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Why listening matters most

For about 10 days now, I’ve been wrestling with the worst cold of my life, including my first ear infection in about 50 years. To say that it has affected my hearing would be a gross understatement. My wife has threatened to hurt me if I ask one more time, “What did you say?”

As a preacher, I talk for a living. A great deal of my time and energy goes into preparing messages for people to hear. Honestly, I like to talk. I’m afraid I fall under the category of people who like the sound of their own voice. Of course, my job involves listening too, but I tend to do a lot more talking than listening.

My cold started with a horrible sore throat that shut my overactive mouth down for about three days. It hurt to talk, so I didn’t. But I soon went from not being able to speak to not being able to hear.

Here are some things I learned through all of this:

If I had to choose, I’d choose hearing over talking. I know, I was surprised by this insight too. Perhaps the best part of this sickness has been what I’ve learned about listening.

Listening is the best way to learn. Nobody gets smarter or wiser by talking! Talking a lot might make us feel or look smart, but listening is the only way we truly can grow.

Listening communicates value to those in my life. I can tell people I love them (and that’s good), but listening says it better. Listening to someone and hearing his or her heart says, “You matter to me. You are important in my life.”

Listening is a selfless act; talking tends to be all about me. It takes effort to hear and understand what someone is saying. It takes patience to not interrupt. All too often, instead of fully being present while someone is talking, I am thinking about what I want to say or what I’d rather be doing. Listening is always self-sacrificing and otherly.

Listening is the pathway to intimacy. When I hear someone’s heart and connect with his or her soul by listening, I am drawn into a deeper and more meaningful relationship. Of course, two-way communication is critical to intimacy, but it’s best to listen first.

King Solomon once wrote: “…the wise listen and add to their learning…” and for anyone “to answer before listening is shameful” (Proverbs 1:5; Proverbs 18:13).

James gave this advice: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

Not being able to hear very well has reminded me of the value of listening. Maybe, as the saying goes, there is a reason why God gave us two ears and one mouth.

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4 comments

  1. Kurt,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I think you’re right: listening is fairly selfless. It tells people I care enough to stop what I’m doing and pay attention. It is, in some ways, an act of hospitality.

  2. Kurt- I’m just curious, does that include listening to the higher critics, biblical critics, evolutionary scientists and others who have different views from the church you represent? And I don’t mean listening and then keeping your own viewpoint, I mean listening in the way Jesus described in Matthew 5:41. Going the extra mile, listening in such a way as to put yourself in the others shoes and the others skin and then walking around in it for awhile, trying your best and then more to understand where the other is coming from? I already know the answer, because if you really did that you would lose your occupation.

  3. Thank you, Amy for your encouragement. And I agree, it is a wonderful act of kindness and hospitality.

    Bruce, not sure where you’re coming from…but listening is important no matter who is speaking. I try to listen to everyone (even those with a chip on their shoulder). That being said, listening does not mean agreeing or compromising your own viewpoint. And for the record, “going the extra mile” in the context it was written, means selfless and sacrificial service to others (even those who may not deserve it). Hope that helps.

  4. Kurt- Thank you for your response. I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised.

    But I must disagree. If we are not changed by listening to another human being, then are we really listening? And perhaps I do have a chip on my shoulder, but if I do, it’s because so many on the fundamentalist side of the church have shut their ears to biblical critics and refuse to hear what they have to say.

    And in your response to “going the extra mile,” are you saying that listening is not an act of selfless and sacrificial service to others?

    Thank you again for engaging me on these difficult matters.

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