Years ago, when driving in the car, I would often suffer from what could be called “radio discontent”. I’d listen to a station for a little bit, then tune to the next one, and then on to another one. I was looking for just the right kind of song that I wanted to hear, or just the right discussion. Needless to say, others forced to ride with me didn’t particularly appreciate this.
Now that I can have a lot more control over the music that I listen to in the car, I’d like to tell you that I’m much better. But, I still like to put my entire music library on “Shuffle All”, so I still find myself in the same situation (despite the fact that I my car accepts voice commands, so I can just tell it what song I want it to play). I admit, this is probably a problem of my own making.
In a world of convenience and technology, it’s easy to just change the channel or change the subject when we start to hear something we don’t like. This could be anything from not liking the style of a song, or a conversation getting into a topic that is a little controversial. Even reading news on the Internet allows us to skip over headlines that may make us uncomfortable.
Do any of these situations sound familiar?
- You immediately tune someone out when they say something you don’t like. Whatever that person has to say afterwards, it doesn’t matter, because you’re busy working over in your mind how wrong he or she is – preparing a blast of logic, sarcasm, or ridicule.
- You stop listening when someone makes a mistake. This is tough with kids – once I hear something break in the next room, it’s easy to start judging without hearing them out. On the other hand, it’s just as easy to start another train of thought when a pastor mis-speaks something in a sermon.
- You switch over to something else when a technical glitch occurs. As churches use technology to get the message out (and, there’s nothing inherently wrong with that), the pastor’s microphone may go out, or the song lyrics might show the wrong stanza. At these points, its tempting to check our smartphones, or start to read the bulletin. I’m guilty of this same kind of thing when listening to the radio in the car – if there’s a problem with a guest caller’s connection, or a few seconds of dead air, I’m on to the next source.
Instead of regularly tuning out, though, I challenge you to actively listen, and to power through the various excuses that we have to stop listening. After all, something really interesting (or useful) may sit on the other side of the glitch, or we might learn something new. Even if we just learn about someone’s point of view that we don’t agree with, we get an opportunity to seek common ground, and listening earns us the chance to tell them about our own viewpoint.
Sometimes, I read articles on a topic (or from an author) that I know I won’t agree with. I figure that if I can’t evaluate what they have to say, and justify to myself why I rationally disagree, then maybe I need to study my own beliefs a little more. And, often I’m pleasantly surprised, whether I learn something (despite bias in an article), or find that I agreed with the author more than I thought I would.
Consider these proverbs on the importance of listening:
A wise man will hear and increase in learning,
And a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel,
Proverbs 1:5 NASB
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But a wise man is he who listens to counsel.
Proverbs 12:15 NASB
He whose ear listens to the life-giving reproof
Will dwell among the wise.
He who neglects discipline despises himself,
But he who listens to reproof acquires understanding.
Proverbs 15:31-32 NASB
There is also good precedence for listening and contemplating before taking action:
- Jesus evaluated the state of the Temple, before driving out those who were abusing its designed purpose (see Mark 11:11, then Mark 11:15-17).
- Solomon listened to two women with a dispute, before making a judgment (1 Kings 3:16-28).
- Paul took time to tour the idols of Athens, before delivering a powerful message that bridged the gap from their point of view to Jesus (see Acts 17:16-34).
So, the next time you are tempted to switch off or tune out, see if you can hang on just a little bit longer – try “listening through”, instead (with wisdom and discernment, of course). It won’t always be life-changing, but you never know what you might find on the other side.