“Open our ears Lord …
… and help us to listen”, I guess is a prayer that all of us need to pray each and every day.
One of the criticisms I frequently hear about Christians leaders is: “They don’t seem to listen!” Leadership without listening is a controlling ego trip that creates miscommunication, resentment, and distance. Preachers who do not listen can tend to fall in love with the sound of their own voices. If we only listen to ourselves, we begin to think that everything we think and say is right.
If a person does not listen, is there a serious potential for them not being able to hear?
In a recent training session on preaching Deuteronomy I was reminded again of the power of words and the importance of listening carefully to them. That is the theme of Deuteronomy 4: “Listen.” This section forms the conclusion of the first of three final sermons that Moses preaches to Israel before he dies.
These three sermons are all preached on one day. The impending death of Moses concentrates his mind, as does the fact that he has listened carefully.
It has been argued that the correct title for the book of Deuteronomy (which means ‘second law’) should rather be the phrase that starts the book: “These are the words …”
Moses’s preaching is an echo of another voice. He speaks because he has listened.
How dare any preacher do otherwise? Yet sermons are often a few gathered thoughts, an airing of our opinions, or a rant in which we get things off our chest.
Sermons can sometimes be no more than: “Blah, blah, blah!”
By contrast, Moses speaks with conviction, imagination and urgency. These words are not verbal wallpaper but words of the utmost importance that call for our undivided attention.
Think about that word ‘listen’. Is it more than hearing sounds vibrating in our eardrums? If so, what is the Lord looking for?
The Hebrew word for ‘listen’ implies more than hearing. It rather looks for an active listening, a paying attention, that leads to the hearer taking on board what is heard.
Moses returns to this word in Deuteronomy 6:4 at the start of what Jesus called the greatest commandment. In this command hearing is expressed in the words:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your might.”
We can only learn to love if we have mastered the art of listening.
How do we do that?
1. Pay attention. Make sure you have really heard what has been said.
2. Ponder. Reflect on what you have heard. What is its significance? What should these words cause me to think, feel or do?
3. Practice. Allow the words that you have heard to shape your thoughts, attitudes and actions.
4. Preach. Tell others what you have heard, demonstrating that what you are saying is not merely a nice idea but that it is a matter of life and death.
One of the things I have found helpful is to listen to the Bible passage I am preaching on. I use the Bible Gateway website. The actor David Suchet, of Poirot fame, reads the New International Version UK Edition. It is beautifully read, and the steady cadence of the actor’s voice helps me to slow down and really listen. Give it a try.