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Quick to Listen and Slow to Speak


The Bible tells us to be “…quick to listen and slow to speak…” (James 1:19).


In an excellent sermon I once heard, the pastor said we can know what’s in our heart by what comes out of our mouth. Jesus also said that, of course, but it really struck a chord with me at that moment. Ever since then, I have been listening to what comes out of my mouth and I have not always been pleased with what that revealed about my heart! I still see too much selfishness and pride.


Let me share a couple of examples. At a gathering, which included a celebration of one of our daughter’s birthdays, someone suggested that each person in the room share what they admired about our daughter. As her mother, I was certainly blessed to hear what all those people said! The next day, I learned who the person was who had suggested that. As I was telling him what a blessing it was, he shared that he had seen that done at another party recently. Here comes the bad part: I interrupted him to mention that we had done that for our son’s 21st birthday years ago. Thankfully, he seemed not to notice my comment and proceeded to share that, in a world of frequent put-downs, it’s nice to have times of affirmation. I heartily agreed.

I had immediately felt convicted of rudely interrupting him, but later, I realized that pride had spoken. There was no need for me to bring up what we had done. Humility keeps its focus on the other person and seeks to build them up. So, in one short sentence, I had revealed my selfishness and pride!

Another example took place one morning during breakfast. My husband started to share something, and instead of just politely listening, I mentioned that I had already read an email about that. The conversation turned to other things, and then a little later, he started to mention another bit of information, which suddenly reminded me that I had an email waiting about that. So, alas, I blurted out that I had sent someone an email about that and had noticed that he had replied, but I hadn’t yet read it. When I saw the look on my husband’s face, I asked him to forgive me for interrupting him.

Needless to say, my husband wasn’t in any hurry to share anything else. If I want him to share openly about deeper things, I first need to learn how to listen attentively and respectfully to the smaller things. So, what was obviously lurking in my heart? Pride and selfishness, again! -Sigh- Humility would have no need to point out to him that I already knew about what he was sharing. It would just bask in the joy of hearing what he had to say! Humility is always other focused. Pride is self-focused, wanting the attention for itself.

At other times, I’m tempted to interrupt when I don’t like what the other person is saying. My pride and selfishness are thinking about my needs, not the needs of the speaker. A very helpful Scripture is Ephesians 4:29: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (The emphasis is mine.) If I am going to say anything beneficial, I first need to have a clear understanding of the other person’s position! I need to humbly acknowledge that they also have feelings and opinions that are just as important as mine.

I also need to beware of saying negative things about one person to another. There is no good reason for doing that. If I have a grievance against someone, I should first go directly to them and see if we can resolve it. If we can’t, then we may need to get help. If I notice an area a person needs prayer on, I should just discuss it with the Lord, seek His guidance on what He would have me do, and then wait for clear guidance. He may only want me to pray for them. Do my words reveal a compassionate heart, or a critical, judgmental one?

So, how can I improve in this area? Pray and give God time to cleanse my heart before I speak! Ask Him to give me a heart of compassion that genuinely cares about the needs of the other person as much as I care about my own. Sometimes I wish I could just hold my hand over my mouth while I’m listening, until I feel my heart is right! But, since that would be rather distracting to the other person, it’s best just to ask the Lord to keep His hand on my mouth until my heart is in alignment with His!

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