The Gift of Listening

He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Michael Beck

The ability to listen is a precious gift. Above all else, in wanting to be an able ruler, Solomon asked God for a “hearing” heart. (1 Kings 3:9) God was pleased with such a request and granted it. Jesus told His disciples, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.” (John 16:23) The same God who was pleased to fulfill Solomon’s desire for a hearing heart will never turn away such a request. But who has such a request at the top of their prayer list?

If we would rule well and judge wisely we must first be “swift to hear.” (James 1:19) The wisdom that comes from above is “easy to be entreated.” It allows others to tell their side of the story. It may not agree, but it wants to understand. We fail to treat others with dignity when we quickly dismiss them without a fair hearing. Job was a powerful man but he did not “despise the cause” of his servants “when they contended” with him. (Job 31:13) He listened and sought to understand.

The ability to listen is essential if right judgment is to go forth. Right responses require right understanding and in order to understand we must be willing to listen.

The ability to listen is essential if right judgment is to go forth. Right responses require right understanding and in order to understand we must be willing to listen. It is so refreshing and satisfying to have another hear and understand us and our situation. There are fewer things more irksome then when someone believes they understand but is way off base. Sometimes, we’re at fault because we’re not willing to communicate; but at other times there isn’t a willingness to hear on the part of another.

But why listen when you think you already know? A fool is one who is wise in his own conceits. The very problem of Job’s friends was their belief that they understood his situation when they didn’t. We pre-judge people when we think we know where they’re coming from without having sat down with them and without hearing them out. Scripture warns us: “He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him.” (Proverbs 18:13)

Nabal thought he knew David. In his eyes, David was simply an unsubmissive, rebellious servant. “And Nabal answered David’s servants, and said, Who is David? and who is the son of Jesse? there be many servants now a days that break away every man from his master.” (1 Samuel 25:10) Did Nabal understand the true situation between the young man and his king? Of course not, but he acted like he did. Was he ignorant of the situation because he was simply “out of the loop” and too far away from it to understand? That is doubtful, seeing his wife had perfect understanding of what was going on between Saul and David. (1 Samuel 25:28-30) It is obvious that in Nabal’s household there was only one opinion that was right. His own servants knew him well enough to say to Abigail: “…he is such a son of Belial, that a man cannot speak to him.” (1 Samuel 25:17) What a reputation! “A man cannot speak to him.” Why? Because he couldn’t listen. When Abigail heard the servant’s assessment of her husband she did not refute it. In fact, later on she tells David that her husband is indeed a “man of Belial.” “Let not my lord, I pray thee, regard this man of Belial, even Nabal: for as his name is, so is he; Nabal is his name, and folly is with him… (1 Samuel 25:25) Sounds like Abigail had some experience with her husband’s folly. Who can doubt that she was told to shut up on numerous ocassions?

Where does folly lie? Folly lies in thinking you understand a situation clearly, when in fact, you don’t.

Folly was with Nabal and can be just as easily with us. Where does folly lie? Folly lies in thinking you understand a situation clearly, when in fact, you don’t. A fool flatters himself in thinking he sees. But he cannot see because he will not hear. He is only impressed by his own understanding. Wisdom though is found where there is a hearing heart. Such an attitude paves the way for understanding and knowledge. David himself was on a path of folly when he rushed to take vengeance on Nabal. In his own mind, his cause was righteous and he was convinced that vengeance was an appropriate response. But as is often the case when we move in the heat of our anger, we don’t see the bigger picture, nor do we consider the full ramifications of our actions. Abigail had to appeal to David to understand the situation better. She broadened his perspective, acknowledging to him what kind of man her husband was and reminding him of who he was. Perhaps most importantly, she helped him see down the road and consider what vengeance would cost him: “And it shall come to pass, when the LORD shall have done to my lord according to all the good that he hath spoken concerning thee, and shall have appointed thee ruler over Israel; That this shall be no grief unto thee, nor offence of heart unto my lord, either that thou hast shed blood causeless, or that my lord hath avenged himself…” (1 Samuel 25:31)

Through his response to Abigail, a moment which could have been one of David’s most shameful turned into one of his most noble. He could have been a haughty fool and responded, “What do you know woman? I am the Lord’s anointed!” Instead, his meekness opened the door for him to listen and receive her wisdom. “And David said to Abigail, Blessed be the LORD God of Israel, which sent thee this day to meet me: And blessed be thy advice, and blessed be thou, which hast kept me this day from coming to shed blood, and from avenging myself with mine own hand.” (1 Samuel 25:32,33)

What a wonderful difference between a wise man and a fool! “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” (Proverbs 12:15) The soon to be king had the ability to listen. He could be admonished, even by one who was beneath him. He was able to discern between the heat of his own spirit and the wisdom of God’s Spirit. He could hear the voice of God, wherever it came from, and could submit to wisdom, even in the person of a woman. “…I have hearkened to thy voice, and have accepted thy person.” (1 Samuel 25:35)

What can be learned from these things? Simply to listen better, not just when it comes to God Himself, or those people we think deserve to be heard. Be willing to hear in order to understand others, even when you can’t agree with them. Listen to get a bigger and better picture of a matter. Listen to make wiser and more informed judgments. Listen so God can give you greater insight. Listen so you can pray better. Listen to show people that you value them. Listen, so you won’t be deemed a fool. And listen, because God has given you a gift that you have prayed for, above all else.

Michael Beck is a pastor in the Dallas, TX area and the main author on Signpost. Receive a daily devotional he publishes every morning via email.