Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.
— James 1:19
One of the biggest lessons to learn in life is to know when you need to be quiet and when you need to speak up. For instance, if someone over you in authority is trying to tell you something, that’s a time for you to be quiet and listen to what the authority is attempting to tell you. In order to really hear what he or she is trying to communicate, you have to stop talking! Listening and talking at the same time almost always guarantees that you are going to miss important facts and details.
In James 1:19, the Bible says, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” The word “swift” in this verse is the Greek word tachus. It can be used to depict a runner who runs as fast as he can so he can reach the finish line before his competitors. Because this runner fiercely wants to win the race, he puts everything else out of his mind, focuses on the finish line, and then presses forward to obtain the first-place prize.
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Because of the word tachus, the first part of James 1:19 could be rendered:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, set your focus on becoming a good listener — and do it with all your might, as if you are in a competition to win the race of being the best listener.…”
James is telling us that we should desire to win “first place” when it comes to listening! Because the word tachus depicts a runner that is totally focused on reaching the finish line, James lets us know that it takes effort to slow our minds down so we can hear what other people are trying to communicate to us. I am referring to that moment when we deliberately quiet our minds and shut our mouths in order to intentionally listen to and digest what someone else is endeavoring to tell us. This is a challenge for any of us who have busy minds and a lot of details in our lives to think about.
Take me, for example. If I don’t make the choice to slow down and really focus on what someone is telling me, I know I will miss much of what he or she is trying to communicate. My mind is busy all the time. I have a church to pastor, a ministry to oversee, and television programs to film. I go on ministry trips that take me all over the world. I am constantly writing books. Besides all that, I am a husband and father. I rarely have a moment when I don’t have some important matter pressing heavily on my mind.
I’ve learned that I must discipline myself to listen to what people are saying to me. Otherwise, they’ll think I’m listening when, in reality, I’m about a million miles away in my thoughts. Just because I’m looking into their eyes doesn’t mean I’m really listening. If I’m going to hear what they’re communicating, I have to push everything else out of my mind and deliberately focus on what they’re saying. This is a matter of discipline that I’ve had to work at developing in my life.
I made a decision years ago that if a person believes he has something important enough to say to me, the least I can do is give him the courtesy of listening. Even if I don’t agree with what he’s saying or want to do what he’s asking, I should respect him enough to hear him out. To pretend I’m listening when I’m not is simply rude.
Through the years I’ve had to train myself to be a listener. To make sure I’ve really heard the point being made to me, I often stop and repeat the conversation to the person speaking to me. I ask the person:
- “Is this what you’re trying to tell me?”
- “Is this the point you’re making to me today?”
- “Is this what you want me to get from this conversation?”
- “Is this what you want me to do after we’re done talking?”
- “Is this how I need to respond?”
- “Is there anything else I need to know about this?”
If I’ve missed anything important in the conversation or misunderstood what that person was attempting to tell me, I discover it by asking these kinds of questions. At the same time, the person speaking to me is assured that he has had my complete and total attention. When my conversation with that person is finished, I should understand exactly what he was communicating because I focused on him and listened to what he was telling me.
Those who cultivate and develop the skill of listening make good team players because they’re better able to understand other people’s opinions and positions. These people have a good foundation for success because listening is the first step of communication.
If you realize that you need to become a better listener, I urge you to make the decision to cultivate and develop this discipline in your life. You can be a first-place runner when it comes to listening to others. Remember, listening is the first step of communication, and communication is a prerequisite for success in your dealings with both God and man!
So make it a top priority to become a superb listener. Learn how to digest the information other people are trying so desperately to communicate to you!
My Prayer for Today
Lord, it is true that I need to learn how to be a better listener. Forgive me for the times I’ve inconvenienced others and messed up their plans because I didn’t carefully listen to the instructions that everyone else obviously understood. I recognize that this is a flaw in my life. Starting today, I want to discipline myself to become a top-notch listener. For me to do this, I know I’ll have to break the habit of thinking about other things when people are trying to talk to me. So I’m turning to You to help me silence my mind, listen to others, digest what they are saying, and become a better team player!
I pray this in Jesus’ name!
My Confession for Today
I confess that I am quick to hear what others are trying to tell me, and I don’t interrupt them when they are speaking. I am a first-place runner when it comes to listening to others. Because God’s Spirit is helping me, I am getting better and better in this area of my life. As a result, I am an effective team player, and others enjoy working with me.
I declare this by faith in Jesus’ name!
Questions to Answer
1. Have you ever tried to talk to someone who you knew wasn’t really listening to you? How did it make you feel? Did you think that person really cared about what you were saying to him or her?
2. Are you a good listener? Are you able to remember what others have told you? If your answer is no, what are you going to do to develop better listening skills?
3. Can you think of someone at work, at church, or in your family who constantly makes mistakes because he doesn’t clearly listen to the instructions that are given to him? What kind of inconvenience does this create for everyone?