Would you consider yourself a good listener? James 1:19 calls not just pastors, counsellors, and church leaders, but every believer to be a good listener. Good listening is an antidote to angry responses or unbridled speeches. But what is good listening?
It is not just keeping quiet. That is often helpful though. It is also not just the feeling of sympathy for others even though compassion is an essential Christian virtue. Neither does it require us to identify with the other person by having a similar experience. We do not need to be angry to listen to an angry person. It is also not born out of curiosity. Rather it comes from a humble realisation that our interpretation of others’ words is often incomplete. It requires us to put aside our presumptions, agendas, and judgments to see from the other person’s perspective. It is seeking to understand what the other person is thinking, feeling, experiencing, saying, or not saying.
Good listening is not only a key to resolving conflicts, it strengthens communication and builds relationships at work, at home, and in church. Good listening is a gift to the one being listened to. It is also a gift to the listener. It reminds the listener he/she is not the centre of the universe. It is the willingness to be self-effacing. It requires and trains the listener to be patient, gentle, accepting, forgiving, and compassionate. It is the humility of wisdom James 3:13 speaks of. It is being wise and understanding, shown by one’s good conduct.
Unfortunately, we are often poor listeners. We tend to listen not to understand but to reply. We often respond before we understand. We start to direct, advise, persuade, warn, or reassure and minimize the issues at hand. Then we wonder why the other person does not respond well to us. We have not listened. Yet, we expect to be listened to.
Surely, we need help. Good listening is a habit of the heart. Like all habits, it can be trained. But it must begin in the heart. A heart that constantly repents from its preoccupation with self. A heart changed, renewed, and empowered by the Gospel. A heart committed to the interest and the well-being of others, willing to bear their burdens. A heart that loves the Lord and His people. May God grant us such a heart. May we be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.