The Art of Listening

“Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak.” James 1:19 NKJV

“Your ability to hear does not guarantee the discipline to listen.”

My thoughts today are about the “art of listening.”

We live in a noisy world, and too much noise diminishes your capacity to listen. Hearing is so much more than a physical ability; hearing must include the art of listening, offering a welcome to the valuable input of others. I have a friend, Sanford, who is a capable counselor. I wish I had his relational sensitivities. Beyond his training and experience, his interest in others’ well-being makes him a skilled and sincere listener. His interest provides a place where their heart feels free to share, and a safe place to be vulnerable. Isn’t that we all want and need to be given us? The art of listening makes that available to people.

Your ability to hear does not guarantee the discipline to listen. Hearing involves only your ability to receive and understand intelligible sounds; listening includes opening your heart to another person’s heart. The Bible offers this wise, practical counsel, “Let every man be swift to hear and slow to speak . .” James 1:19 NKJV. I think that may reveal a frequent problem; more typically, people are prone to reverse the order, being more ready to speak than available to listen. When you care, you listen; when you listen, you care.

Solomon observed, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” Proverbs 17:28 NIV. That seemed to be the opinion of my father as well. As a young boy, I remember his once having to say to me, “Allen, there may be a reason that God gave you two ears, but only one mouth. It is wiser to listen twice as much and talk only half as much.” I am not persuaded that was God’s intention at creation, but was certainly practical counsel for me; I wish I had followed his advice more often. A quote is attributed to both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.”

Good relationships require good listening. There seems too little concerned listening and all too frequently unprofitable words spoken. There have been many times I just needed a friend to listen with their heart; I am thankful for every time someone has. Being attentive to listen demonstrates sincere interest and respect for another person. Marriages, friendships, and even business relationships are built and succeed on that foundation. I have not always been a good listener in our marriage. It has taken me a while to learn that Gayle does not always want me to “solve her problem,” as much as she needs me to open my heart to her heart, and listen to her concerns – well, to be honest, I am still a work in progress in that area!

Most importantly, your relationship with God and spiritual life thrives and grows with a listening ear for God’s voice and an open heart to obey. Listen for God’s voice today. Prayer, like conversation, is not so much about speaking your own concerns as it is listening to another’s. Here’s good advice: Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know they are wrong. Do not be quick with your mouth; do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in Heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” Ecclesiastes 5:1-2 NIV.

My prayer for you today is that you will learn the skill of listening with your heart.