Mike Beno, ed.)
It’s amazing what you learn just by listening. Too many times we’re so busy with our tongues wagging that our ears miss something important. I suppose that’s why God made us with two ears and one mouth, showing us that it’s twice as important to listen than speak. Or, as it has been written, “We have two ears and only one tongue in order that we may hear more and speak less.”
The Bible places great emphasis on the need to listen more and talk less. And there’s a reason for this. Good listening can open up understanding, provide knowledge, and empower one with wisdom. Talking, on the other hand, can hinder these benefits for it has a tendency to confuse or distort communication. Thus, we read in James 1:19 and 20, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.”
James seems to be indicating that if one is too quick to speak rather than listen then one may also be too quick to get angry. As James points out, this situation will not achieve what’s right in God’s eyes. Miscommunication is often at the root of uncontrolled anger that can usually be prevented simply by listening more closely to what someone has to say.
Some might think that communication has mostly to do with what we say to another person. But that’s not entirely true. As strange as it may appear, good communication depends mostly on what we perceive when we hear something someone says to us. Therefore, we need to put more attention on what the other person is saying. If we speak too quickly our response will likely not be accurate. So, it’s useful to listen first, then repeat back what we think we’ve heard to get the other person’s response. This is called “active listening.” It is a valuable practice for avoiding any misunderstanding even before it starts.
Christian Author Cecil C. Osbourne offered some valuable guidelines for becoming a better listener:
1. Don’t grab the conversation: “Yes, now take me, for instance…”
2. Don’t let your gaze wander from the other person’s face except momentarily.
3. Validate the feelings of the other: “Yes, I see what you mean.”
4. Don’t interrupt.
5. Don’t try to top the other person’s story or joke.
6. Don’t criticize.
7. Ask appropriate questions: “What happened then?” Or “How did you feel?”
8. Don’t argue.
(The Art of Getting Along with People.)
Someone declared, “Let a person talk about himself and he will think you’re mighty interesting!” The idea is to listen with interest to what the other person is saying without thinking about what you want to say. This takes some skill, of course. But it’s like they say, “Train yourself to listen. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn when your mouth is shut.”
And yet we know that not training ourselves to listen can be the reason why so many persons miss out on the blessings they could have experienced otherwise. Unfortunately, this is what happens to those who only pretend to be listening but really aren’t. There’s a story about President Franklin D. Roosevelt who got tired of smiling that big smile and saying the usual things at all those White House receptions. He’d had it with all those guests who were so busy putting on airs they didn’t seem to be listening to a word anyone said. So, one evening he decided to find out whether anybody was paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came to him with extended hand, he flashed that big smile and said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.”
People would automatically respond with comments such as “How lovely!” or “Just continue with your great work!” Nobody listened to what the president was saying, except for one foreign diplomat. When the president said, “I murdered my grandmother this morning,” the diplomat responded softly, “I’m sure she had it coming to her.” (Illustrations Unlimited)
When we are slow to speak and quick to listen as James teaches, we will be able to impress upon others the value of good listening. For when we apply this principle according to the scriptures, we will gain the respect and admiration of friends and provide a good example for them to follow. You could even receive the kind of attribute given to this good listener:
His thoughts were slow,
His words were few,
And never formed to glisten.
But he was a joy to all his friends —
You should have heard him listen.
We will also be able to bring glory and blessing to God our Father, for good listening also means good hearing when it comes to paying attention to his will for our lives. James also wrote, “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does,” (James 1:25). Active listening is doing what we have heard and this includes paying undivided attention to “the law of liberty,” that is, God’s Word. If we’re truly listening to what God wants us to know, then we will not forget what we need to do in order to live for him and serve him through Christ.
Yes, it pays to listen to others and to God. But there’s one other way it pays, as well. It’s about listening to our own heart, too. For it is from the heart that we truly want to be good listeners, able to wisely apply what we learn. Proverbs 22:17-19 gives this bit of wisdom:
Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise;
apply your heart to what I teach,
for it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart
and have all of them ready on your lips.
So that your trust may be in the Lord,
I teach you today, even you.
(New International Version, NIV)
Here’s a cut little song from James 1:19 featuring Hip Hop 3 Blind Mice:
Good News to YOU!