Up: Listen Up

Part 2: Listen Up
Ecclesiastes 3:7b; James 1:19a
Sunday, April 22, 2018
Pastor Morris Brown

Last Sunday we began a new worship series entitled, UP! In this series, we’re looking at seven things our faith says we need to do if we want to live effective lives. Last week we began our series with a message entitled, “Get Up.” Our faith says, if we want to live more effectively we need to start our day well.

Well today, as the skit you just saw reminded us, our faith also says that if we want to live more effective lives we need need to “Listen Up.” As James 1:19 said, “We must be slow to speak, and quick to listen!” Or as someone else said, “We need to remember that God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Namely, God wants us to listen twice as much as you talk!” So, why does our faith say it’s important for us to “listen up?” What are some of the barriers that keep us from being good listeners? How can you and I become better listeners? Today, I’d like us to spend just a few minutes thinking about these questions. Let’s begin with, why it’s important to be good listeners? 

First, it’s important for us to be good listeners because listening to a person is a wonderful way to express our love and CARE for them.
In his book Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote these words about the importance of listening, he said, “The first service that one owes to other people is to simply listen to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, so the beginning of love for other people begins with learning to listen to them.”

Some of you may be familiar with Story Corps, which I often hear played on NPR. Story Corps is a national project sponsored by the Smithsonian Museum. The purpose of Story Corps is to get people to tell their life stories so they can be archived for future generations. I recently heard an interview with David Isay, who is the founder. Mr. Isay said, “The soul of a person is in their voice. As a result, sitting with, listening to a person – especially an older person - tell their story is an act of incredible love for it doesn’t happen often in our culture. Listening to someone is one of the most profound and powerful ways to show someone that we love them.” So, listening to others can express our love and care.

Second, it’s important to be a good listener because listening to a person can be an incredible help in the midst of a CRISIS.
A couple of years ago, Pam and I had a friend whose 26-year-old son died unexpectedly. As some of you know, losing a child is one of the most difficult things a person can experience in life. And as you can imagine, our friend was absolutely devastated. So, Pam and I traveled to Ohio to spend a few days with her. While we were there, a number of people came by the house to express their care and sympathy to our friend. Most of them tried saying something that would help ease her pain.

One evening, I was sitting with our friend on her deck. As we sat there she said something interesting. She said, “You know, I appreciate people coming by to say things to try to ease my pain. But, it would be more helpful if they would just sit and listen to me talk about my pain, and say nothing at all.”

She’s right you know? There are times, especially in the midst of a crisis, when people don’t need us to SAY or DO anything. What they need us to do is simply LISTEN to them as they try to process the crisis that is happening in their lives. As Ecclesiastes 3 says, “There is a time to speak, and a time to keep silent.”

Pastor Virginia and I were talking about that this week as we took food and supplies to folks in the Hampton School area hit by the tornado. We talked about the fact that our church has been so generous in providing food and supplies to folks. And we hope you’ll continue to do that in coming days. But, another thing we hope our church will provide in addition to food and supplies is simply a “listening ear.” For you see, sometimes just giving teachers and staff, as well as children and their families who’ve lost so much, the opportunity to talk about how they are feeling in the midst of this crisis can be the most important gift of all.

As author Mandy Hale put it in one of her books, “Don’t waste your words on someone who deserves your silence.” Or as bluegrass singer Allison Krauss put it in one of her hit songs, “Sometimes you say it best, when you say nothing at all!” The point is clear. Listening to others is a great way to help people in crisis.

Finally, it’s important to be a good listener because the failure to listen can lead to a breakdown in COMMUNICATION.
This can have dire consequences. For example, when I was thirteen a friend I mine got a mini-bike. When I went over to his house to see it, it looked like so much fun. So, I asked if I could ride.

He said, “Sure!”

So, I jumped on the mini-bike and began to “rev” the engine. As I was about to take off, my friend said, “Watch out for the–.” But I was so excited I didn’t listen. I just popped the clutch and went flying across the front yard and around the side of my friend’s house. I was having a great time! Until suddenlyI found myself lying flat on my back with a terrible pain in my throat and the mini-bike was lying on the ground about 20 feet in front of me.

My friend came running and said, “Are you okay?” I said, “I think so. What happened?”

He said, “I was trying to tell you to watch out for the clothesline in the backyard! But, you were so excited you didn’t listen!”

When we fail to listen to others communication breaks down, and that can have dire consequences. George Marshall was the Secretary of State under Franklin D. Roosevelt and the mastermind of the Marshall Plan, which put Europe back together after WW2. He was also known for being a great communicator. Someone once asked him the secret to good communication. He said, “When it comes to communication I have a simple three step formula: 1. I listen to people. 2. I listen to people. 3. I listen to people.”

To live effectively our faith says we need to be good listeners. Why? Listening to people is a way to express love and CARE for them. Listening to people is a way to help them through CRISES. And the failure to listen to people can cause a breakdown in COMMUNICATION. So, how do we do it? How do we improve our ability to truly listen to others? Let me share a few suggestions.

