“I love the LORD, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.” Psalm 116:1-2 NIV
I have a ritual that I began a few years ago and I continue to this day because I really enjoy it. Every so often I will open up Word on my computer at work, type in a word or a passage and print it out on a little strip of paper. Then, I place the little missive at the base of my monitor where I can glance at it often throughout the day. Usually the content takes the form of a verse or two of scripture, a quote or a passage from an article I have just read that spoke to me in a meaningful way.
The purpose of writing it down and keeping it in a prominent spot is to help me focus on an important theme that I need in that point in my life, and keep me on a path that I want to be on. Switching it up every once in a while helps to keep me out of a rut, and having lots of little mantras rather than one over-arching core belief keeps me on the right path. I think of them as course adjustments. I am less like a train clacking down a predetermined track and more like a boat that needs to constantly adjust its course depending on wind and sea conditions on a given day. The hope is that by getting those course corrections into writing and having them sit in front of me and constantly remind me of what I should be doing, I can simplify my path and make traveling it easier.
Currently, the piece of paper that sits by my computer does not contain a long verse or passage, but one word in all caps: LISTEN. I honestly don’t remember when I put it there, or what prompted me, but it has been a helpful reminder lately. For most of my life I’ve been a pretty good listener, and this little reminder is less an encouragement to open my ears and pay attention and more a reminder to be comfortable and confident as a good listener, and not a big talker. Even though it seems like there are so many people in my life, and in the world right now who are having success doing quite the opposite.
As always, scripture is a good guide in this endeavor, and is a constant reminder of the importance of listening. For instance, Proverbs 19, verse 20 reads, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” And there are plenty more where that came from. In fact, the command to keep our mouths shut and open our ears is one of the more common exhortations:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19 KJV)
“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 5:2 NIV)
“Now then, my children, listen to me; blessed are those who keep my ways. Listen to my instruction and be wise; do not disregard it. Blessed are those who listen to me, watching daily at my doors, waiting at my doorway.” (Proverbs 8:32-34 NIV)
“The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15 NIV)
It is clear that God wants us to be “Listeners”, to strip out the noise from our lives and open our ears to Him and His word. Yet I often surround myself with so much static that I can’t hear what He is trying to tell me. And too often, especially recently as I have tried to advance in the corporate world or even to teach and guide my six-year-old son as he grows up, I find myself being a “Speaker” first and not listening. Somehow what a person has to say, or more accurately how much they have to say and how loud they can say it, has become a sign of how smart or hard working or thoughtful a person is. Unfortunately there are times when I am as guilty as anyone of playing that game.
But oh how hard it can be to take that path! Much like the meek inheriting the earth, it is tough to accept that to be a Listener is more important to God than being a Speaker. “Speakers” tend to get heard when decisions need to get made. Many of us Listeners fear being left behind or not being recognized, as if acknowledgement is the only thing that is keeping us alive. It is so tempting to join the chorus of gabbers, to have an opinion and loudly proclaim that opinion to anyone in range. With the advent of social media, those proclamations have become easier to make and carry less consequence once spoken.
But the lesson for me is that it is through listening, not persuading, that I will turn peoples’ hearts and minds to righteousness. More importantly, it is how I will turn my own heart to righteousness. I choose to follow the example of the Lord and foster love by opening my ears to those around me. Maybe my lot in life is not to be heard, but to help others be heard. My hope is that I can find a way to give others a voice, and use my gift of listening to know others better. And by knowing those around me better, I can know God better.
Of course there are often times where we have to speak up. Jesus didn’t travel around on a listening tour like a politician running for office. There were plenty of times when, after hearing the cries of help from those he encountered, he spoke up and gave them a beautiful piece of wisdom. But lest we forget, that wisdom came from knowing exactly what that person needed at that exact moment. That should be our mission as well. And while Jesus knew these things because he was…well…God, the only way we can know what someone needs at any given moment is to listen to them.
Becoming comfortable with the fact that I am a Listener and not a Speaker is the next journey I need to take. If anyone has any helpful suggestions I am all ears.