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Stupid and Rude? Ouch.

Posted: July 24, 2012 by James Harvey

Do we take listening as seriously as God does: "If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame" (Proverbs 18:13).    If that doesn't get your ear then consider Eugene Peterson's paraphrase: "Answering before listening is both stupid and rude." Ouch. What does it look like to not listen?  Do you sit there, hearing what someone is saying, but all the while waiting to jump in with your own thoughts?  Do you lose track of what someone is saying because you are so anxious to redirect them or correct them?  Do people say things that throw you emotionally to the point that you cannot continue to listen to them?  Instead, you stand there with your mind racing about what they just said, unable to listen to what they are presently saying?  Most of us are guilty of these listening failures some of the time at least.  We need to get at the heart issues that underlie our failure to listen.  Why are we so quick to judge?  Why do our hearts shut down and our veins course with defensiveness, anger or fear when someone hits a certain theme?  If we get to the heart of these types of responses then we will find a gap in gospel understanding.

Great leaders are very good listeners.    Listening is not simply a means by which we respect other people (it is that at a minimum).  Listening is a means whereby we allow them to work out in our hearing, with our attention, what God is doing in their lives.  Our fast-paced, distraction-filled culture does not promote godly listening (e.g., husband on smart phone while wife is talking).  Man was not created to be alone.  One of the things missing for Adam in the garden was someone to listen to him and empathize with his experience.  So, God created Eve.  The marriage relationship is a special place where when listening you should be prized as a means of bringing forth fruit.  But listening is for all relationships.  James says that every Christian is called "to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry" (James1:19).  Do you listen?

Lets hear Dietrich Bonhoeffer on this theme:

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear.

So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too.

This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it.   Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”

From, Life Together (New York: Harper and Row, 1954), 97-98.