February 19, 2012
Pastor Joe Wittwer

Listen!

Part 2: Listen to those you love

 

Opening:

Video: AT&T commercial.

Does that look familiar?  We are so easily distracted, especially when listening to those we love the most.  We tend to take them granted, and assume we know them and listen carelessly or not at all.  Today we’re going to talk about listening to those you love.

 

Offering and Introduction:

    This is week 2 of our four-week series, Listen!  God is all about relationships!  When Jesus was asked what was most important, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all you’ve got—all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  And love your neighbor as yourself.”  What’s most important?  Loving God and loving people.  Relationships.  God is all about relationships.

Relationships are built on communication, and communication is built on listening.  So we are looking at what the Bible says about listening, and our goal is to become better listeners to God and to each other.

    The words “listen” and “hear” appear hundreds of times in the Bible.  Most often, God is calling us to listen to Him, and we’re going to talk about that in the final talk in this series.  How many of you wish you could hear God better?  In two weeks, we’re going to talk about how to do that, how to recognize God’s voice speaking to you.  When God speaks, we listen; and when we speak, God listens.  Last week, we looked at a lot of verses that say that God listens to us.  My favorite was:

Psalm 116:1-2 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.

I love that image of God turning his ear to me, leaning in to hear what I am saying.  God wants to hear what you have to say.  He inclines his ear to you.  When God speaks we listen; when we speak God listens.

    And we are to listen to each other.  Today we’re going to talk about listening to those we love.  Next week, we’re going to talk about listening to our critics.  So here’s:

The Big Idea: We often listen carelessly (or not all) to those we love the most. But listening to those you love has wonderful benefits!

Listen to those you love the most: your spouse, your kids, your family, and your friends.

    We tend to take for granted those we love the most; we assume that we know them and we stop listening, or we listen impatiently or begrudgingly or carelessly.  We don’t really pay attention. Watch how people listen to someone new, or someone they deem important at work, or someone who can benefit them.  Then watch how they listen to their spouse, or kids, or extended family or friends.  We multi-task.  We are distracted.  We are sloppy listeners with those we love most.

    What does the Bible say about listening to those you love the most?  Not a lot directly. I think that listening is simply an assumed part of family and friendship. But there are still lots of verses that speak to this issue.  Let’s start by reading our text for the whole series together:

James 1:19–20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  This applies when listening to whom?  Everyone!  Including those you love the most. There are some passages that show the benefits of careful listening to those you love.  So what happens when you listen?

 

1. When we listen, we learn.  

When we listen, we learn.  When we talk, we don’t.  You can’t learn if you’re always talking!  When I talk, I hear my thoughts and opinions, but I already know those, so I’m not learning anything.  When I listen, I hear your thoughts and opinions, and I learn.  In any setting—school, work, friendship, family—the more I listen, the more I learn; the more I talk, the less I learn.  

ILL: A pastor invited me to lunch and offered to pay—he said he wanted to pick my brain.  I told him it might be slim pickings, but I never refuse a free lunch!  We spent almost two hours together, and I hardly said a word.  He didn’t ask any questions; he just talked—for two hours.  I listened and I learned a lot about him.  But if he really wanted to learn something from me, if he truly wanted to pick my brain, he didn’t get his money’s worth.  I left with my brain thoroughly unpicked and intact.  Maybe all he really wanted was someone to listen to him, and I did.  But if he wanted to learn something, he missed out.

When we listen, we learn.  When we talk, we don’t.  

Proverbs 18:2 A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions. *

A fool loves the sound of his own voice; he talks and learns nothing.  A wise person listens and learns.

Proverbs 1:5 let the wise listen and add to their learning *

When you listen, you add to your learning.  Don’t think of learning as a purely academic thing.  When you listen in church, or to a teacher or instructor, you learn stuff—that’s good.  But apply this to every relationship.  When you listen to those you love, you learn then too.  You learn what they are thinking and feeling, what is important to them; you learn who they really are.  When you listen, you learn and you gain understanding.

    How many of you want to be understood?  Everyone wants to be understood.  It’s why we talk: so others will listen and understand us.  We want to be understood.

ILL: I had a hard time learning this in the early years of our marriage.  

    I remember once Laina was telling me about some problem she was having.  My response was a typical guy response: fix it!  I listened for a couple minutes, but then I interrupted and told her what to do to fix it.

    Tears welled up in her eyes and began to spill down her cheeks in silence.  We were standing in our kitchen, and I thought, “What is her problem?  Why is she crying?  Women!”  She’s standing there crying, and I’m standing there fuming.  Awkward!  Finally she said, “Why don’t you hug me?”  Duh!  So even though I didn’t feel like hugging her right then, I did; I took her in my arms and let her cry on my shoulder—still not understanding why she was crying.  

    Then the Lord spoke to me: “She needs your ear and your shoulder more than your mouth.”  