First, to be a good listener we may need to STEP AWAY from our technology.
I read an article entitled, “The Dying Art of Listening.” The author said,

“We are in deep, deep trouble. The art of listening is in trouble. Why? Our post-modern culture is constantly bombarding us with massive amounts of digital information! We have a variety of communication devices vying for our attention. Our brains are being distracted by a plethora of virtual stimuli. We’re overloaded. There is so much ‘noise’ around there’s no way we can respond to it all. As a result, we have a tendency to unconsciously disengage from the people right in front of us.The result is we often fail to listen, truly listen, to the folks who may need us to listen the most.”

She’s right, isn’t she? I mean, how many times have you tried to talk to someone and instead of giving you their full attention they are distracted because they received a cell phone call, a “tweet” or a text message? It can be infuriating!

Excuse me, please, I just received a text.

Seriously, our culture is not going to change. Technology is here to stay and it will only increase. So, to be good listeners, to listen well, we may need to be very intentional about stepping away from our technology so we can truly give our attention to the people in our lives who need it most. Jesus reminds us of this. Although he didn’t have to deal with cell phone calls, texts or tweets, Jesus led an incredibly busy life. And yet, if you read through the gospels you will discover that Jesus was always willing to set aside distractions and truly listen to other people. If we’re going to be good listeners we must do the same!

Second, if we want to improve our ability to listen we may need to STOP TALKING so much.
I almost named the sermon “Shut Up” but I figured you wouldn’t show up! The truth is, to be a good listener we have to be willing to “shut up!” There are two ways to do this.

1. We must PHYSICALLY SHUT UP. Have you every tried to have a conversation with a person that just won’t shut up? It’s not really a conversation, is it? It’s not a conversation because the other person won’t be quiet long enough to listen to what you have to say!

There’s an old story about a young man who came to the Greek philosopher, Socrates. He asked Socrates if he would teach him the art of public speaking. He then followed his request with an incessant stream of words about why he wanted Socrates to do this. After listening for a while, Socrates placed his hand over the young man’s mouth, and said, “Young man, I will teach you the art of public speaking. But, I will have to have to charge you a double fee.”

“Why?” the young man replied.

“Because,” Socrates said, “before I can teach you how to use your tongue, I need to teach you how to hold your tongue!” So, to listen well we first need to stop talking.

2. To listen well we must SHUT UP MENTALLY! In other words, we must cease the endless dialogue that takes place in our brains. You see, psychologists tell us that most of us have a constant stream of thoughts going on in our heads. And we can be so pre-occupied with our own thoughts, that when we have a conversation with another person we’re not really listening to them.

Instead, as the other person is talking, we’re either thinking about something else, or forming our rebuttal to what they are saying and waiting for the opportunity to speak. This, they say, is not really listening. If we truly want to listen we may need to consciously do things that help us quiet the thoughts in our minds.

We need to make eye contact with the other person. We need to position our bodies in a way that will help us listen. We need to ask clarifying questions like, “Do I hear you saying this? Or do you mean that?” These techniques enable us to mentally “shut up” and give the person right in front of us our full attention.

Finally, if we want to improve our ability to listen we may need to some time each day in SILENCE.
Believe it or not, spending time alone, in silence each day can improve our ability to truly listen. Research has shown that taking as little as 10 minutes a day in silence can improve our ability to truly listen to others.

As one writer puts it, “To spend 10 minutes a day intentionally removing the auditory noise from our life improves our focus, makes us more thoughtful, and strengthens our ability to listen to others and to God.” Perhaps that's why Psalm 46:10 literally says, “Be still [be quiet, shut up] and you will know that I am God.”

I have a good friend who is a therapist. I once asked her why her sessions only last 50 minutes. She said, “My sessions only last 50 minutes because that’s the amount of time I am able to truly listen.”

“Okay,” I said, “but what do you do with the 10 minutes you have between each of your appointments?”

She said, “I spend them sitting in silence. This enables me to gather my thoughts and prepare my heart to truly listen to the next person who walks in.”

Researchers know, the psalmist knew, my friend knows if we are going to become people who are truly able to listen to others–we must spend some time in silence each day.

So, do you and I want to live lives that are more effective? Do you and I want to live lives that are truly a blessing to the people around us? Then, we need to “LISTEN UP!” To do that our faith says we need to understand the power that listening can have in another person’s life. It’s a way to express our love and care for others. It’s a way to help people who might be experiencing a crisis in their life. It’s a way to avoid the dire consequences that the failure to communicate can lead too.

Our faith also says we need to do some things that will enable us to be good listeners each day! We need to be willing to step away from our technology. We need to be willing to “shut up”–physically and mentally. And we need to spend some time in silence. We live in a noisy world, that needs good listeners. So, let us apply the wisdom of our faith and learn to “listen up.” It just might change our lives, the lives of the people we listen to, and the life of the world for good!