​Listen to Understand, Not to Reply

“An unfriendly person pursues selfish ends and against all sound judgment starts quarrels. Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions. When wickedness comes, so does contempt, and with shame comes reproach. The words of the mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a rushing stream.” Proverbs 18:1-4 (NIV)

I have a bad habit: I don’t listen very well. If you know me, you know how much I struggle with this.

As someone speaks to me, I find myself beginning to construct my reply. My ego hears the first few words of what is being said and is already formulating my brilliant, insightful response (at least, to me it is).

Now, at a glance, this bad habit seems innocent enough. However, I have found this habit produces an infection within me. My limited and self-centered thoughts begin to decay my spirit, producing negative, counterproductive and troubling pre-conceptions. My habit of poor listening affects how I think about myself and others. It affects how I view the world, my future and my core values, beliefs. It shapes how I feel about my own quality of life and the quality of life for those around me.

So, maybe this listening thing is more important than I initially realized….

Where am I going wrong with my listening skills? How can I improve my listening skills?

When faced with these types of questions, I turn to the word of God. In the Bible, I find enduring guidance and universal truth. In the Bible, I find a foundation of solid rock, not the shifting sand this world offers.

The scripture above (Proverbs 18:1-4) is a clear communication about my current habit of cutting off my listening and beginning to formulate my response.

Fools delight in airing their own opinions….

The challenge of improving my poor listening skills involves my ego. In my inner mind, someone is speaking with me so I can fill them with my knowledge and somehow help them. In truth, most people who speak with me are not asking me to help them at all; they are asking me to understand.

Years ago, someone once told me, "No one will remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel."

My natural thought pattern is to imagine I am the source of knowledge and wisdom. Just typing that makes me cringe at my ego. My lack of listening stems from a lack of discipline, resulting from the sin of my own ego and my self-worship.

What I think I know has been accumulated over the relatively short period of my life (55 years) and through the environment in which I have lived. These are two very limiting factors. I have some experience within my testimony, but that testimony is limited by time, space and relationships. I have gleaned experience through my home life, education, neighborhood community, the Army, my employers and other avenues. But even these are just one limited experience stacked upon another. I retell the same stories because my individual resources are limited. My experiences and insights are like a lake that is continuously refilled with the same still water. My limited insights seep way down into the depths of who I am as a person. They form my view of everything around me and affect how I react. Still water becomes stale. My preconceptions remain limited and based on partial input.

I have discovered listening is not about how I can share my “stale water” with others. The value of listening comes from increasing my own understanding. Listening is about gleaning wisdom through understanding others. Hearing their stories, seeing my world from a different perspective.

As I practice trying to understand instead of formulating a reply, I broaden my point of view. Every new perspective provides something fresh that keeps my thoughts new and alive. I am not as saturated with stale perceptions based upon initial past experiences. As a world, our base of knowledge is constantly expanding, so my perspective should, as well. As I listen to understand, I find excitement in new discoveries instead of developing resentment towards new ideas.

I like to think of the fountain of wisdom as a rushing stream. A stream is moving and new every second. A rushing stream is cool and refreshing, not stagnant. The fountain of wisdom refreshes me and increases my joy. It moves me to a new place and gives me a new perspective, each day.

I intentionally practice listening as an opportunity to understand others instead of just to reply. Since I’ve started practicing this, I’ve seen the results. I appreciate others more, I see myself in other’s decisions more, which has increased my humility. I have more gratitude for the good things in my life. My mental stamina is stronger during distressing times. Understanding others instead of trying to control outcomes has produced a positive change in who I am as a person, a husband, a son and a friend. I still fail miserably at times. My wife can attest--Debi, can I get an amen? But now, I realize my error soon and am quicker to correct my behavior. I am a work in progress.

Christ did not call me to fix my neighbor. He did not call me to judge my neighbor. He did not call me to enlighten or punish my neighbor. He called me to love God and to love my neighbor. Listening leads to understanding, and understanding leads to love. Love is an action leading to hope, salvation, peace and victory.

I encourage you to practice listening to understand instead of to reply. Start today! Acknowledge the experience of others and try to understand. No one is that different from you!

Wisdom is not produced within us; it is produced outside of us. However, wisdom can flow through us if we choose to silence our ego and give our hearts to God for understanding. And, in that choice, we gain victory over anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, hate, discrimination, racism, murder and even death.

To God be the glory.

Yours in Christ,

Jim Abbott

The Salvation Army of Pickens County | Service Center Director

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