How Well Do We Listen?

Neal Pollard

A Dilbert comic strip by Scott Adams is a side-splitter! Dilute is sitting in one of what seems like an endless series of meetings, and the fellow next to him is droning on and on about something. Dilbert thinks to himself that he will substitute an optimistic remark for listening and winds up making an inappropriate and awkward remark. The droner is aghast!

Listening is not a forte for most of us. In casual conversation with either acquaintances or intimate friends we often are much more intent to have our say than to hear out the other person. McKay and Davis, in Messages, mentions no fewer than 12 “listening blocks” (comparing, mind-reading, judging, dreaming, sparring, placating, etc.) (8-12). On just about anyone’s list of main contributors to marital difficulty is communication breakdown. A spouse may even hear what the other is saying but still miss the deeper messages being sent. Our children will find an audience to share their fears, questions, confusions, frustrations, and hopes. Parents who do not give their children an open forum, no matter how inconvenient it may be for them at times, lose their spot at that precious roundtable. In the church, we often lose our members–especially when they are in emotional, financial, or spiritual crisis–because we are not listening to what they say is going on with them.

We know how frustrated we feel when we think we have not been heard. Preachers and Bible class teachers usually have moments along the way when they think, “If I stopped talking right now, would anybody know or care?” Soul-winners may feel that their students sometimes respond to their teaching by tuning out the message. Elders and members often feel that way toward each other, that they are not being heard.

Let me encourage you to, borrowing the words of Jesus, “take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18). A friend and former elder, John Langham, once reminded me of Proverbs 18:13, that “he who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.” Make a special effort, in whatever position as listener you may find yourself, to work hard to actively, faithfully tune in to the one speaking to you. It is not only polite, but it allows you to be more clearly heard. Let’s practice today!

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