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Disciplined Listening

October 3rd, 2014

Anyone whose Father is God listens gladly to the words of God.” John 8:47 NLT.

Hearing is an ability; listening is an art.

My thoughts and comments today are about “disciplined listening.”

Of all the skills essential to be learned, listening is of singular importance among those. Most of us are not hearing impaired, but more easily listening impaired. There is a vast difference between hearing and listening. Hearing is an ability; listening is an art. Disciplined listening is both a social art and spiritual skill of valuing others and their words.

When in his eighties, Holman, a dear friend who served on our church leadership said to me, “Pastor, I do not hear as well as I once did, so I am learning to listen a lot more closely.” Realizing his natural and spiritual limitations and unwilling to risk missing what God or others would say to him, he applied himself to the practice of disciplined listening. People also suffer from selective hearing. You hear what and when you want to hear. Children acquire such a skill very early, and as adults, many perfect it even further. Parents recognize it in children, teens, and others but seldom in themselves. Friends notice it of other friends, but seem oblivious to their own tendencies. God knows the tendency resides in us all.

Jesus said, “Anyone whose Father is God listens gladly to the words of God.” John 8:47 NLT. A listening heart and an obedient life is a trait of our Heavenly Father’s family. On multiple occasions, Jesus admonished His disciples, “He that has ears to hear, let him hear.” Not listening to others may be unwise; unwilling to listen to God can ruin your life. In honest transparency, ask yourself, “Do I have a willingness to listen and obey what God wants to say to me? For those who love God enough to listen with their hearts, He expresses His will for their prompt obedience, not thoughtful approval.

I recognize this as a personal hazard, especially to people in places of authority and leadership, or for those of us who have pastoral/teaching/church leadership responsibilities. We learn to talk to others – a lot – teaching, instructing, directing, encouraging, counseling, problem solving, motivating, challenging, and sometimes correcting. It is easy to assume the habit of always doing the talking, and too seldom submitting to the discipline of listening.

When I was a boy – at one of those many moments when I required my Dad’s parental correction and instruction – he opined, “Allen, maybe there’s a reason God gave you two ears and just one mouth. It’s best that you learn to listen twice as much as you talk.” I am not sure about my Dad’s theology on the Creator’s intention of design; however, I am sure I have not yet mastered the principle successfully but I argue with neither his practical wisdom nor my need for his truth. My Dad knew more about disciplined listening than I realized. And I still need to learn more about that spiritual skill even now.

With God-given wisdom, Solomon observed, “He who restrains his words has knowledge . . even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise. When he closes his lips he is considered prudent.” Proverbs 17:27-28 NAS.  With both wisdom and wit, someone observed, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt. I guess the best option is: listen better and speak less.

Today, my prayer for you is that you practice listening well to others, and always to God.

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