So, then, my beloved brothers, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger;James 1:19 (WEB)
No one ever got a speeding ticket for listening too fast.
I don’t know if it’s ok to have favourites in the Bible, but the book of James is certainly one of mine! This verse in particular has meant a lot to me over the years, and as it happens, has popped up a couple of times in my Bible study recently. Clearly, God is bringing it to my attention once again.
Being slow to speak or to become angry is clear to understand. It means that before leaping into hot anger or letting our words erupt uncontrolled, we should take a breath, be slow and considerate and then speak carefully. I hope this is reasonably obvious to most of you, and so I’m not going to focus on that today.
Instead, what does it mean to be quick to listen? I am “listening” all of the time, and so how can I do it any faster?
As I say above, no one has ever been given a ticket for breaking the listening speed limit… but what is the difference between fast and slow listening?
It comes back to a difference between hearing and listening, I think. While I may hear most everything that goes on around me, do I really listen to it? If my phone is in my hand, or the radio is on, and one of my family are speaking to me – am I really listening?
Hearing is passive, but listening is active. It takes effort. It takes selflessness. It means putting aside what we are doing, or what we want to do, and focussing our attention on someone else. It takes discipline too, if you have a wandering mind like me, or if you are already thinking of what you want to say next rather than absorbing what is being said.
So what does it mean to be “quick to listen?” I think it is the gap between hearing the sound of someone’s words, and switching on our listening ears.
I often have to pull up my children on this point. I can see them staring at a screen, ask them to do something, get a mumbled reply and no follow up action. I repeat myself, with added frustration, until they convert the hearing of my words into genuine listening and response. I roll my eyes and say “Those kids never listen!” But am I any different?
Friends of ours reported a similar incident between husband and wife. The wife of the story was talking to her husband about something, and a few days later it transpired he had no memory of their conversation. “Where was I when you were talking to me about this?” he asked. “You were sat right there, watching the football!” retorted the wife. “Oh…” says the husband, recognising that his attention was no doubt so fixated on the game that he did not receive one word that she said.
He heard, but did not listen.
How fast can you switch from hearing your spouse, child or friend to really listening to them? To getting your attention off of yourself and what you are doing, and turning it fully on them? That, I believe, is what James is talking about.
Listening to someone is a real act of love. So many people just want to be heard – really heard. You can do that for someone today.
And remember… no one was ever caught on speed camera for listening too well!
God bless you today!