There are people hurting everywhere. Sometimes, we are the ones who hurt. Sometimes, it’s the cashier at our local gas station, our mail carrier, family member, or close friend. Maybe it is the person we come across only once in our life, but one thing remains the same about each of these – when we are hurting, sometimes all we want and need is for someone to listen. The generations that are alive right now are considered as the most isolated generations in all of human existence. We have computers, Internet, instant messaging, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and a whole horde of other technology based gadgets and programs for making communication easier, yet we are more “unplugged” from each other than ever before. We have lost the ability to listen to one another.
Learning to listen means putting things down
I will be completely honest; I didn’t start learning to listen until the Lord me with a daughter when I was 40. It wasn’t until my daughter hit four that I really understood that I truly didn’t know how to listen to others. She was having a bad day and was upset that nothing she tried to do was working. Since most of the courses I teach are on-line, I do most of my work from home at the family dining room table. So, that particular day, I made her lunch and sat back down at the table. She started talking to me and soon realized I was only partially listening. She got up from the table, walked around until she was beside me, then said, “Daddy, you’re not listening. Please pay attention…”
Within the King James Version of the Bible, the word “hearken” means listen. There’s a verse David wrote, Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the LORD (Psalms 34:11) where he is inviting others to listen to what it means to truly follow after the Lord. It is a humbling experience to realize we listen without really paying attention to what is being said. Within my own Bible study, there’s been times where I will read a passage but because I’m not really listening to the Lord, I simply don’t get it. Then there are those times when I can read the same passage and the Lord shows me just what I needed for that day. The difference is in our willingness to listen.
Listening means setting aside the distractions
There are times we need to listen but our attentions are divided among many different things. I love the term, multi-tasking; it simply means “I’m working hard but won’t get anything totally finished…” At four years old, my daughter was wise enough to know she needed my undivided attention focused on her so that I could understand what she was trying to say. It is the same thing with Bible study. It’s hard to understand the message the Lord has for me when I read my Bible with the television on or with the many other distractions that often fills my day.
Listening to my daughter meant turning away from my lap top and focusing solely on her and my conversation. Listening to the Lord means the same thing. It means purposely setting aside all else and focusing on the Lord. Since 2006, I have learned I gain more from my personal time with the Lord when all distractions are put away. We have become so accustomed to doing a half-dozen things at one time and if we are honest about it, none of them are completed as good as we could if we just focused on one thing at a time.
Listening means gaining understanding
There are a couple of verses in Psalms that illustrate a difference in knowing and understanding. These two verses, Thy hands have made me and fashioned me: give me understanding, that I may learn thy commandments (Psalm 119:73) and My mouth shall speak of wisdom; and the meditation of my heart shall be of understanding (Psalms 49:3) show there is more than knowing. We gain an understanding of God’s plan when we become determined to seek Him out. David was asking not just to know God’s law, but to understand God’s law. David could only gain understanding by learning how to listen.
When it comes to listening to others, it is easy to simply casually listen, claiming we already know the gist of the conversation. Frankly, I’ve done that many times myself; the question is now, do I understand what they are saying? Do I understand how what they are sharing has affected them? Do I understand the need they must have to take a risk by sharing it with me? Truly learning to listen means we are willing to gain an understanding about the one speaking to us, about what they are talking about, and even about ourselves.
Learning to listen goes against our fleshly nature
I had a bit of an attitude problem when the Lord first laid on my heart that I needed to learn to listen. I didn’t understand there was a difference between hearing and listening. Listening is when we open ourselves to truly receiving what the other person is trying to say. If I am not careful, I still find myself falling back on not really listening as my daughter tries to talk with me. I honestly believe it goes against our fleshly nature to truly listen to someone else. We approach so much of life with preconceived notions of what we think is fair, of our own importance and abilities, and value.
It is not natural to subordinate ourselves to a lower and more humble place, yet that is what Jesus calls us to do: Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:4). As a college level instructor, I’m also learning to put this into practice for the first time this semester. I’ve noticed it does make a difference for some and actually catches others off-guard. Again, it took me stepping away from how I saw myself and putting into practice the very things the Lord teaches us to do. It also gives me an opportunity to share the gospel with students when they ask me why am I different from the other instructors they’ve encountered on campus.