I am learning that as years go by, I am having difficulty hearing. It’s not that I am getting older, of course. It is just something that seems to be happening. I notice it most at home. I am told by my children that the TV is loud – seems perfectly normal to me. When Wendy talks to me, if she is not in front of me, I have no idea what she is saying. I foresee our future of – what did you say? The good news for me is she doesn’t always hear me either. So we end up speaking louder than normal and then she tells me to stop yelling. At first, I remind her she couldn’t hear me. And then, because we have been married so long, I just move on. I will lose this argument.
Our world is filled with lots of noise, though. And it seems that we invite more and more noise into our lives. We constantly have something going. We are rarely in silence and when we are, it seems so awkward. Silence seems out of place and something that can even be a bit – scary. So we put it earbuds so we can fill our heads with something, anything that can break the quiet. And we wonder why we can’t hear God?
I have studied the Bible for quite a while and for me, God seems to break it down to two main themes. These themes are repeated over and over again throughout scripture. From the Old Testament commands to the teachings of Jesus to the writings of the apostles – these themes are on repeat. They are on repeat because they are both important and also challenging. If we, as God’s people, got them the first time, we wouldn’t have to hear them again. But we are often stubborn, hard-headed and defiant – so God has to keep reminding us. And I’m glad he does. So what are the themes? Love God, love others. We cannot adequately love others without first loving God. We cannot truly love God if we do not love others. They go together and should be a huge driver in our lives. They should give us direction. But here’s the thing – both require listening.
How do we really love God if we do not listen to him? How do we know where to go and what to do if we are not learning from him? How do we know the direction if we cannot hear the Master? If we are not listening, we will get lost in the chaos of this world. We will find ourselves struggling for clarity. We will get off track.
And to really love others, we must be willing to hear them. We cannot know their needs without listening. We cannot know their struggles without hearing their stories. We cannot truly love someone we never listen to. I am not talking about just physical hearing – but a connection that allows for more than a 5 second interaction. So many misunderstandings happen between us and God and us and others because we have not actually heard them.
Texting and messaging doesn’t help either. It is hard to read emotions and what is really going on in a text. I am a fan of texting, by the way. Sometimes I just need the facts – just give me the things I need to know. But if we really want to get to know someone, we cannot simply text. We need to hear them – really spend time with them. And God – he does texting too – except he gave us all his texts ahead of time. We just need to read them. They are all contained in the Bible. But to really get it, we must spend time with God. Reading about God is not the same as spending time with God.
The writings of James are among the most direct. They are straightforward and help us to put into practice many of the things we read in the scriptures. It is a very practical book – and if you are needing to feel more humble, this is the book to come back to. Today’s scripture comes from James 1:19-21.
19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
This scripture is teaching us the importance of listening. We are told to be quick to listen and slow to speak. By the way, those go together. If you are talking, you are not listening. Sometimes, we can be talkers so much that we never actually hear anything. And if we do listen, it is that we are listening just to talk. We hear what the other is saying but have already formed our response before their sentence is even finished. It reminds me of the kid in school that raises his hand and almost jumps out of his seat to answer something before the question is even complete. We don’t often fully hear because we are so anxious to say something. And talking has caused more problems than most of us would care to discuss. Listening with our mouths closed hasn’t caused near the problems – it actually usually solves them.
When my kids were little, that was a lesson that came hard. One of my girls really struggled – she couldn’t listen because she just had to speak. I couldn’t even finish a sentence before she was already talking. It got her in lots of trouble. Thankfully she has grown up to become a much better listener. But it’s hard. Talking is our first response. We want to create noise. And sometimes our noise is harmful and very painful. Sometimes quiet is the answer. We may even find we have much less anger when we can simply keep our mouths closed and our ears open – without judgment.
Ok – so the answer is to be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to get angry. Sounds great – now go and do. If only it were that easy. I appreciate the gifts of God’s Word – but we must put them into practice. And practice is exactly what it takes. This doesn’t always come naturally. This is something we must work towards. This is a goal we work towards with constant focus.
Here are a few quick tips that may help us to hear – God and others.
-Practice the pause. Before we speak, pause. Just pause for a moment. We often rush to say something and in the rush, words come out that should have stayed in. And once they are out, they are out. Pause for a moment and consider what you are about to say. Is this helpful, kind, loving? Would this be pleasing to God? If not, just don’t. Leave it alone. Smile and move forward.
-Measure it according to God’s standards. This is one of my ‘go-to’ scriptures – not because I always follow this – but because it gives me a measure – something to consider about what I may say or think. It is contained in Philippians 4:8-9
8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
If we use this as a guide, that may cut out some of the things we say. If we think on these things, the words we produce will come from this source.
-Find the Quiet. God is often heard most clearly in the quiet. Sure, he can speak above the noise. Yes, he can be found in the middle of our lives. But if we really want to hear him – if we really desire to have a relationship with him, we must learn to be still, quiet, silent. Hearing God will help guide us in the right direction. It will also help us as we struggle with anger or any other issue.
Listening is hard. Talking is way too easy. Capturing ourselves in the noise and chaos may be ways of avoiding what God is trying to tell us. What might you do differently to be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. We just might find God has a lot to say when we listen.