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Learning to Listen to Each Other Before We Speak

November 4, 2021 | Dr. Jay T. Smith

Christ Followers Can Take the Lead in Serving One Another

We live in difficult times. One of the most problematic issues that I have witnessed in the last several years is the failure of people to listen to each other. We talk over each other; we shout at each other; we vigorously press our point home; we stubbornly ignore each other; we speak poorly of each other; we ridicule each other.

What we do not do is listen to each other.

The mark of a civilized nation is that its citizens take the time to listen to each other and discuss our perspectives in the quest for a better culture, a vibrant society, and a peaceful existence. A society ­— a republic — a democracy ­— cannot long exist without this basic tenet in place. Listening is the key to finding a better way for all the citizens of a democratic republic.

David and Saul: Paranoia and Faith

Look at this text in 1 Samuel 24:8–19:

8 Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself. 9 David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men, saying, ‘Behold, David seeks to harm you’? 10 Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, ‘I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD’S anointed.’11 Now, my father, see! Indeed, see the edge of your robe in my hand! For in that I cut off the edge of your robe and did not kill you, know and perceive that there is no evil or rebellion in my hands, and I have not sinned against you, though you are lying in wait for my life to take it. 12 May the LORD judge between you and me, and may the LORD avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes forth wickedness’; but my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea? 15 The LORD therefore be judge and decide between you and me; and may He see and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

16 When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” Then Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you. 18 You have declared today that you have done good to me, that the LORD delivered me into your hand and yet you did not kill me. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safely? May the LORD therefore reward you with good in return for what you have done to me this day.

The encounter between David and Saul is revealing. The relationship between David and Saul has been full of intrigue, manipulation, and fear. It has become painful. David’s faith and Saul’s paranoia have created an environment where neither man could live. It is only when David reveals himself to Saul and shares that he could have harmed—or even murdered­—Saul in the cave, but did not, that Saul is broken and begins to listen to what his protégé is saying.

Peacemaking Begins with Listening

I wonder if our American culture isn’t at that point. But must we be there? I don’t think so.

Like Saul and David, the key is listening to the concerns of each. The attitude of many American Christians today has been one of fear and loathing, not listening and loving. There are more than 100 million U.S. citizens today, and it’s about time that we started listening to each other rather than yelling at and belittling each other.

The phrase “my way or the highway” needs to be deleted from our political conversations. This is not a winner take all game, and no American should “lose” in the political arena. We serve one another for the sake of our nation.

The legacy of Christianity should not be the ugly, anger-filled monologue we are hearing today from pastors and laymen alike. Jesus said very clearly, “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” Peacemaking begins with listening and finding solutions for peace or shalom, the presence of abundance and love that God desires in the world God created.

Listen for the still small voice, just as Elijah did at the mountain of God. It will be the beginning of a new era in our world. Listening to each other first gives us the knowledge and wisdom to speak with our family, friends, neighbors, and even those who would be our enemies.

Dr. Jay T. Smith

President and Bridger Professor of Theology & Ethics

Dr. Jay Smith leads the Yellowstone Theological Institute as its president. Dr. Smith has served as minister of youth, music and as senior […]

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