“Understand this, my dear brothers, and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. Human anger does not produce the righteousness (justice) God desires”. James 1:19-20 (NLT)
A few weeks ago, I went on a spiritual retreat to a Trappist Monastery. They had not taken a vow of silence, but they don’t speak very much. I can count on one hand the number of sentences spoken to me that week. Many of us don’t like or even know silence because we are surrounded by sights and sounds that constantly grab our senses daily. But I realized the monk’s practice was not merely about silence but emphasized listening. Listening not only to the word of God but also the world around us and those we interact with. It includes listening whether we like it or not.
The love of neighbour and God that scripture speaks about involves listening. It is listening to everything and being in touch with our surroundings. If we aren’t listening, how else will we hear our neighbours as God hears them? If we begin to pick and choose what we will listen to, we may be turning a deaf ear to the unexpected and perhaps unacceptable way in which God is trying to reach us. Too often, we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to anger.
Missionary Janet Dunn said, “Unfortunately, many of us are too preoccupied with ourselves when we listen. Instead of concentrating on what is being said, we are busy either deciding what to say in response or mentally rejecting the other person’s point of view.” Dietrick Bonhoeffer warns that this “kind of listening with half an ear presumes already to know what the other person has to say.” Impatient, inattentive listening is only waiting for a chance to speak. We have all probably heard someone say that good listening requires concentration and that we hear the other person out until they’re done talking.
Often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to them seriously. Good listening is an excellent means of grace. Not only is it a means through which God continues to pour His grace into our lives, but it’s also His way of using us as His means of grace in the lives of others. Bonhoeffer writes, “We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God. The best ministry you might do today is to listen to someone’s pain all the way to the bottom.”
Listening may be one of the hardest things we can learn to do, but we will find it worth every ounce of effort.