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A Heart to Listen

“You must understand this my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.”
James 1:19

Have you ever felt you were really heard, really listened to by someone? I ask you this because I have just returned from a couple of weeks on the road meeting with people in many settings. It struck me that I do talk too much; I need to listen a lot more.

I say this having thought I learned as a chaplain that people frequently needed my listening ears more than a ‘sermon’. I like to remind myself that God gave us two ears and one mouth, intending us to listen more than we speak. Today’s scripture from the New Testament letter of James is saying that as it commands us to be quick to hear and slow to speak.

It is significant that in the world of the Bible “the ear is the seat of intelligence.” (Jacque B. Doukhan, Hebrew for Theologians: A Textbook for the Study of Hebrew in Relation to Hebrew Thinking). It is not the brain or mind that gives that makes us wise but the ability to listen. Thus, wise men and women of the Book of Proverbs repeatedly counsel, “Listen!” Proverbs commands listening over speaking if for no other reason than people will think us wise: “Even fools who keep silent are considered wise; when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28). But above all, the Lord Jesus commands that we cultivate listening: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Matthew 11:15; 13:9, 43; Mark 4:9, 23; 7:16). The ability to speak more than one language is wonderful, but the ability to listen in just one language is far greater.

To listen with a ready heart set wise Solomon apart from all others. We see that as God commanded a young Solomon “Ask what I should give you,” and Solomon asks God for, shema lev, Hebrew for “a hearing heart” (1 Kings 3:9). God is pleased with Solomon asking for “a hearing heart” rather than asking for “long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies” (1 Kings 3:10-13), and thus abundantly blesses Solomon.

When I was a chaplain at the Mayo Hospital, we used to talk about going into a patient’s room and “laying ears” on them. A hearing heart, or eagerness to listen, is to be prized, to be pursued. So, Lord, help us today to be “quick to listen, slow to speak”. And with Solomon’s father, King David, we would pray: “Set a guard over my mouth O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). Or, as Abraham Lincoln quipped “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.” Lord, do give us hearing hearts!

A fellow traveler,

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