The Listening Parent/Teacher

"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19).

We know the importance of listening, do we not? As a parent, have you not instructed your child, "Listen!" As a teacher, have you not reprimanded a child for "not listening?"

"Let every man be swift to hear." This does not mean to be swift to hear themselves, but to hear God and others. Parents, were you "swift to hear" the Lord today, to hear His voice this morning? Teachers, were you "swift," were your first attempts after awaking to hear His voice? Friends, were you "swift to hear" His voice speaking through His Word in devotions this morning? Did you hear God’s voice today, speaking to you by way of His providence? Have you heard His voice via creation’? "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard?" (Psalm 19:1-3).

"Let every man (especially every parent and teacher, every person who works with children) be swift to hear." There are many who travel through life, as it were, on a motorcycle, on a trail bike. They roar through life with such speed and noise, that they do not hear a bird’s song, or see a tree’s shape, or smell a flower’s fragrance. They are "swift" to do their own things. They only hear their own noise.

By nature, we reverse this scriptural instruction. We are "swift to speak and slow to hear." This produces divisions in our relationships, both with God and others, also with our children and students.

Are we swift to hear or to speak in our prayers? Are we so busy with our doings, our reformations, our wants, and our ideas that we "roar through" our devotional times never hearing God’s voice? Do we miss the beauty and peace from hearing God’s Word because we are so full of our own words? How can we expect our children to listen to us, as parents or teachers in positions of authority, if we are not listening to the Lord of glory, the ultimate authority?

To be "swift to hear and slow to speak" is a golden rule for effective communication. The opposite is also true. To be "swift to speak but slow to hear" is a guaranteed formula for tension and division. I remember taking a speech class in university entitled "Listening." One lesson I remember from this class is how sharply effective listening drops when a person participates in confrontational conversation. Why?  Because the person’s mind is focusing far more on his or her reply than on that which the other person is saying.

To listen, to be "swift" to listen, is critical in our relationships with our children or students. How else can we begin to know them, to understand them? How else can we enter into their hopes, joys, and fears? How else can we start to know them as persons?

No, James 1:19 does not teach that we are not to speak at all. We are. But we are to speak based upon careful listening. Effective communication begins with effective listening. Do your students know you as a teacher that is a good listener? Do your children say, I can talk with Dad or Mom, he or she always seems to understand me? Listening is not easy. It takes time. It requires self-control. It demands a subduing of my judgmental spirit.

Did Simon the Pharisee listen to Mary Magdalene’? He had no use for such a sinful woman. But Jesus heard her cries. What a perfect example we have in Jesus Christ! Even after repeated sins and failures in His children’s lives, He remains faithful; He is there to hear their cries. Parents, are you there for your children, also for the one who has sinned and failed repeatedly? As a teacher, are you approachable? Does the most rebellious, problematic student know that you will listen? You may not agree, but will you listen?

Are you a listening parent? A listening teacher?