My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry… (James 1:19 NIV)
To answer before listening — that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13 NIV)
God gave you two ears but only one mouth because he wants you to listen twice as much as you talk. (anonymous)
You know the sayings: listen before you respond, think before you speak, avoid jumping to conclusions. It is hard but important to do; listening well can help us resolve conflicts before they begin, communicate effectively and meaningfully, and keep our minds open to other peoples’ ideas.
So why do we struggle to listen to others so frequently, both at home and in public? Why are we so quick to speak and slow to listen?
Surely you know what this is like. Often I will react to something my wife says, or to something that another customer says or does at the grocery store, without thinking about what I choose to say first. There is so much more wisdom in simply slowing down, thinking and praying quietly, and then responding carefully. Arguments and wars and tragedies, great and small, can be avoided.
Can you imagine what would happen if Israelis and Palestinians listened to each other’s desires and viewpoints – I mean, really heard each other?
Can you imagine what would happen if Darren Wilson had listened to Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri the other weekend? What if Michael Brown had listened to Darren Wilson?
Can you imagine a political debate in which the opponents actually listened and responded to each other instead of giving us pre-cooked sound bites? (No, I can’t either – but I can dream!)
Listening is so important to human communication and to society in general. How can this simple idea influence the church’s outreach efforts? I think the possibilities are endless:
- When standing in a long line at the store, you listen to the conversations around you. Then you realize you can offer an encouraging word to your neighbor.
- When hearing someone describe their troubled home life, you listen carefully instead of explaining how your own home life is (or was) worse.
- When inviting someone to church, you listen to her to discover her story. Her story is valuable in itself, because she is a child of God. Then, humbly and compassionately, you explain why you think worshiping Jesus might make a difference for her.
- When a guest visits church and tells you that he works at a local restaurant, you learn his hours and eat at that restaurant when he is there. (And you leave a generous tip.)
The key idea to listening as an outreach device is the concept of caring. If you really care about people, you will listen to them carefully and orient your life around their responses. This is, I believe, one of the messages buried within the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).
And the second key to listening is a challenge for me personally: responding appropriately. God gave you two ears, yes; but he also gave you one mouth. Listen to others, show your concern for them, but remember that your own words can have tremendous influence – for good or for ill – in the lives of those around you.
We are called to reach out to others for the sake of Christ. Listen to your neighbors as you do so!