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!

How many languages can you speak?  I mean, how many can you speak fluently?

I feel convicted as a citizen of the world that I am monolingual:  I speak only one language fluently.  And I’m not happy about that fact about myself.

Yes, I studied German in high school and college.  But I had five different teachers over the span of four years, so I never got far in mastering the language.  And yes, I studied biblical Greek in seminary, but that doesn’t really count.  (Besides, it’s a reading-only skill.)  In the final analysis, right now I can speak fluently in only one language, the language of my birth.

There is something significant about that last statement:  the language of my birth.  It is a sheer coincidence of genetics, timing, and God’s sovereign will that I was born to English-speaking parents in a predominantly English-speaking country.  Nothing in my daily life requires me to know any language other than English.  And if you’re reading this article, changes are that you are in the same situation.

I strongly dislike the fact that I am monolingual.

This feeling rose up in me during the trip to Europe which Tara and I enjoyed last month.  For the second half of this trip, we were in Riga, Latvia, participating in the biennial World Choir Games.  (Think of the Olympics, except all the competitors are singers.)  Choirs from around the world filled downtown Riga with song and with multiple languages.

Our hotel was a 15-minute bus ride from the main arena venue.  Local shuttle buses transported us and other choir members to and from the arena.  On these buses, we regularly sat or stood next to people from Nigeria, China, Russia, South Africa, Canada, Venezuela, and other parts of the world.  Hearing all the different music styles and spoken languages was an amazing experience!

One event captured my attention.  On a trip back from the arena, we packed into a bus along with a large children’s choir from China.  The American person next to me – a member of our local choir – made a comment under her breath that was not disparaging or disrespectful, but it was something she did not intend the Chinese children to understand.  (My memory fails me now as to what she said; it was something innocuous such as “There sure are a lot of them in this choir!”)

Partway through our bus ride back to the hotel, a few Chinese girls standing nearby began speaking to us.  In perfect English.

I could not return the favor of speaking in their native language.

What’s worse, my friend’s comment was in fact understood by those children.

I learned a few valuable lessons that day:

  1. Never assume that your neighbor cannot speak English.  You may be surprised to learn that he or she does!
  2. Always remember that many millions, even billions of people in this world speak a language other than English.
  3. Our lives and cultural experiences are enhanced when we are multilingual.

I am grateful to have learned English at an early age.  But now I feel that I must redouble my efforts to learn at least one other language, in order to be able to communicate with more people.

Remember also that the gospel was proclaimed in many native languages on the Day of Pentecost:

Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? (Acts 2:8 NIV)

Do you want to learn a new language?  Check out – it is a free website that will teach you any of a number of languages at an easy, comfortable pace.  I’m learning Spanish there!

Pastor David