Summary: We need to practice the skills of listening.
I would argue that one of the, if not THE, most essential skills we need to learn today, which will have the greatest impact on improving our relationships, is a skill you might be able to figure out from the title I have given to today’s message: “Those Things On The Side Of Your Head Are For More Than Just Holding Up Your Glasses”. I want to talk about communication today, specifically the skill of listening, and to introduce this I thought I’d turn to a classic old comedy sketch perfected by Abbot & Costello sketch from the late 1940. “Who’s on First” from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Watf8_Rf58s (5mins).
This spring we’ve dived into the area of building skills into our lives that will improve our ability to be in healthy relationships. We’ve talked about a desire to really deeply live, about repentance, and last week about mutual “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ” as commanded in Eph. 5:21. Today (and possibly next week) I want to narrow in on some really practical skills in communication. We’ve just seen a little bit about how it can be frustrating when we are not communicating clearly, so my goal today is to help us learn a few things about being better listeners. And since the series sub-title is “Relationship Skills from the Bible for Today”, let’s start with Scripture. Does it have anything to say about listening?
Yes. A lot, actually. We must remember that our Scripture documents are at least 2000 years old. This is before 3D video, before HD video, before the time when one could google “who’s on first” and watch 20 different versions instantly and then play them back on your iPhone projected and amplified as a sermon intro. Our Scriptures come from a time and a culture when even recording things in writing was sparse and expensive, and reserved for only the most important things. Back then, people had to simply listen. They needed to listen in a deeper way than we feel like we need to, since it is so easy for us to record and save. I believe they were much better, much more practiced, much more skilled at listening and remembering than we are, out of sheer necessity and practice.
There are a lot of passages about listening – listening for God like Elijah on Mount Horeb when God wasn’t in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but rather in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19); or listening like the boy Samuel who was woken by the voice of God calling to him in the night, at first mistaken for Eli (1 Sam 3) but soon discovered to be the voice of God. There are many commands to listen, many examples of God listening to His people, of God’s people listening to Him, and of God’s people not listening. Jesus spoke a lot about listening in the context of His parables, when He often concluded with the phrase, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear”. In John 10, Jesus says His true children are like sheep who know their master’s voice, because they have listened. Timothy warns, “For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3). It is in Revelation also, where the call to “listen” concludes each of the messages to the seven churches in chapters 2-3. But the Scripture I think is most clear from the skill perspective is this:
James 1:19-25 (NLT):
“19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. 20 Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires. 21 So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.
22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. 24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.”
My familiarity with this passage is mostly from the teaching about anger and obedience, but at the heart it is really about listening, and it contains the essence of the art of listening: listen before you speak, and act on what you hear.