I was driving in my car the other day talking to a friend of mine. As I chatted away, suddenly I was aware that my friend wasn't really paying attention. He seemed lost in thought. Distracted. I looked over and sure enough, he was replying to a text on his phone. I stopped talking and waited for him to finish. Inside, I was feeling irritated. I felt like what I had to say wasn't important to him. Like I was an inconvenience. It seemed to me that the urgent matters of his real life were far more important. I just wanted him to listen.
Look at what James 1:17-20 says about the importance of listening: “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. 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.”
If I'm honest, I know I have done the exact same thing to other people that my friend did to me. They were talking and my phone buzzed. I thought that I could check the text very quickly, without them realizing that I was checking it. And then I was gone. And they were left talking to the air. When we do this to other people, we devalue them greatly. Although we don't intend any harm, this can come across like a punch to the gut. But clearly, what we are up against is a culture that believes we should always be multi-tasking. We feel a powerful pressure to check that incoming text.
James hit the nail on the head with this statement: "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry." And he wrote this was before cell phones were invented! What would it look like to be "quick to listen?" I think that it means that we attempt to give people our full attention. We don't check our phone when someone is talking to us. We don't stand there and think about what clever thing we desperately want to say when they pause for just a millisecond so we can jump in. We simply grant them the floor and listen.
I think that's why this topic of listening came to my mind. I was thinking about gifts that we can give others. And I thought about one of the gifts that Jesus gave to us by coming to earth. Jesus was quick to listen. When he spoke to the woman at the well, he listened so carefully, he heard what she was really saying about her life. He heard the cry of her soul. And he gave her a precious gift. Think about all of the times that Jesus listens to you. When you pray, Jesus never interrupts. He listens.
Things are so fast-paced in the world today that many people go for weeks or months at a time without feeling like anyone fully listens to them. It is very painful. But we can make a difference by giving the gift of listening. And we can be gracious with others, when they don't listen to us very well. Remember, James says to be "slow to become angry." It is a frustrating experience when others listen poorly to us. Let it remind you first and foremost of how you may come across to others at times.
I would invite you this week to give the gift of listening this week. It seems like a fitting way to follow Jesus' example. He met us where we are at. He entered into our experience. He cared about what was happening in our lives. He listened. And through that, He gave us a marvelous gift. He valued us. He let us know that our lives mattered to him. And that is a gift that everyone would love to receive this Christmas. I hope you will be someone that is giving it.
May you be quick to listen and slow to speak this week.