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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Listen - then speak

13 Answering before listening
   is both stupid and rude.
(Proverbs 18:13)

When I was in Bible College, one of the classes we took was designed to give us the skills to "listen" - really, seriously, listen.  I thought it was a long semester learning the skills of biblical counseling - beginning with the skills of listening and ending with the skills of listening.  What was that all about?  Well, it is really evident in our passage today - answering before listening is both stupid and rude.  People were going to want to confide in us, hard things would be shared, and answers would be sought - but...we needed to hear them out before offering the advice!

In fact, a failure to listen long enough or allow the time to build the trust that would be required to really share the issues could result in a wrong perception of the issues and a faulty answer to the problem.  That would benefit no one.  The entire eighteenth chapter of Proverbs is about words - how a fool speaks in ramblings and without thought; how a few words of gossip are nothing more than cheap words that really turn your stomach in the end; or how fights are started by the words that are chosen.  And this is only one chapter of the Bible!  

God has much to say about how we speak, what we listen to, and when it is that we are to speak.  He commends us for bringing forth truth instead of lies.  He exhorts us to listen before we speak.  He encourages us to consider the audience and the timing of the message before we bring it.  It must be an important thing for us to learn if God speaks to us so much about our speech and about our listening ears/hearts!

Words are weapons or wealth - they have the power to heal and the power to restore.  Our passage today encourages us to learn the skill of being good listeners.  That may mean that we have to learn to NOT speak!  I was often taught that all I think may be true, but not all I think needs to be spoken.  I need to give others time to come a place of clarity in their thinking - eventually they will come to a place of sharing that may include the things I knew before they even said it.  If that is so, they needed that time in order to be ready for the answer God wants them to receive.  This is called wisdom - learning to speak when the time is appropriate.

I have learned that words do more than describe a situation - they expose a heart.  I want to give the other person enough time to connect with their heart.  When I take the time to truly listen, I give them the time they need to make that connection themselves.  You'd be surprised what you learn about the heart of another when you give them time and opportunity to share it without jumping in to offer advice at the first opportunity.

Our challenge is NOT in having the right advice to offer - it is allowing enough time to pass for the other person to actually WANT our advice!  So, tune up those listening ears and shut off that constant flow of "free speech".  It is time to listen!