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The Listening Posture

"My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." (James 1:19, NIV)

A wise old owl once sat in an oak The more he heard the less he spoke The less he spoke the more he heard Why can’t we be like that wise old bird? (Author unknown)

One of the best pieces of advice we were given before we moved to Iceland was, "Assume the posture of a learner." That bit of wisdom served us well in language learning and cultural adaptation, where we had to work hard at listening in order to learn. However, the help of that counsel went way beyond our first years on the field. In fact, the longer I live, the more I realize what tremendous blessing "the listening posture" provides.

I heard someone remark once—and I hope it’s an exaggeration—that most people have stopped learning by the time they’ve turned 40. Openness to learning new truth or having old truth amplified and illuminated is what keeps us alive. It means growth. I truly believe that if I stop learning, I’m dead.

Our Lord Jesus called me to be a learner first (Matt. 11:29). He promised that if I continue to be open to and obedient to His teaching, I will come to know emancipating truth (John 8:32). Unfortunately, we often live our lives closed and trapped by our own assumptions. I am sometimes way too quick to offer advice or a solution to someone, without really understanding what is at issue.

Listening means entering into another’s world, trying to see things from their perspective. This is what Jesus did through the incarnation. While He was without sin, He learned obedience to God as a human being, listening to the Father. When He was with others, He often asked questions—and their responses influenced His behavior toward them. If I am listening to learn, I should be willing to change.

One of the greatest gifts I can give to anyone is to listen to them and take them seriously. I can listen "professionally" to God and others without any intention of learning anything from them or being open to change. This is not only deadly on a human, interpersonal level; on the spiritual level it leads to a kind of "hardening of the arteries." Have I truly listened if I am not open to learning? I doubt it. But I can bless both God and people by slowing down, truly seeking to understand—for their sake, as well as mine—and listening. And the new knowledge may even be something I can "pay forward" to others!

Warmly in Christ, Greg Aikins

For Reflection: "The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught." (Isaiah 50:4)

  1. How good a listener are you? Do you listen to God and others with the intention of changing and growing through what you hear?

  2. What can you do to increase your "listening skills," with both God and others?

  3. Meditation is a practice that is often missing in our Christian lives. What can you do to improve your practice of reflecting on what God wants to teach you?

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