Good Listening

advice-from-dad-202988-mToday on Facebook a friend of a friend decried the loss of debate in our society. I happen to enjoy debate but know exactly what this man was talking about—so often online discussions break down. Sometimes either the tone of the original post or one of the comments is rancorous or the topic is contentious or the view of the writer, extreme. All these can incite something closer to hate speech than to discussion.

Unfortunately, contentious exchanges aren’t the only reason people no longer enter into substantive discussions. Another reason is that we in western society are losing the will to listen to each other. I’ve seen it on line; I’ve seen it in person.

Online our communication suffers because we’re all in a hurry and one or more party is skimming, not reading. Of course some commenters simply drop their opinion into the middle of a conversation and run away. Others do not take the time to read what people before them have said, so their contribution is warmed over rehash.

In real life we are also in a hurry, so our communication with one another is often part of multitasking. One example is a practice we know to be dangerous (and in some states, illegal)—texting and driving—and still we are tempted to do both things at once. People also hold conversations with others who are reading or watching TV.

These exchanges are far from what I consider good discussions. Once people sat around the dinner table and talked to each other. They listened to what others had to say, thought about what they’d heard, and contributed something if they thought it would advance the conversation further.

These kinds of conversations didn’t just happen after a meal, either. Sometimes people were invited to a friend’s house just “to visit”—a euphemism for entering into a conversation with someone else. Often people at church would stand around in the foyer or out front and talk, sometimes about the sermon, sometimes about their week.

The key in all these successful discussions is listening. Both or all parties listen to one another. They aren’t planning their next spiel or waiting for the current speaker to take a breath so they can jump in with their thoughts.

One way you can tell if someone is listening is by the questions they ask . . . or don’t ask. In a real conversation, there is give and take spurred by questions asking for amplification or explanation. New ideas might also be sparked, but those are clearly pertinent to what came before.

Listening is such an important skill in interpersonal relationships, so it seems like a serious loss that we no longer understand how to discuss. But even more important is our need to listen to God.

First we need to hear His word. James says clearly that real hearing isn’t hard to detect—it will lead to doing. If we hear God’s command to love our neighbors, we will not continue to ignore or belittle or slander them.

But God has also given us His Holy Spirit who guides us and teaches us and convicts us and comforts us—if we’re listening. Sadly some Christians shy away from communion with the Holy Spirit, thinking such “private communication” is akin to gnosticism. Well, it’s not.

The Holy Spirit lives in us for a reason, and it’s not for Him to act like a silent partner we never consult. Rather, He’s the dynamo, the source of power for our Christian walk. He wants to embolden us, to provide strength when we are weak, to spark our thoughts when we don’t have an idea what to write next (which happens a lot on this blog! 😀 )

Of course, to benefit from communion with the Holy Spirit, we have to listen. Scripture says we are not to quench the Holy Spirit, which is another way of saying we aren’t to ignore Him. It’s a great metaphor though because the Holy Spirit made a visual manifestation to the early church as tongues of fire. But those believers realized they could put the fire out.

I’m amazed that God would allow us to ignore Him. When I was teaching, I did what I could to keep my students listening. As far as I was concerned, it wasn’t optional. But not with God. He tells us—commands us—not to douse the Holy Spirit and in the command there is the implication that we can in fact do the opposite. We can quench Him. And we do that every time we ignore Him.

What’s frightening is, when we ignore the nudges from the Holy Spirit, it becomes harder and harder to tell when He’s giving us a nudge and when we’re operating from our own emotions.

Lots of times we say God gave us peace about this or that decision, which is well and fine. I’ve said that myself any number of times. But peace is only a byproduct of obeying the Holy Spirit and it’s not a constant.

I have a friend who teaches a Bible study at a women’s shelter. Every day she goes to teach, she is eaten up with anxiety, and yet she goes. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit has not given her peace. She prays for it and knows intellectually that God will give her the ability to teach so she doesn’t have to worry, but the feelings have not followed. However, her obedience to go and to teach speaks far more about her willingness to listen to the Holy Spirit than any amount of inner peace.

You might say obedience is good listening.

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2 Comments

  1. Excellent post Becky!

    Like


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