Which is most important being a good listener or a good speaker? We tend to put much more emphasis on speaking. But if you look at Jesus and his teaching, he had much more to say about listening. One of his favorite sayings was, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” His first parable was really all about hearing when he described human hearts as like the different kinds of soil that a seed might land on. We can either be hard hearted like wayside ground that has been walked on constantly, or shallow hearts like rocky ground that has no depth, or hearts that are full of so many things that there isn’t much room for God or his word like the thorny ground or we can have good and honest hearts like good soil that receives the seed and produces fruit. Each of the letters written by Jesus to the seven churches of Asia in Revelation 2 and 3 ends with “he who has ears to hear let him hear.” Since listening doesn’t usually come naturally in life and since there aren’t any courses on listening in school, how can we develop the habit of being a really good listener?
One thing is absolutely certain, you can’t been a good listener and be one that is always waiting to get your opportunity to speak at the same time. It is often amusing in teaching a class or working with a group how often someone will make a comment that is almost word for word what someone else has just said. It is obvious they were waiting their turn to speak and thinking so much about what they would say that they paid no attention to what was being said by the other person. I wonder how many discussions that go on in life that seem to end in anger and frustration with each other, would be settled easily if each person simply listened to the other without thinking of how they would answer. It is impossible to concentrate on what you are going to say and actually listen to the other person at the same time.
In the Book the Seven Habits of Highly Successful People by Stephen Covey one of his primary points was “Seek first to understand before you seek to be understood.” In marriage counseling it is pretty common to ask each partner to repeat in their own words what the other one has said before answering them in any way. The purpose of doing that exercise is to actually get them to listen to each other.
Think about all the folks who heard Jesus teaching from day to day during his ministry on this earth. Sometimes they got the words right but missed the message entirely. Very early in his ministry, he came to Jerusalem and according to John 2 went into the temple and cleaned it out, driving out the money changers and the animals. He declared, that if they would tear down this temple he would rebuild it in three days. That statement that was about his body being raised in three days after they crucified him, became one of the most remembered statements he made at least among the Jews. They would use it as a witness against him at his trial. After his death and resurrection and the church beginning, it would come up again at the trial of Stephen the first Christian to be martyred for his faith. They couldn’t forget the statement he made. Yet they lost the context and lost the point he was making.
Don’t you wonder how often we do the same thing? It is easy to refer to things the Bible says without looking closely at the context in which it was said and what the point of the words really were when they were uttered.
We are living in a time when there is so much confusion among different groups of people. It may be political in some situations. In others it is definitely racial differences. In lots of situations the confusion is in the religious world or realm. Sometimes it is difference in opinion between different age groups or even different economic groups. But one thing is true in everyone of them. It is that there is far more talking than there is listening. When you watch any of these kinds of things either in person or on TV, it is common to see people trying to talk over each other. No one seems to be paying the least bit of attention to what the other person is saying. Instead they are determined to make their point, even though the people trying to listen can’t really understand what anyone is saying since they are all talking. How utterly ridiculous! I don’t know of anyone that ever learned anything by talking. Do you?
What if you really had courses in school on how to listen? What do you think might be covered in such a course? 1. Listen intently, trying your best to understand what the other person is saying. 2. Do not interrupt the other person as they are talking. 3. If a person listens to you, you owe it to them to listen to what they say without interrupting them. 4. Give the other person the respect that you would like to have for yourself. 5. Make absolutely certain you understand what the other person is attempting to say before you repeat it or try to answer it. 6. If the other person says that you aren’t understanding them, believe them and try again. 7. Never make a judgment on what the other person says or believes that you wouldn’t want them to make about you and your words or beliefs.
“Take heed how you hear.” Great advise from Jesus for all of us.