    Laina wasn’t talking to fix the problem; she was talking to be understood.  She wanted to be heard, not fixed.  She wanted to be understood.  

How do we ever understand another person?  By listening. When I listen, I learn and I gain understanding.  

When we listen, we learn and we gain wisdom.

Proverbs 9:9 Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning. *

The wise listen and get wiser still.  I believe that I can learn something from every person I meet, if I am willing to listen.  Everyone has something they can teach me, if I listen.  This is true even of people that I already know very well—those I love most.  There are still things to learn from them, if I’m willing to draw them out, to ask questions and to listen.  

When I listen, I learn and I gain understanding.  Nothing deepens relationships more than sympathetic listening—listening to understand another person.  When I listen, I learn.

Several of the references on your outline from Proverbs are about listening to your parents to learn and gain wisdom and understanding.  One example:

Proverbs 1:8 Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching.

In Biblical cultures, the family was the primary educational unit.  Parents not only passed on their trades and skills, but their values, morals, wisdom and faith.  So children are often encouraged to listen to the teaching of their parents.  I believe the family is still the primary educational unit.  The most important things—values, morals, wisdom and faith—are still passed on from grandparents and parents to their children.  

Here’s the problem: when children stop listening to their parents, it usually means they are going to learn the hard way.  It usually involves pain for everyone: parents and children.

    So parents, is there a way to help your children listen to you and learn?  Is there a way to avoid the rebellion, the resistance, the refusal to listen?  There is no guarantee.  But if you want your children to listen to you, the best thing you can do is…listen to them!  Everyone wants to be understood—that is true of your strong-willed child as well.  When you listen to them and understand them, you are showing them love and winning the right to be heard.  Listening to your children may be the best way to stay allies and avoid being adversaries.  So listen…and learn.

    One last thing: there are several verses here about anger.  When I listen, I learn; when I get angry, I don’t.  Nothing kills conversation faster than anger.  This is why we are told,

James 1:19–20 My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

As soon as we get angry, others get defensive.  We stop listening; reason goes out the window.  

ILL: Several years ago, another pastor in town called me and made some accusations against a friend of mine.  What should I have done?  Ask some questions, listen, try to understand.  What did I do?  I got angry.  I raised my voice and angrily defended my friend (who, by the way, was innocent of the charges).  Within seconds, we were shouting at each other over the phone.  Two pastors—two “men of God”—angrily shouting, neither listening to the other.  It was really ugly.  

    Afterwards, I felt so stupid.  It bothered me all day, and finally, I wrote an apology and drove over to his church.  He was gone, so I left it there.  The next day, he called me and apologized; I apologized again and suggested we start over.  I listened respectfully to his concerns and understood him, and he did the same with me.  We did what we should have done the first time, before my anger killed the conversation.

Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.  

2 Timothy 2:23–24 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

Nobody learns anything when we are angry and quarreling.  When we listen, we learn.

 

2. When we listen, we love.  

There is no verse in the Bible that says “when we listen, we love.”  What the Bible does say is that we ought to love one another.  And I think it is fair to say that listening expresses love. When someone listens to you, do you feel loved? Listening expresses love. When you listen to someone, you are actively loving them.  In fact, I would say that listening is an essential part of loving someone.  It’s why God listens to us!  He loves us and one of the ways He shows it is by listening.  

Listening expresses love.  And listening makes love grow.  

Psalm 116:1-2 I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. 2 Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live. *

Why do I love the Lord?  Because He heard my voice; because He listens to me.  I believe that is true in our families and friendships as well.  We love people who listen to us.  Listening is an essential part of loving someone.  You can’t love unless you listen.  Listening expresses love and makes it grow.  

    Great listening involves asking good questions.  This is especially important with those we already know.  The closer we are to someone, the more we assume that we know all there is to know about them, so we don’t listen or we listen without asking questions.  We need to probe and get beneath the surface.

Proverbs 20:5 The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out. *

How do you draw out the deep thoughts, the deep purposes of another person?  By listening; and by asking questions, and listening some more.  The best listeners pay close attention to what another says, then, realizing that there are deep waters to be explored, asks probing questions.  Too often, we are content to take what people say at face value, without digging deeper.  As I said, this is especially true of those we know best—we just assume that we know, so we don’t ask.  

“Blah, blah, blah,” they say.  

And we think, “Oh, yeah, that again.”  

Instead, we should ask, “What did you mean by ‘blah, blah, blah?’”  Ask questions, listen, and ask more questions.

ILL: Each evening after their kids are in bed, my oldest son, Andy, and his lovely wife Nicole, ask each other a question.  They take turns thinking up the question.  Then they each write a brief response, and talk about their answers. Through this simple practice of one question a day, they are learning new things about each other and coming to understand each other more deeply.  It’s a great habit!

A person of understanding will draw out the deepest thoughts of another person by asking questions and listening.  And when we do this, love grows.  The more we get to know and understand each other, the deeper our love becomes.  When we listen, love is expressed, and love grows.

