Friday, June 12, 2015

What to do with Unwelcome Words: Five Rules of Listening

            A glance out my window revealed a whiter than expected scene. Overnight my trees sprouted long, white flags of flocking that were blowing in the breeze. My daughter’s new boy friend decided to display his affection for her by TPing our house. We chuckled at the practical joke then I delegated the clean up to my daughter and suggested she recruit the culprit for help.

         Unwanted advice is a lot like getting your house TPed.  It’s an unnecessary nuisance, usually perpetrated by friends or acquaintances, but it does no lasting harm and certainly doesn’t merit a hurt or angry response.  Yet, isn’t that how we often respond to uninvited advice? Since we struggle with when to give and how to receive simple advice, how will we ever come to the place of giving and receiving Biblical admonition?

            The toxic philosophy of political correctness seeps into the church and its acidic presence makes us too thinned skinned to graciously receive counsel from one another. Candid communication plays an indispensible role in discipleship. Yet, when advice or admonition comes our way we bristle with resistance, “She doesn’t understand what I’m going through.  Who does she think she is telling me what to do?  She hurt my feelings!”

             On the other hand analysis paralysis often gets in our way of trying to help others, “How will she take this? Will it hurt or help her situation? What if she gets mad at me? I don’t want to lose her friendship.” And so we say nothing. As a result of these tendencies our fellowship withers into an exchange of neutered pleasantries or flares into unproductive, unnecessary conflict. Good communication, like traffic, flows in two directions. If we follow the rules we’ll have fewer accidents and avoid causing harm.

Five rules of listening; 

1. Listen! This seems obvious but when we hear unwanted words the natural response is self defense. We become quick to argue or justify which is talking not listening. Our pride, left unchecked, will tune out what it doesn’t like being told.

Proverbs 15: 31-32 reminds us, “The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”

 Even if we find some one’s advice not applicable to our present situation it doesn’t mean we won’t find it useful later. Listening and learning are marks of wisdom.

2. Listen in Love! “Owe no one anything except to love one another,” Romans 13:8. When some comes to us with unwanted words (notice I said when not if because it will happen) we owe it to them to treat them in love. “Love is patient, love is kind, …is not provoked, thinks no evil,…bears all things,” (1Corinthians 13:4,5,7) things like hurtful words and annoying advice. When we are trying to give helpful advice how do we want to be received? That is exactly how Jesus expects us to receive words from others.

 3. Listen with Gratitude! “Open rebuke is better than love carefully concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” Proverbs 27: 5, 6. With friends like that who needs enemies, right? Wrong! Enemies don’t care. They want to see us fail. The rest of Proverbs 27:6 says, “But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” People who tell us we’re fine when we’re not or have an idea how to remedy our problem but don’t tell us are not helpful. Wouldn’t you rather have someone try to help and fail, than fail to try? Be thankful for people who care enough to say something, even if it is the wrong thing.

4. Listen in Humility! I touched on this in the first rule but it bears deeper consideration. “Hurt does not equal harm,” (source unknown). As we read in Proverb 27 wounds from a friend are faithful not fatal. I know for a fact that when my feelings are hurt it’s usually because my pride got hurt. When my feathers get ruffled I just need to pluck them off. 

     The old adage “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me,” was taught to children so that they would learn being hurt by words is a choice. We can choose not to take offense. We can choose to disregard insults. We can choose to overlook a person’s clumsy attempts to be helpful but these choices require humility.
     Truth spoken in love can hurt. It hurts to be told we’re wrong but that pain can promote healing if it causes repentance.  “Yes all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God… gives grace to the humble.” 1Peter 5:5

5. Listen as a Steward! What do we do with these unpleasant words? We own them for God’s glory. Let’s pray through unwanted words and ask God to show us if there’s any truth in what’s been said. Digesting unwanted words in prayer is a lot like eating chicken. Thank God for His provision, then chew the meat and spit out the bones. Like chicken feeds our bodies this process will nourish our souls.

These rules apply to one side of communication traffic. My next blog will cover the other side, the harder half, how we talk.

Father, You are the God who hears. You made our ears. Teach us to be good stewards of the ears You gave us and be better listeners for Your glory. Amen


  1. What a great post to read today! I think I was better at this wise listening when I was younger. A gentle, but appropriate rebuke from a stranger on an airplane really caught my attention nearly 11 years ago. I greatly valued that he would be bold enough to speak up to help me grow. I married him two years later. Now, after nearly 9 years of marriage, I often forget the love that can be behind convicting, constructive criticism.

    I'm looking forward to your next post as I really struggle with the analysis paralysis you mentioned.

    1. No surprise that an engineer would struggle with analysis paralysis. I'm on the other end and suffer from verbal diarrhea. It tends to make stinky messes of my attempts to be helpful...Glad this was helpful. Thanks for taking time to join me. Miss you!