Few skills that we are born with are as difficult to hone and develop as that of listening. Despite God giving us two ears to hear we often don’t want to listen. If we really do want to listen, we often don’t do it very well in the midst of our own thoughts that distract us.
Listening done well means that we need to set aside our self-focus, our biases and more in order to listen to not only the words of someone else but also what they are desiring that we understand as a result of those very words. To do it well takes practice and a bit of work because it is not just a physical skill set accomplished by the hearing organs of the body.
Even if we have never been a parent most of us can recall well our own parents urging us to listen to directions, reminders or admonitions they gave us. If they were especially important, a reminder about listening would always be attached to the rest of the information we were given.
Beyond our parents, teachers, coaches, and mentors, the Bible commands us to listen. Clearly, it points to its importance not just to provoke obedience but also as a way to demonstrate our love for someone else.
“A wise person will hear and increase in learning, And a person of understanding will acquire wise counsel,”Proverbs 1:5 (NASB)
We listen in order to learn, to gain understanding, to know the heart and mind of another person, and also for the enjoyment it brings us in communicating with others or listening to our favorite music. Not only is it wisdom to hear and listen, consequences of not doing so are spelled out in many ways beyond the pleasure of parents and teachers or how well we handle our assigned tasks.
“One who gives an answer before he hears, It is foolishness and shame to him.”Proverbs 18:13 (NASB)
Consider one more thing that may not have crossed your mind about listening as Eugene Peterson points out as he writes about The Revelation of John:
“Listening is a spiritual act far more than an acoustical function. Expensive and sophisticated amplification equipment does not improve listening, it only makes hearing possible. Because listening so frequently decays into mere hearing, and because there can be no church apart from listening, the last word spoken to every church is “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
This last book in the Bible reminds us within the first few verses how significant hearing and listening really are when we are urged to not only read the words John has been given to write but also read them aloud.
“Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near.”Revelation 1:3 (ESV)
It seems likely the act of listening well will nearly always involve us in warfare that requires us to battle against all the forces within and outside of us that would be obstacles to the art of listening beyond simply hearing what is being said. Never is this more true than with scripture.
“If the divine word is primary, then human hearing is essential: that we hear is required; the way we hear is significant.”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
And the way we hear is a personal responsibility. No one can do it for us. We are reminded of that in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke as each tells the Parable of the Sower that ends with the words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Little wonder that from the beginning to the end of the Bible this theme of hearing, listening, and responding is put before each one of us. Therefore, the quality of our hearing should matter to us.
“What is the quality of my hearing? Are my ears thick with callouses, impenetrable like a heavily trafficked path? Are my ears only superficially attentive like rocky ground in which everything germinates but nothing takes root? Are my ears like an indiscriminate weed patch in which the noisy and repetitive take up all the space without regard for the truth, quality, beauty, or fruitfulness? Or are my ears good soil which readily receives God’s word, well tilled to welcome deep roots, to discriminately choose God’s word and reject the lies of the world, to accept high responsibility for protecting and practicing the gift of hearing in silence, reverence, and attentiveness so that God’s word will be heard, understood, and believed?”Eugene Peterson in Reversed Thunder
The choice is one for each of us to make and so is the responsibility.