“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (James 1:19).
One of the greatest acts of love and respect we can show to another human being is to listen to them. That simple act acknowledges that we value the one before us who is speaking to us. I have discovered that I often sin by being quick to speak and quick to become angry. But being quick to listen almost forces me to be slow to speak and slow to become agitated.
Being quick to listen requires discipline. We must focus on the person who is speaking, truly listening to what they are saying (and perhaps even to what they are not saying). Then and only then will we be able to speak words that are fitting, edifying and God-honoring.
I remember reading somewhere that President Jimmy Carter made it a habit to focus on the person before him as though that person were the only person in the room. Giving his full attention to that individual helped him to respect and to listen to that person.
I gasp to think of the times I have not carefully listened to what my wife or children were speaking to me. I’m embarrassed that far too often I have tuned out what others were speaking because I was concentrating on what I was going to say … gearing up to be quick to speak or quick to become angry.
I could be a better husband, father and grandfather if I was quick to listen. I could be a more effective minister if I was quick to listen. I could be a more compassionate witness to non-believers if I was quick to listen.
But there’s a deeper principle in this verse than just our communications with other people. This matter of being quick to listen is vital in our relationship with God. Dietrich Bonheoffer, in his little book Life Together, rebukes me in this:
“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter.”
If I am not quick to listen then my conversation with other people will be shallow chatter. And the same thing is true with my conversations with God. I need more to hear Him, and less to be heard by Him.