My wife and I have had the distinct joy of raising three boys. We are still in the middle of it all so I won’t throw a celebratory party just yet. We have been blessed with wonderful children, though, I don’t mean to imply they are perfect. Sometime in the past, we had to sit down with one of them and have a serious discussion about his poor listening skills. His problem was not unique; many people struggle with listening. We did our best to stress how important it is to actively listen when someone is speaking and not just wait for an opportunity to speak. The conversation went well and I believe it helped.
Recently, I was reminded of that conversation as we traveled back from visiting with family over the Christmas break. As we made the trip, we listened to the Focus on the Family Radio Theater production of The Magician’s Nephew, the sixth book in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. It is in The Magician’s Nephew that we witness the birth of Narnia as it is brought to life by the great lion Aslan. It is a jaw-dropping and powerful scene I have written about before. Much like the last time I wrote about this story, it was the humble London Cabby who caught my attention.
As Aslan is singing all creation to life, there are a handful of “visitors” witnessing the events. Two children, Digory and Polly, Digory’s uncle Andrew, Jadis the evil queen of a ruined world, and a London Cabby and his horse. It’s a motley crew to be sure. The children and the Cabby are captivated with the world springing to life around them. Andrew and Queen Jadis are terrified and angry. They both attempt to convince the children to help them leave this “terrible world”, this “most disagreeable place.”
Eventually, as villains tend to do, they turn on each other and began to shout and bicker. It is then the Cabby hushes them with this simple yet profound bit of advice, “Oh stow it, Guv’nor, do stow it. Watchin’ and listenin’s the thing at present; not talking.”
Listening, not talking
I talk too much. Not all the time or even to other people, but I talk too much. I can see your brain trying to make sense of that. I’ll help. I talk to God a lot. That’s not me being braggy. My prayer life is one more thing that needs continual refinement and discipline. But, having said that, I do talk to God often. And that’s a good thing. Where it goes bad, though, is that I do very little listening. I struggle with stepping back and letting God talk to me.
In my conversations with God, I spend an embarrassing amount of time asking for things, demanding answers, and basically acting like a child. I have it figured out. I know what needs to happen so I’m letting God in on the plan. It’s a bold strategy on my part and to be honest, it hasn’t paid off for me that often.
It’s all too reminiscent of my sons’ conversations with me and my wife. As parents, we see a much bigger and fuller picture of life than our boys. Their view is more limited than ours. At various times, they have been convinced they know more than we do, understand the world better than we do, and have no need to listen to our advice. They, of course, are wrong. There are many times they need to just listen, really listen, and obey.
The Scriptural basis of listening
The Word of God is not silent about all this listening we need to do. Verse after verse reminds us of the importance of listening for the voice of the Lord. Psalm 37 exhorts us to “be silent in the LORD’s presence and wait patiently for him.” Isaiah is commanded to “give ear and hear [God’s] voice, listen and hear [His] words.”
Jumping to the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly encourages His followers to truly hear His words. How often does He repeat the phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear”? Speaking is important. Sharing words of truth, love, and peace with one another is vital to our Christian lives. Expressing our hopes, fears, pains, doubts, and love to our creator is essential as well. But, we fail if we do not take the time to slow down, shut up, and listen.
How does this all work?
That all sounds good, doesn’t it? It sounds spiritual and important. Unfortunately, listening more is sort of vague and nebulous. How does it look in a practical sense? Here’s what I have, though I readily admit that’s it not much and I’m still very much learning.
First, to improve my listening skills, I need to spend more time with Scripture. I know that sounds pretty basic, but it’s alarming how easy it is for me to neglect this. God speaks through His Word. If I want to really listen to Him, that is the first place I need to go. And, the more time I spend in the Word, the more I will hear from Him. Yes, this is basic stuff, but it is absolutely essential to the Christian life.
Second, I need to be willing to live with silence. Intentional, deliberate silence. There is a lot of noise in life. Work, jobs, radio, television, books, phones, social media, etc… I rarely choose silence. There is a strange comfort in noise. It’s distracting. It keeps me from dealing with deeper, more important things. Silence removes those barriers and forces me to face potentially uncomfortable truths about myself. In silence, I am more vulnerable and open with God.
Finally, I need to do a better job of listening to others. It is important to seek out advice and wisdom from fellow believers. My ugly secret is that I’m not great at seeking out or taking advice. Usually, it’s because I think I’m smarter than everyone else. (I’m not.) Or, I don’t enjoy being corrected or admonished. Proverbs 12 makes it clear that my mindset is foolish. “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
God speaks to us through His followers. I do well to listen.
Much like the Cabby, I need to be aware of those moments when watching and listening are the wisest course of action. I need to “stow it” and listen. Too often, I am busy talking, pontificating, whining, arguing, or simply making noise. More often than not, listening is the thing.
“My soul, wait in silence for God only, For my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be shaken.”Psalm 62:5-6
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