“My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or get angry. If you are angry, you cannot do any of the good things that God wants done” (James 1:19-20).
Rarely does anything go as planned in life. Yet we all have certain desires and expectations about how things should go in our lives. When things go sideways, tempers flare. People do not listen well and are quick to blame and jump to conclusions. Difficult life circumstances can lead to pointing fingers and giving heated opinions about problems. Verbal jabs can take over in the church.
Inside of all our heads we have higher brain functions, and lower brain functions. We need both of them. When there is danger, the lower brain immediately kicks in and puts us on a hyper-vigilant state to resist and deal with the threat. This works great when a burglar is in your house, or you jump in to help someone in a car accident, or any number of things which threaten life. Adrenaline is great for danger but not so great when there is simply things going on we don’t like. The problem with the lower brain function is that it operates more on instinct and not on rational, logical, and reasonable thought. When the lower brain is functioning the higher brain function is not so much. If you have ever seen someone all worked-up about something and that person does not listen to any kind of reason, you are observing a person who is operating in the lower brain function. Most of our contemporary problems are not solved through the lower brain’s activity of responding to fear and threats of danger.
We need to hurry up and listen. People caught in their lower brain function do not listen because all they can see is what upsets them. There is a great need for listeners today. Very little productive communication takes place because there are so many people in a hyper-vigilant state going on and on about their opinions and what’s wrong with everything and what we should be doing. We just talk over and on top of each other because we already have our minds made-up about how things really are. Nobody is listening.
On top of all this, there are a number of things which distract us from any kind of ability to listen well: our busy-ness; constant background noise of the TV, radio, tablet or computer. And these often just appeal to the lower brain with no substantive thoughts. This all has major implications when it comes to listening to God.
Bible reading is the primary source for Christians to listen to God. But reading the Bible is too difficult and dull for far too many believers. Sitting quietly before God and slowly reading the words of Scripture, and giving focused attention to Him in prayer has been relegated to the super-spiritual among us, as if it is not normal to read the Bible and pray.
I haven’t even said anything about preaching yet. It is little wonder why so many preachers today think they need to be showmen with such little listening that actually occurs. Then, there are always people who think they already know what needs to happen, so they check out during the sermon. In order to hurry up and listen to God’s Word, it needs to be a priority in our lives. We must say “no” to some things in order to make room to listen to God. We must prepare for worship and listening through deliberate preparation. Listening is not just going to happen. It has to be looked at as a skill just like anything else in life, and purposefully cultivated.
A teachable spirit which is attentive to the words and ways of Jesus is a listening spirit. A place to begin is to allow some space for listening within the worship service. Cramming the time with as much stuff as possible is not conducive to hearing from God. But through slow and deliberate speech, times of silence and contemplation, and careful planning can spawn an atmosphere of listening to God and his Word. Let the church model for parishioners how to listen well. For straining out all others voices in order to hear God might be one of the best things we can do today.