…they held their peace and answered him not a word; for the king’s commandment was, “Do not answer him” (Is. 36:21).
One of the most difficult things for me to do is to keep my mouth shut (and I’m not just referring to overeating, though that may also be true on occasion). I’m a communicator, an exhorter, an encourager and a teacher—and sometimes I just like to hear myself talk.
This self-absorption with expressing our own thoughts, opinions, and feelings is universal, whether or not you’re a communicator by gifting and calling, and I’ve spent enough time around people to know that I’m not the only one who suffers from “foot-in-mouth” disease. The Apostle Peter was famous for it, and there are countless other examples in the Scriptures that show how people got themselves into trouble by speaking first, thinking later. Mario Murillo describes people like that as those who “gargle with gun powder and then go around, shooting off their mouths.”
The Bible is full of admonitions to be still, be quiet, listen, hear, hold your tongue, and control your speech. Is there anything more difficult? The Book of James is replete with teaching on this very topic, which is why I find myself having to read and reread it so often.
Years ago I served on a church staff, and one of my primary duties was that of biblical counseling. How naïve I was when I first began to serve in that position! Thankfully I at least had the understanding and humility to seek God before I started, but as I prayed for God to show me what to say to these people who came to me for help, I was stunned to discover that instead of telling me what to say, the Lord told me instead, “Learn to listen.”
Listening is an art, and it takes time and practice to learn it. We live in a world of noise—some imposed on us by others, but much self-inflicted. It isn’t enough that we have radios and televisions and CD players blasting us at home; we take those same noisemakers with us in our cars, to the beach, to the park, to the mountains. It’s as if we’re afraid to “Be still and know that [God] is God” (Ps. 46:10). We are a people who claim to want peace and wisdom, and yet we refuse to do what is necessary to obtain them: to be still, to be quiet, and to listen.
God had to teach me to listen—not just to those who came to me for counsel (what they were saying, as well as what they were NOT saying), but also to the Holy Spirit, as He whispered words of wisdom to my heart. Without first listening for God’s wisdom and direction, I would have nothing to offer anyone except my opinions and thoughts, worldly wisdom that profits nothing.
And then there are the times we want to defend ourselves, to argue our position and prove ourselves right. Even as someone is expressing himself to us, we are forming our answers in our mind, ready to fire back a response the moment the other person takes a breath. The problem with that is that while we’re formulating our brilliant comeback, we can’t hear what God is speaking to us, and we end up wondering why our words only complicated the problem, rather than clarifying and resolving the situation.
Sometimes God tells us to loudly and boldly proclaim His Word; as writers and communicators, and as believers and followers of Christ, we must do so. At other times He tells us to be still and listen. I personally find those listening times to be much more challenging and difficult to obey. But obey we must. When the King commands, “Do not answer him,” then may we put our hands over our mouths, open our ears and heart…and listen to the One who hung the Universe by His Word. Only then will we have anything worth saying to others.
September 13, 2007