Have you ever gone into a conversation prepared with the things you would say, encouragement you would give, struggles you would or wouldn’t share, or even the topics that might come up? Have you also then entered into that actual conversation only to (humbly, ahem) learn that what you actually needed to do was listen? I know I have had this experience more than once. Listening is something the Lord continues to teach me about on this pilgrim journey of life, and it’s something that the book of Proverbs frequently mentions. The word “listen” is found over fifteen times in the book, and forms of the word “hear” are found even more times.
We’re all doing a fairly good amount of listening in various formats in our lives, so how should we prioritize what we are listening to? And secondly, how are we listening?
First, in the book of Proverbs we see many pleas for us to listen to wisdom. Wisdom, as defined in our series, is fear and reverence toward God, which leads us to live in light of who God has revealed Himself to be and apply that to all of life. So the greatest what that we need to be listening to is the living word of our God, since that is the primary way He has revealed Himself to us. He has given us all that we need in His Word (1 Tim 3:16-17, Rom. 15:4), and we must keep it always before us. We know this in principle, but is it the practice of our lives? Do we spend more time listening to other sources that influence our hearts and minds instead of God’s life-giving Word? Is it where we go in order to expectantly hear from God and learn about him? Is it where we keep going on both the good days and the bad days? Is it our constant companion? Is it our firm foundation? So many things today are calling out for us to listen, and we have to choose what we will spend our time listening to. The benefits of listening to the wisdom of God are countless and impact every aspect of life (Ps.119:37). The second chapter of Proverbs is simply bursting with some of these benefits. When we prioritize listening to the Word, it often continues to work in us, seizing our thoughts and devotion, and shaping our feelings. A mentor friend once encouraged me to keep returning to the Word, not based on my changing feelings, but to go to it trusting that the Lord would bring my feelings along. When we listen to the Word, the Spirit uses it in our hearts and lives like nothing else (Heb.4:12).
Second, how are we listening? Again, the book of Proverbs gives us many examples of how we can listen. Listening takes time. Listening takes restraint, patience, and humility. Proverbs tells us that wisdom is listened to when children listen to their parents (or any younger/older relationship) (Prov.4, 6:20, 23:22), when God’s word and therefore ways are our primary and final source of input into our hearts (2:1-8), when we remember God’s Word and keep it before us (Prov.7:1-4), when we seek and consider the advice of others (12:15, 13:10), when we listen to rebuke or correction (10:17, 12:1, 15:12, 31), and when we recognize when to be silent and refrain from speaking too quickly (17:28, 18:13). These are tall orders, aren’t they? If we’re honest, these areas are regular challenges for us. We would rather speak than listen. We would rather point out another’s error. We would rather make assumptions than hear someone out. We often listen critically, rather than from a heart that wants to understand. BUT, we can be encouraged when we remember that though we can’t live out this wisdom perfectly as we’re called to, our Savior did! When He forgives us, He gives us new abilities through His Spirit working in us. Instead of our failures bringing us to despair, His Spirit keeps reminding us just how much we need Him and His great salvation. And that is a reminder that we can never receive too often! He is the Creator; we are the creatures. We need Him desperately, every minute, every hour, every day. May He give us ears to, first, listen to His wisdom and, then, listen to others patiently, humbly, and carefully. May our Lord say of us, “blessed are…your ears, for they hear” (Matt.13:16).