Listening when You Want to Speak
*This post is an excerpt from my new book A Journey to the Cross.
Read James 1:19-27
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (v19, 22)
The other day I was listening to someone share some thoughts with me about their life. About halfway through I stopped listening to what they were saying. The reason? I started to formulate my response in my mind. I was piecing together all of the things I wanted to say instead of focusing on what they were continuing to share. For many of us, speaking is much easier than listening. Listening requires intentional effort. You have to turn off your impulse to respond or react and continue to engage in hearing what they are saying. If you end up speaking too soon you might miss crucial information that could change your response.
James 1 reminds us that we need to be quick to listen not only to others but also to God and His Word. The posture with which we should approach God’s Word is that of a listener and a learner. Meaning, we should submit ourselves to the Word so that it defines us, rather than placing ourselves over the Word seeking to define it.
The metaphor that James uses to describe our engagement with the Scriptures is a mirror. Reading the Scriptures should be like looking in a mirror. They reflect back to us who we are and instruct us on how we are called to live.
We are people who are created in the image of God. We are His sons and daughters. Therefore, we should exude His character and likeness in the world. When we read Scriptures about God’s heart for the nations, we too should long for other people of other cultures to come to faith in Christ. When we read about God's heart for the poor, we should allow our heart to break for those who are in need rather than dismissing or judging them. When we read about the priority of forgiveness and extending grace, we should understand that to mean we’re expected to forgive and extend grace to others. As we close our mouths and listen carefully to God and His Word we can more accurately reflect Him and love those around us.
If we claim to be a follower of Jesus but live contrary to the ways of God in the Bible, James says we’re like someone who looks in a mirror, but as soon as they walk away, they forget what they look like. They’ve lost sight of who they’re called to be and how they’re supposed to live. This could result from not taking enough time to carefully read and listen to the Scriptures. It could be that we rush through them to check it off our list, rather than reading the Scriptures expecting to encounter and hear from God.
If we’re not careful to slow down and listen we might find that we slip into self-deception. If we go on living however we please without measuring our lives against God’s Word, we could end up walking in disobedience without even knowing it. But if we regularly submit ourselves to God’s Word and reflect His ways in the world, we’ll find we experience greater freedom in our lives.
In order to experience this freedom, it all starts with listening. You have to receive from God a full understanding of who He is, and therefore a complete understanding of who you are since you were created to be a reflection of Him.
When we’re quick to listen to the Word, and actually put it into practice, it brings to fruition what Jesus says in John 10. Life to the fullest. The life that God has intended to give us all along.
1. In what ways is listening hard for you?
2. Is your prayer life more speaking or listening?
3. Practice reading through James 1:19-27. Be intentional about listening to the text and the Spirit to see what revelation God brings to mind. Then put it into practice.