Listen wholly before speaking

By Gerry Lewis | Published Saturday, July 7, 2018

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The truth is out there. Can you hear it?

It’s a noisy world. Maybe it wasn’t helpful to simply state the world is a noisy place. I’ll go deeper and ask, “How do we handle the noise?”

Maybe we should first define noise. There are literal noises – vibrations that create audible sound waves measured in decibels. Our mechanized and mobile culture generates a lot of those. There is, of course, music.

These are not the subject of my pondering. The noisy world I’m talking about is opinion, the “volume” at which it is shared, the competition for attention and the increased vitriol that noise-makers have toward one another.

What seems to have been lost in all of this noise is the ability to listen and to dialogue with respect and open-heartedness.

Instead of listening to others so we might understand their frame of reference, we prepare our next point. We consider ourselves magnanimous if we actually let them finish a sentence.

If they are wrong or disagree with us, we feel compelled to interrupt them and set them straight. If they refuse to give us our turn, we turn up the volume and try to either drown them out or intimidate them into relenting. If they absolutely refuse to see the light and come around to our way of thinking, we write them off and break whatever relationship we might have had. After all, principles are more important than people.

Does that sound a little extreme or cynical? Maybe we wouldn’t really do that in person, but online?

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before because it was one of the wisest statements I’ve ever heard. My father-in-law once said, “I’ve never learned much with my mouth open.”

In his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen Covey said, “Seek first to understand; then to be understood.”

James, the half-brother of the Lord Jesus Christ, said, “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)

Quick to listen. Slow to speak. Slow to become angry.

Those words of wisdom have led me to state the fourth of my Life Core Values this way: “Listen intently because sacred truth is often found in unexpected way stations.”

Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). If He is The Truth – truth personified – then all truth finds its source in Him. Regardless of who speaks it.

Please note that I didn’t say all truth claims are equal. I said, if it’s true, it is His truth and is, therefore, sacred.

Life matters – the whole incredible, messy, noisy journey. If we slow down and listen, we may be surprised at how truth shows up.

Dr. Gerry Lewis, author, blogger, church consultant and leadership coach, serves as executive director of the Harvest Baptist Association in Decatur.

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