The Art of Listening
March 17, 2010
Updated September 8, 2021
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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: James 1:19-27
Sermon prepared by Rev. Bart Velthuizen, Toronto, Ontario
Note: The paragraph below is optional as in introduction the Scripture reading.
The book of James may well be the earliest of the New Testament letters – written in the year A.D. 48. This letter was written by the brother of Jesus who became one of the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. James addressed the letter to Christians everywhere. He wrote it to teach Christians the practice of Christianity. He emphasizes that if we have a genuine faith, we will show it by acting like Christians. James gives practical advice on things like anger and quarreling, showing favouritism, controlling the tongue, boasting, patience and prayer.
(Read James 1:19-27 and highlight James 1:19, "Everyone should be quick to listen; slow to speak.")
God made us to be relational people. We have a longing to be in relationship with others – friends, family members, others in the community.
Next to a good relationship with God, that which can give us the most happiness or contentment is not wealth, not travel, not a Sony Plasma, High Definition, 50" television. Rather, it is a good relationship with someone – a friend, a spouse, a child, a parent. The converse is also true, that which can give us the most heartache and the most anxiety is not financial problems, not health difficulties, but a relationship that has become strained, or has turned sour. A good relationship with someone we care for is a treasure. Yet, maintaining healthy relationships is not easy
What can help us succeed in our relationships? The ability to listen. Your friendship, your marriage, your relationship with those you care about is built up through the art of listening. To listen is to love and to strengthen the connection.
God's Word comes to us today with the simple message: "Everyone should be quick to listen; slow to speak." We need to hear that message because, within our relationships, usually the instinct to talk is stronger than the instinct to listen.
In reminding us to be quick to listen, the Bible writer, James, may be hitting on an aspect of our sinful nature. Our egotist, selfish nature desires to be heard by others, to defend ourselves, rather than to listen to and to understand others.
Proverbs 18:2 reads, "A fool finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing his own opinions." In that verse, we could substitute “our sinful nature” in place of “a fool.” "Our sinful nature finds no pleasure in understanding, but delights in airing our own opinions."
Thankfully, the victorious Christ, with whom our old sinful nature has died, helps us to overcome our egocentricity and to become better listeners. The Spirit of Christ helps us to overcome our tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and to desire to understand the other. To listen is to love and to strengthen the connection.
How does listening strengthen the connection? How does listening build up relationships?
1. Listening is a form of love. By listening, we put aside our agenda, we take a break from what we are doing, and we give our attention to the other. Listening requires selflessness and humility. It is a form of love, and love is good for relationships.
2. Listening shows you care. Listening shows you want to understand what the other person is experiencing, is feeling, and is thinking. When someone close to you senses that you are not really listening to what he or she has to say, that person is rightfully hurt. Not listening gives the message that he or she does not count, is not worth your time. Conversely, listening shows you care which in turn strengthens your relationships.
In his book Stress Fractures, Charles Swindoll writes:
I vividly remember some time back being caught in the undertow of too many commitments in too few days. It wasn't long before I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes, and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions through the day. Before long, things around our home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable.
I distinctly recall after supper one evening the words of our younger daughter, Colleen. She wanted to tell me about something important that had happened to her at school that day. She hurriedly began, "Daddy-I- wanna-tell-you- somethin'- and-I'll-tell-you-really-fast."
Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered, "Honey, you can tell me ... and you don't have to tell me really fast. Say it slowly."
I'll never forget her answer. She said, "Then listen slowly, Daddy."
Listening shows the other person that he or she counts for something to you and so builds up your relationship.
3. Listening shows you respect the other person for their insights. Thinking again of Proverbs 18:2, the fool thinks he knows it all and would prefer to do the talking and have others do the listening to her or his opinion. The wise person, however, challenges herself or himself to grow in knowledge and understanding. That is done by respecting others for their insights. That respect is shown through listening.
How does the art of listening build up relationships?
1. Listening is a form of love.
2. Listening shows you care.
3. Listening shows you respect the other person for their insights.
How does one listen? We might think it is the easiest thing to do. But it is not easy. Really listening is difficult; it takes intentionality; it takes self-discipline and self-restraint. Here are some suggestions on how to really listen:
1. Listen with your eyes and your posture. Responding with an "Oh yah?" with your eyes focussed on a television screen while a spouse or a child is expressing something that is meaningful is NOT listening. Responding with a "ahh hah" with your eyes riveted on your laptop while a parent or friend is saying something important is not listening. With your posture tune out all other things and tune in the one talking. Connect your eyes with the person speaking. Listen with your eyes and your posture.
