I think one of the most important things we do is listen, but I am convinced it is also a skill none of us has perfected or do as well as we ought to do. Teaching in a junior high classroom for 13 years and working as a professional clinical counselor for more than 25 years has proven that to me many times over.
Lest you think I have mastered the skills, let me assure you I have not and continue to work to improve it. By nature of my calling and professions, I have had a great deal of practice, however.
Perhaps the need to improve this skill is why so many books and articles have been written on the subject. If you still haven’t tapped into Adam McHugh’s book, The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, I would tell you that I think it is a “must read”.
Listening informs us and if we do it poorly or not at all, we start from a false set of data and that leads us down the wrong road every time.
When we are young we can feel as though everyone demands we listen to him or her and no one listens to us enough. We need to listen to parents, teachers, coaches, etc. Maybe that is when we first check out of listening and sometimes hearing as well.
The bad news is that the longer we practice a bad habit, the better we become at doing it!
So, as adults, we may fail to listen well to supervisors or bosses. We might hear them, but not really believe what they say applies to us. We also may not listen well to friends, neighbors, or spouses. (Ask any marriage and family therapist what the first and most important skill to improve on is: communication with an emphasis on listening.)
The truth is that we also tend to not listen very well to the Lord either. Sometimes we aren’t sure how or if He is speaking to us (or wants to). As a result, time in the Word and quiet times where we don’t do all the talking to Him are not always the priority of our days. We can get used to relying on our pastors to tell us what we should know. We can sing “Oh, How I Love Jesus” and yet easily fill our days up without spending time with Him on purpose.
More than the listening piece of this, the other key principle is whether or not we are applying the truth we do hear. Does it show up in my actions, my priorities, my choices, and my words?
I am currently reading Longing to Know by Esther Meek and I love some of her powerful insightful words about this. Reading her words and thoughts makes clear that we need to bring every part of who we are into alignment with Him. That is what we were designed for.
Here are a few of her thoughts:
“Bringing our bodies in line with God’s words involved obedience. Obedience is lived truth.”
I love that!!!! “Obedience is lived truth.”
But she doesn’t stop there,
“His ‘Here’s the way it is,’ the Bible, is like a how-to operate manual for humans and the world. When we orient our lives toward him and align them with his words, we can taste shalom.”
“Following through on the First Commandment – No other gods before me—is like grabbing our lives by the topmost point. The rest of our lives slide to their proper place. And the lived body experience that results, the alignment we can call shalom, feels good.”
“Human action is lived truth (or falsehood).”
“My true commitments come to expression in my action. That’s why we all can sense the presence or absence of hypocrisy.”
Wow!! Does she ever nail the truth and provide conviction of what it means to not only listen, but to hear and live out what we hear!
Perhaps we not only fail to do as well with this because we are not truly hearing or listening, but also because we too often fall prey to unhealthy self-focus. It is easy for the enemy to mess us up with this as believers. We can be told and come to see we are too self-focused and then shift to what we believe is more spiritual and try to only focus on others. Without a balance, we get burned out and turned off by doing our faith and even fail with the God focus that is central to it all!!
“Notice the interesting thing about obedience. We don’t focus on the obedience; we move through it to focus on God.” Esther Meek