Category Archives: Christian Living

The Lost Art of Listening

“My wife said I never listen to her… At least I think that’s what she said.”

The quip would be funny if it wasn’t so true. Many of us have lost the ability to listen.

Cable news has replaced thoughtful analysis with senseless shouting. Universities have substituted civil dialogue with violent protests. If our nation is to live up to its name and once again be the “United States,” we must rediscover the art of listening. Here are three keys to better listening.

1. Listening must be cultivated. King Solomon introduced his son to the idea of “making your ear attentive to wisdom and inclining your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2). What a concept! Talk is easy; listening is hard. We love to make our voice heard. Listening, on the other hand, takes discipline. It involves humbling ourselves, admitting there may information we still lack, or an alternate perspective we can benefit from. In the rare times we do listen, we tend to surround ourselves with people who think and act just like us, re-enforcing our own biases. But that’s not necessarily listening. We must also be willing to engage opposing viewpoints, to avoid stereotypes, and to look for areas of common ground. God gave us two ears but only one mouth. Maybe that’s because he wants us to spend twice as much time listening as talking.

2. Listening must be compassionate. It is a simple expression of Colossians 3:12: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” When we listen, we are trying to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. Our first goal is not to win an argument; it’s to understand the other side. Stephen Covey in his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” suggests there are five levels of listening. Lower stages include hearing a voice, but only pretending to listen. Or practicing selective listening while forming a rebuttal. But true listening is empathetic listening. It is listening with an intent to understand, to get inside their frame of reference and understand them both intellectually and emotionally. That’s true listening.

3. Listening must be critical. Not mean-spirited, but with discernment. Learn to be a critical thinker. “Test everything; hold fast to what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). I think some people are afraid to listen because they think listening is the same as agreement. But the two are not the same. When listening, we’re just trying to better understand the other person, and giving them the same respect we’d ask them to give us. Hear them out. It may even be helpful to ask follow-up questions, or re-phrase their statement into our own words to make sure we heard it right. Only then can we decide whether we agree or disagree with their viewpoint, and why.

As a Christian, my only reliable source of truth is the Bible. It’s the gold standard by which all truth claims must be judged. So a helpful follow up question to ask is, “What does the Bible say?” Like the Berean church in Acts 17:11, we should examine the scriptures daily, to see if these things are so. The more we get to know our Bibles, the better we can navigate the murky waters of ideas and competing worldviews.

Cultivate a listening ear. Be compassionate. Think critically. If we all practice these keys to better listening, perhaps we’ll see a bit of civility restored to public discourse.

Today’s post first appeared in the Thursday edition of our local newspaper, The Hi Desert Star.

Photo credit: Olaf Meyer via Flickr

God Has You Right Where He Wants You

Normally, when we hear the word “contentment,” we immediately think of material wealth. We know we ought to be happy with that rusty car and last year’s cell phone model.

Certainly, God wants us to be grateful for our possessions. But He wants something more. God wants us to be satisfied not only with our stuff, but also with our situation in life — With the unique place He has put us right now. This may be even harder than being content with our stuff.

Are you content in Christ today? Do you recognize you have been treated far better than you deserve? Can you sing with sincerity, “Hallelujah! All I have is Christ! Hallelujah! Jesus is my life!”

In 1 Corinthians 7:17, while discussing marriage, the Apostle Paul makes an incredible statement on contentment: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”

Every Christian sovereignly summoned by the will of God has also been sovereignly assigned a unique place to serve. Paul says we have been “assigned” or appointed to this. The Greek word is merizo, meaning to divide into parts, to deal or distribute out. To put it bluntly, God wants us to play the cards we have been dealt.

Just think. The God of the universe ordained you to be exactly where you are at this moment. You aren’t there by accident, or some cruel twist of fate. It may feel at times like life is spinning out of control, or that poor choices drove you to where we are today. But rest assured. Nothing happens by accident! Even Joseph’s years in a filthy dungeon, and Jonah’s three day vacation in the belly of a fish were all part of God’s itinerary.

Pause for a moment and realize that God has sovereignly and lovingly chosen you to be exactly where you are today.

Paul instructs us to be content where we are, and to bloom where we are planted. This is so different from how we usually think. Teenagers look at the opportunities stretched before them and can’t wait to finish high school. Single adults can’t wait to find that special someone and get married. Newlyweds can’t wait to have children. New parents can’t wait for a full night’s sleep. Parents of teenagers can’t wait for some peace and quiet around the home. Empty nesters can’t wait to retire. And then, after all of that looking to the future, senior citizens look back and say, “Oh to be 20 again!” Do you see this vicious cycle? Everybody wants to be someone else, somewhere else, instead of where God has them today.

The Apostle Paul, however, exhorts us to accept our current situation as a gift from God. Instead of looking off to the horizon, we are to be content and thankful for today. We aren’t to compare ourselves to others and think, “Oh, I wish I was there,” or “I wish I had that.”

Paul knows contentment was not an isolated problem in Corinth, so he says, “This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17). It is a command given to everybody, including us. Just a few verses later, he repeats, “Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called” (v. 20). Then again in verse 24, he says, “in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.”

Now, it may be that one day, God will call us to a new situation (e.g. a single person to get married). But we can’t rush God’s timetable or grumble over the lot we’ve been given.

So stop right there. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving and contentment. God has you right where he wants you.

Principles of Christian Stewardship

This month, I preached a short series on Christian Stewardship in preparation for an Estate Planning Workshop hosted by the California Baptist Foundation. I introduced four basic principles of Christian stewardship that will change the way you think about life and money. These include:

  • Ownership – Everything belongs to God. We are merely stewards of his grace, and will one day give an account for how we used and invested what he loaned us.
  • Opportunity – Giving is one of life’s greatest opportunities to show love to God and to serve others. It also becomes a great opportunity to imitate the gospel and to display integrity to a watching world.
  • Obedience – God has much to say in his Word about specific areas of stewardship. These helpful, practical, instructions reveal God’s will for our time, talents, and treasure.
  • Overflow – Far from a mere duty, God wants stewardship to flow from a heart of joy.

Now, all three messages are available for download or to listen online from our church podcast page.