Quick to Listen, Slow to Speak

One of my dearest friends is the queen of active listening. It’s one of the attributes I most appreciate about her. She has a heart that seeks to understand each person with whom she talks. And if you’re so blessed to be that person, you leave each conversation feeling encouraged, understood, and heard.

Active listening is not an easy task. It requires that you listen to more than just the words being spoken. It prompts you to ask questions to truly grasp what the person means. It demands you listen more than you speak (that one is hard for me).

For most of us, active listening isn’t part of our everyday habits. In fact, “most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” (Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

And if you’re reading that last statement and instinctively thinking through your rebuttal, you’ve proved Mr. Covey’s point.

Most often, we get into conversations with a specific direction in mind. This is especially true in today’s culture, where the art of debate has been lost to taking sides, casting blame, and villainizing whoever remains neutral. Most people aren’t seeking to understand the other side; they’re working to prove their own point.

The problem is, when we go into conversations with our minds fixed on our own side, we miss an opportunity to learn, grow, understand, and develop relationship with the other person. It’s far easier to decide someone is wrong than it is to hear what they have to say. And when we go too far down that path, we become their judge, rather than effectively loving our neighbors.

Since Jesus was clear that His followers love their neighbors, let’s see what one of His followers, who also happens to be His brother, had to say:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (James 1:19)

Quick to Listen

Loving others, especially those with a different point of view, begins with listening to them. Not so you can argue with their point; rather, so you can understand their heart. It’s actually an intentional way to be humble and put others before yourself.

Slow to Speak

While “holding your tongue” may not be your spiritual gift, it is a great way to love others. Sometimes allowing another person to be heard is more important than sharing what you believe is true… even if what you believe is true. There is a time to speak, but it’s not every time. Or as my mom says, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason.”

Slow to Become Angry

Anger will very rarely give you an opportunity to continue a conversation. It’s a bridge-burner, not a bridge-builder. When you find yourself disagreeing with someone’s point of view, remember what the rest of our verse says:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)

Listening is hard work, but we don’t have to do it in our own strength. We can lean on the character of our God, who is “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8), and who listens to the prayers of His people (1 John 5:14; Psalm 66:17-20).
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