One item on my “to do list” at the beginning of each year is to work on a list of goals and objectives to help chart my course for the year. Generally, one of those goals is to spend time in the Bible during the year. Encouraged to do so by those who were faithfully helping me to grow as a disciple of Christ in my 20’s, the practice has stayed with me through the years. The principle of being saturated in the Word of God through hearing, reading, studying, memorizing and meditation has yielded a multitude of blessings. For example, one of my goals is to read through the Bible in one year. Another goal is to meet with others to study the Bible. The Word is the sword of the Spirit; God speaks to us through His Word. (Ephesians 6:17) Indeed, it’s quite difficult to hear God’s voice when I’m not in the Word of God. The Bible is essential to my growth as a Christian.
In reflecting back on 2017, growing to be a better “listener” was not to be found on my list of goals and objectives. Not even a whisper in the back of my mind! But as the year progressed, the need to improve my listening capabilities became more and more apparent. In a meeting with a group of men in studying the book of Proverbs, a couple of Scripture verses were particularly impactful. A major theme in the book is the distinction between the wise man and the foolish man. A distinction that is made manifest in the choices one makes and the eventual consequences of those choices. Pride and humility, another theme, are contrasted throughout the book. One rests with the fool and one with the wise. Proverbs 18:13 was especially poignant, “He who answers before listening, that is his folly and his shame.” As a person who greatly enjoys being with people, I have the tendency to also enjoy talking. Imagine that! A tendency that shows itself when I begin to think how I will answer someone while they are talking. Doing two things at once is not possible for me. So when I’m thinking about my answer, I’m obviously not listening. That’s where the fool lives and it is to his shame. I was convicted that I live there far too often. The second verse from Proverbs was also in chapter 18, verse two. “A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.” Obviously, my desire to share my opinions comes at the expense of not truly understanding people when I am with them. Now I’m twice the fool!
Another reminder of the need for good listening skills occurred during the Bible study, “Every Man a Warrior” series, which another man and I studied last summer. Specifically, the second book which zeroed in on my role as a Husband and a Dad. It hit this area hard. It’s extremely difficult for me to know the deep issues going on in the lives of those closest to me, my wife and children, if I am not a good listener. And to be a good listener, I need to spend “time with them!” That requires an alteration in my agenda and my schedule to accommodate theirs. The time involved here is quantity, rather than quality. The time is also dedicated toward me “asking questions,” rather than telling others what “I’m doing” or what they should be doing! The study required us to put these skills into practice. In doing so, one becomes painfully aware that my skills are not anywhere near where they ought to be. Felt a bit like I was back in sixth grade instead of operating at the PhD. level which is where I should be by now! Gratefully, God never gives up on us, so there is still time for me to change.
As the year progressed, more hints came my way. Another Bible study called “The Way of the Alongsider” carried a chapter entitled the “Way of Depth”. In order to grow deeper in relationships, we need to be exceptional at listening. By this time in the year, I had received the message that this area needed a lot of focus. Good communication can only take place when I listen well. As Stephen Covey noted many years ago in his book the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we must “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Toward the end of the year, a good friend asked for assistance in facilitating the “Deep Dive” coaching seminar with him. A seminar dedicated to help leaders turn their ministry dreams and life goals into practical and life-changing realities. One of the sections that fell to me, (Yes, you guessed it!) was on developing “active listening” skills. Needless-to-say, the opportunity was welcomed as another venue to put these skills into practice.
Improving in this area of “listening” is indeed an art. It takes on going practice and diligence to truly seek to hear what others are seeking to communicate. In doing so, my understanding of others and my relationship with them will greatly deepen. I’ve found that it clearly takes focus to ask good questions instead of telling my stories and my experiences. My goal is to reach a high school diploma in this area of listening. And perhaps even grow further! Gratefully, God is answering prayer and enabling progress one step at a time. In the words of Familyman Todd Wilson, “It’s hard, but it’s good!”