A few days ago I had lunch with some folks I’m getting to know better. As we get more comfortable with each other we feel more at ease talking about our interests and values. This can include topics as innocuous as hiking or as fraught with hazards as politics. As we have spent more time together I noticed that one person in the group feels compelled to regale us with his political convictions. Those convictions don’t always line up with mine, but that’s not the reason his declaiming irritates me, albeit mildly. What is frustrating is his unwillingness to hear opposing views. As soon as someone disagrees and begins to offer supporting reasons, this fellow dismisses them and will sometimes even walk away (If he were reading this post this is the point where he would close the page and move on). Perhaps you know someone like this in your circle of friends or family. Granted, there is entertainment value in these precious encounters, but there is also a spiritual learning opportunity.
James 1:19 says, “. . . let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; . . .”
Did you catch that? It’s easy to miss but the word “quick” doesn’t seem to fit with hearing? I think that’s because our natural tendency is to speak quick with scant listening between our utterances. Have you ever said something before your mind filtered it? I know I have and sometimes I regretted what came out. In this verse God gives us an imperative (that’s a fancy word for an order) to reverse our natural tendencies when it comes to hearing and speaking.
Genuine full-attention listening is a rare characteristic in our culture. Individuals adrift in a sea of millions clamor for their voice to be heard. It’s like Thanksgiving at my in-laws (always a treat). My wife has seven brothers and sisters so when a bunch of them get together for the holidays there are instances when everybody talks at once. I’m often astounded that any of them hear what is said. To me it’s a cacophony of hoots, cackles, and hollering. In the midst of it all I wonder if anybody is listening, and yet somehow communication happens between them. It’s often inaccurate or incomplete communication, but communication nonetheless.
God knows that each person has a voice in the universe. I don’t think he begrudges the use of our voice. But perhaps we are missing a way to really communicate on a deeper level through listening. In this day and age a good listener has a gift of great value. Speaking can be selfish, listening rarely so.
I’ve noticed that God often uses the words of other people to speak profundities into my life at just the right time. Those aha moments are rare when I’m rambling on at the mouth. In other words, we shortchange ourselves when all we do is talk and show little interest in what others have to say. A.W. Tozer said it best this way:
“Whoever will listen will hear the speaking of heaven.”