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A Midweek Devotional - Listening

I’m not sure if it is a physiological or psychological issue. The older I get (and I still consider myself young!) the more I struggle to hear someone when there is competing background noise in the room. It’s one thing to hear someone when the TV is blaring in the background. It’s another thing entirely to hear someone when the competing noise comes from culture or even my own heart. Those competing noises in culture and in my heart tell me that while there are some physiological issues with my hearing, the deeper issues are spiritual. Fortunately, the Scriptures speak to those.

Wednesday, July 15th

Larger Portion of Scripture - James 1

Focused Passage for Reflection - James 1:19-27

Reflecting on the Text:

Maybe you have heard us. In various settings and at various times, Michael and I have spoken of the difference between “listening to respond” and “listening to hear.” Consider the difference between the two. Now ask yourself, which most characterizes your listening? When you listen, are you really just formulating a response so as to win an argument. Is your main focus getting your main point across? Or, when you listen, are you trying to hear the other person? Are you trying to learn something? Are you trying to know them? Are you listening to respond, or are you listening to hear?

Our passage uses different words, but James is getting at the same point. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he is telling us to slow down our tongue so we can give our ears time to work. Specifically, he tells Christians to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” In the context of the whole passage, he is telling us to be hearers of the Word, but in connecting to our speaking and anger, he is also telling us to be hearers of one another.

So when was the last time you heard another person? Please don’t brush past this question. It’s not meant to be trite. When was the last time you actually slowed down, gave someone your undivided attention, and listened to hear their heart? When was the last time you listened to learn from their perspective? When was the last time you made the effort to know someone by listening to them? This type of listening is quickly becoming a lost art, but the Scripture seems to tell us that there is something about our listening that is connected to the heart of God. There is something about our listening that is connected to the gospel.

Then, after calling us to be hearers, James calls us to be doers. The order is important. We are to act on what we have heard in the Word, but only after hearing, learning, knowing. This doing that James speaks of is offered in the context of applying the Word of God. And this Word includes our speaking. James describes speaking that is meant for building up and not tearing down. He speaks of a tongue bridled, offering words that are not spoken in anger. He tells us that when we do not bridle our tongue we are deceiving our hearts. This is in fact the opposite of pure religion, which he defines as “visiting orphans and widows in their affliction and keeping oneself unstained from the world.”

So does your speech follow this pattern? Do your social media posts follow this pattern? Do your interactions, with old friends and new acquaintances, follow this pattern? Do you hear, and then after hearing, thoughtfully apply the Word in speech and action?

James spoke words in the first century which we need to hear today. That’s no surprise. He spoke them as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit. They are timeless, as is all of the Word. And they are to be read in connection with the whole of Scripture. So as we think about applying this Word in our own lives, we are to be mindful of the entirety of God’s Word, including James’ call to humility and wisdom at the beginning of chapter 1. Then, with humble, wise, and listening hearts, let us desire to know, love, and grow in Christ.

Questions for personal reflection:

  • Honestly reflect on your listening. Do you listen to hear or listen to respond?

  • What gets in the way of listening to hear?

  • Would you be willing to ask a close friend to be honest with you about your listening?

  • With that person, will you pray for the Lord to give you a listening heart?

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