Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

The art of listening


"Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear." (James 1:19, The Message Bible)

By Bishop Robert Hayes Jr.

s I go from church to church on Sundays, one of the pleasures to which I look forward is Sunday School. Whenever my schedule allows, in addition to the worship service, I relish the opportunity to mingle with the early risers who gather to fellowship, sip coffee, pray for the sick and shut-ins, and discuss the lesson of the week.

To discover the heart and soul of a congregation, go to a Sunday School class.

I believe the Sunday School hour is as important as worship, for it provides the chance for you to share firsthand with other believers your thoughts and opinions about God’s Holy Word and the teachings of Jesus. If you haven’t been to a Sunday School class in a while, I urge you to go and participate. It can make a measurable difference in your Sabbath day.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in Dallas, sitting in a class in our largest Native American church, part of the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference.

Rudy Gomez has been teaching this same class many years. Whenever I go there to preach, I make it a point to arrive in time to hear and observe this master teacher at work. As the session begins, it takes only 30 seconds to know that Rudy has spent his entire week in preparation for these 60 minutes.

"Listening" was the subject of the lesson when I visited that recent Sunday. The scriptural text was taken from the New Testament book of James.

Class began with the singing of "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder (I’ll Be Listening for My Name)." Then the Scripture was read and, from that point, the time belonged to Rudy. Throughout the session, each person present was firmly but gently challenged, pushed and pulled, carried along until the Scripture came to life for him or her.

The author of the lesson that Sunday revealed how important listening is to him. He explained that most of his prayers now begin in silence. He wrote that he no longer shouts out his requests to God. Instead, silently and reverently, he listens to hear the voice of God speak to him.

I sank into my seat and began to reflect. How guilty am I of going to God with a load of appeals and solicitations each time I pray? How many times do I begin my prayers in silence, waiting to hear from God instead of God quickly hearing from me?

And suddenly I realized that listening is action! It is a demonstration of my willingness to completely turn myself over to God while I wait for God to speak to me.

Therefore, can I conclude that listening actually is prayer at its highest level? When I present myself before God, in quiet moments where both of us are seeking out each other, should it not be the great God of heaven who has the first and last words?

In several places in the New Testament, Jesus declares, "He who has ears to listen, let him hear!"

Both in the parable of the Sower (Mark 4) and in the parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders (Matthew 7), Jesus concludes by admonishing his followers to use their ears to hear the vital and important messages of God’s Kingdom.

It seems at times that the clamor of our days drowns out the voice that beckons us to pay attention to what is crucial for meaningful living. Just like people in Jesus’ time, we are guilty of listening but not really hearing.

And because we fail to heed the voice of God, we find ourselves confused, anxious, and even fearful.

When you and I were children, our parents told us that fire burned. We listened, but some of us failed to hear their wisdom, and until we discovered that fact for ourselves — quite painfully for me, I will add — their words had little meaning.

The same is true of the life lessons for each Christian. Our journeys are filled with unknowns. Life can be frightening, even painful; you can suffer setbacks and defeats. But God has told you (Deuteronomy 30:19) there are choices set before you — life and death, blessings and curses — and cautions you to listen well so you and your children may live.


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