2. Be patient – do not be quick to respond. Our focus verse, James 1:19, says, “Be quick to listen, slow to speak.” Curb any desire to interrupt. Wait until the person is finished speaking. I know, it is hard not to interrupt when we are so sure we are right and the other is wrong. We may be tempted to finish the speaker’s thoughts. Yet continual interrupting will hurt your relationships.
Be patient. This also means do not be quick to give advice. If the person is expressing some frustration and problems, before you offer advice, first show to the person you want to simply understand her or his situation and feelings. With patience you show you are trying to empathize.
3. Give feedback. Sometimes this is called "active listening". Ask the person questions about what he or she just said. Possible questions are:
"Am I correct in sensing some resentment about…?"
What did you mean by…"
"I understand you to be saying (...such & such). Is that correct?"
Giving feedback like this communicates to the other person that you really want to understand, that you really care about what that person is saying. Giving feedback also helps to avoid misunderstanding which can lead to conflict.
4. Watch for non-verbal communication. Some estimate that 75% of all communication is non-verbal. Watch for clues as to what the speaker is communicating:
Is the speaker's posture rigid or relaxed?
Does the speaker maintain eye contact?
Does voice tone match what is being said?
5. Do not redirect the attention to yourself. Refrain from topping the speaker’s story with something like, “Oh, that reminds me of something that happened to me...” or “Oh, that’s nothing; let me tell you about....” Keep your priority on understanding what the speaker wants to communicate.
How do we really listen?
1. Listen with your eyes and your posture.
2. Be patient.
3. Give feedback.
4. Watch for non-verbal communication.
5. Do not redirect the attention to yourself.
God has given us two ears and only one tongue. Someone has said that this is a hint from God that we should listen more than we talk.
To be able to listen well is a godly virtue, is in keeping with a follower of Christ, and helps to build up relationships.
If you want to read entire book on the art of listening, you might look for this book: The Lost Art of Listening: How Learning to Listen Can Improve Relationships, Second Edition, by Michael P. Nichols
To listen is to love and to strengthen the connection. Relationships are worth investing effort into. God's word to us this morning is, "Everyone should be quick to listen; slow to speak."
Prayer: Lord Jesus, we thank you for taking our old, egotistic, sinful nature to the cross. Holy Spirit, help us to become better listeners. Help us to overcome our tendency to think more highly of ourselves than we ought and to desire to understand others. May we show our love through listening well. Strengthen our important relationships.Amen.
Order of Worship
God and His People Come Together
Call to Communal Worship: Psalm 100:1-3
Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
*Opening Song: #408 Rejoice, the Lord is King
*Quiet Meditation and Prayer
We acknowledge that our only comfort in life and in death is that we are not our own but belong, both body and soul, to our faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. May grace, mercy, and peace be unto us from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
*Song of Praise: #501 Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
God Reconciles Us to Himself
Prayer of Confession:
O God have mercy on us as we confess our sin. You have blessed us so richly but often we have been ungrateful. You have called us to be stewards, but often we squander your gifts through gluttony. You have called us to help those in need, but often we have been to busy storing up treasures on earth. We languish in something less than commitment to your will and are hesitant to seek reconciliation. You beckon, but we are reluctant to listen to you speak. Have mercy on us, may your grace shown to us in Jesus Christ your Son cleanse us from all of our sin. Enable us to store up treasures in heaven. Amen.
Thankful Living: Exodus 20:1-17 or Romans 13:8-14
Song of dedication: #545 Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
We Respond to God's Grace
Offerings are gathered
Prayer (offertory prayer and prayer for a blessing on the reading of God's Word)
God Speaks to Us Through the Word
Scripture: James 1:19-27
Message: The Art of Listening
We Respond to the Word of God
*Song: #224 The Fruit of the Spirit or #291 May the Mind of Christ, My Savior
Prayer (Thanksgiving, Petition, Intercession)
*Song of Adoration: #135:1,2,7,9 Sing Praise to the Lord God Almighty
*Receive God's Blessing:
May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we may overflow with hope. May God's grace be with us all. (adapted from Romans 15:13)
Note: * = Please stand if you are able.
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