“Are you listening to me?” “Listen!” “I need to you stop and listen to me right now”. These are all things I have said to my kids. We as parents need their ears to tune in to what we are saying because it’s generally for their good. We view their attention to our words as a sign of respect which is why we get bent out of shape when our instructions and commands are ignored. But what we may not realize, or think about often is that our listening has more of an impact on our relationships than the other party/parties listening to us.
What It Means to Listen
Have you ever looked up the definition of listen? I hadn’t until writing this post. Google defines listening as “give one’s attention to: pay attention, concentrate on”. When we speak to people, we expect them to put their focus on us and pay attention to what we say. When our kids are looking around the room instead of us as we speak, we safely assume they aren’t listening and get frustrated. Yes, we put a lot of value in listening.
So does God. According to answers.com the King James Version mentions the word listen or hear 533 times. Proverbs alone references listening or hearing at least 6 times. While these numbers may not seem great when you look at the Bible as a whole, it’s what is said about listening that emphasizes it’s importance.
Christian parents love to cite verses like Proverbs 13:1 which says that “a wise son hears his [parent’s] instruction but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke. Or even verses like Proverbs 19:20 which says “Listen to advice and accept instruction that you may gain wisdom in the future. “ (ESV). These validate out authority and give us a leg to stand on during power struggles. But what we may fail to realize or remember is that these apply to us too. Solomon, being the wisest man to ever live, knew what it took to gain and maintain wisdom. He knew that it was by listening to wise counsel that one obtains wisdom, which is partly why he wrote Proverbs and why it’s just as important for adults to listen as it is for children. It’s why God informs us that “faith comes by hearing and hear by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Why We Don’t Listen
Too Busy. We don’t have to look too hard or think too deeply to figure out why we have a hard time with listening to others. It’s very obvious when we look at the fast paced world around us. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve avoided talking with people or had to cut conversations at church short because I needed to get to the next thing. I can say that if I did sit and count those times, I would be thoroughly embarrassed. In short, people today are simply too busy to slow down and listen, especially to the seemingly unending story about the monster truck adventure the four year old is inventing.
Uninterested. Not only do we live in a fast paced culture, it’s an entertainment based one. Seriously, the number of video streaming services available today is borderline outrageous. People can spend all day watching YouTube videos or looking at memes on Facebook. And if we see something that we don’t like or aren’t interested in, we simply swipe away, scroll up, or exit out all together. It’s a world of mute buttons and instant removal. Not that I’m saying you need to listen to all the TV ads or read EVERY social media post. I’m simply saying that this is the nature of the social media world and if we aren’t careful, we can start to, in a sense, begin to treat the rest of the world like this.
Waiting to Speak. Sometimes in conversations, we aren’t the ones talking. We are looking very intently at the person speaking, so on the outside we appear to be listening. But what’s really happening is we have a thought or piece of advice we want to share and are just waiting for our turn to speak. Before we know it, we are ending the conversation without a real idea of what the person said.
In short, our selfish desires and concerns keep us from listening well.
Why It’s a Probelm
Several problems can arise from not listening well.
Misunderstanding. How many arguments have been caused by avoidable misunderstandings? How many times have you become offended or hurt by something someone else said. How many times have you jumped to conclusions before getting the whole story? The fact is that if we take the time to slow down and really engage in the conversation with someone, we will gain all the information and draw an accurate conclusion or advise wisely if the situation calls for it.
Distrust. If you become known as someone who doesn’t listen well, you will most likely not be the first one your friend comes to when he or she needs to talk. In the case of our children, if we don’t take the time to listen to the seemingly unending lecture on dinosaurs from our 3 year old son or the complete closet inventory of our 7 year old’s doll, they will pick up on that and will eventually deem you uninterested in their lives. Then, when they get older and need advise from and adult, they will hesitate coming to you, or avoid it altogether.
Eternal Impact of Listening Well
The way we listen doesn’t just reveal how we view others and ourselves nor is it just about our relationships here on earth. Listening is one way we show a watching world what God is like.
Just look at the Psalms. All throughout the book we see the psalmists praising God for answering their prayers and pleas for mercy. And almost as often we see they declare their faith in Him because He has shown Himself to be faithful and loving. The psalmists knew God was listening and praised God openly for it which means that those around them learned that God is a listening God. Jesus further solidifies this point when He teaches that God is a Good Father. He listens to us as we bring our needs and desires before Him as well as our complaints.
So what does it say when we, God’s image bearers and ambassadors, fail to do as He does? What kind of God will the watching world, or even our own children, see when they look at us? Will they see a shallow faith that relies mostly on self, or a strong faith that praises God for His faithfulness? Will they see a distant God who is uninterested in their everyday lives, or a loving Father who cares so deeply for our needs that He sent His own Son to meet the greatest need we have, our need for Salvation, and created a way for us to have eternal fellowship with Him?
Listening is obedience to the command to “Love your neighbor…” It gives us the opportunity to learn how to pray for one another. It’s a small way of showing that we serve a God who loves us and wants to hear from us everyday.