Luke 10:38–42 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

It’s a well-known story.  Mary listened, Martha was distracted.  Did both of them love Jesus?  Absolutely.  In fact, I think they were each expressing love to Jesus in different ways.  Mary was loving Jesus by listening to Him.  Martha was loving Jesus by serving Him.  Both are legitimate ways to express love.

    But here’s the question.  How did Jesus want to be loved?  It seems from his response—“Mary has chosen what is better”—that He wanted to be listened to.  And this is the question we have to ask about our closest relationships: how does this person want to be loved?  

  • A husband and father may love his wife and kids by working hard and providing for them, but maybe what they really want is to be heard and understood.

  • A wife and mother may love her husband and kids by working hard and providing good meals and a clean home, but maybe what they really want is to be heard and understood.

  • A friend may love his friend by doing stuff for him or with him, but maybe what he or she really wants is to be heard and understood.  

Like Martha, we are easily distracted, and often by good things.  Our tasks, our busyness, keep us from listening.  Our technology and entertainment keeps us from listening.  

What if we started by listening?  If we listened first, we may discover that’s all the person wanted to feel loved.  Or we may find out they wanted dinner!  But I know this: everyone wants to feel loved, and we feel love when we’re listened to.

ILL: A young mother and her daughter were strolling the doll aisle at Toys R Us.  The selection was mind-boggling.  There were dolls that talked, dolls that walked, dolls that spoke, dolls that laughed, and even dolls that wet themselves!  The little girl looked at doll after doll and couldn’t make up her mind.  Finally, she picked up a doll that did nothing.  She poked and prodded, but the doll still did nothing, so she asked her mom, “What does this doll do?”  Her wise mother said, “That doll listens.”  And that’s the doll the little girl chose.

Everyone wants to feel loved, and we feel love when we’re listened to.  When we listen, we love.

 

3. When we listen, we know.  

When we listen, we know another person. Listening helps us know someone as truly as they can be known. Listening will deepen your relationships with those you love like nothing else.  Listening lets us in on the secrets of a person’s heart.

    I want to go back to Mary and Martha.  Mary listened, Martha was distracted.  Not long after this, Jesus was back in Mary and Martha’s village of Bethany, and here’s what happened.

Mark 14:3–9

3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

Who was this mysterious woman who poured the whole bottle of perfume on Jesus?  It was Mary.  We know that from John’s version of this story (John 11, 12).  In those days before banks, people often kept their savings in valuable commodities, like livestock, land, gold, jewels or perfume.  Mary’s jar of perfume may have represented her life savings.  We know it was worth a lot, more than a year’s wages.  Think of what you make in a year: now imagine having a bottle of perfume worth that much!  This is not Obsession, or Poison, or Passion, or even Canal #5!  What do you do with a bottle of perfume worth that much?  Not much!  You use it very sparingly.  A little dab’ll do ya!  But Mary poured the whole bottle on Jesus!  This was an act so extravagant that the disciples criticized her and called it a waste.

    Why would she do that?  John tells us that one of the guests of honor at this dinner party was Mary’s brother, Lazarus, whom Jesus had recently raised from the dead.  Perhaps Mary’s extravagance was her way of saying thank you to Jesus for raising her brother from the dead.  

    But there is another, more intriguing possibility suggested by the text.  Jesus said that Mary “poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial.”  What?  That’s what everyone was thinking?  What?  At that moment, Jesus was the popular rabbi about to enter Jerusalem in triumph.  Everyone was wondering if he was the messiah.  Expectations were running high, especially among the disciples who thought that the time might have arrived for Jesus to make his move, oust the Romans and usher in the Kingdom of God.  And He’s talking about his burial?  What?

    We know from reading the gospels that Jesus had repeatedly warned his disciples that he was going to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be raised from the dead.  And we know that the disciples didn’t understand and didn’t bother to ask any questions.  No matter how often Jesus said it, they didn’t get it.  They weren’t listening.

    But one person was listening.  A woman…who sat at His feet and listened instead of helping with dinner.  Mary listened, and Mary knew what everyone else had missed.  Mary knew that Jesus had come to Jerusalem to die.  And so she took her perfume and poured the whole bottle on Jesus as an act of extravagant love and worship, not just for what He had done for her brother, but for what he was about to do for all of us.  

    And Jesus said, “Wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”  Think about that.  Jesus promised that Mary’s act of extravagant love would never be forgotten.  Jesus memorialized her.  He didn’t ever say this about Peter or Andrew or James or John…only Mary.  Why?  Because she listened to Jesus, and she alone knew what He was about to do, so she loved Him with all she had.  

    When you listen, you know.  You know things that others miss.  You know the secrets of another person’s heart.  Listening deepens relationships like nothing else.

    Listen to those you love.

    When you listen, you learn.

    When you listen, you love.

    When you listen, you know.