I consider myself a pretty good listener, but my listening skills have been tested lately. Many of my friends are going through difficult times. Some friends are dealing with physical pain and others are dealing with emotional pain. And I've been listening. Or so I thought.
I caught myself "listening" to their stories while at the same time planning how I would respond. What I discovered was two-fold: (1) I haven't been listening intently, and (2) I have been wanting to say the right words to encourage, often for my own sake rather than for the other person's. I find myself wanting MY heart to feel at rest and for MY words to get out there because I want to make everything better. And at times, I fail to see that the best thing to do is listen and then pray. Instead of trying to find the "right words" for every hard situation, sometimes I need to know when NOT to speak.
I had tried to put this struggle into words last weekend and then found myself in the classroom. Not a physical classroom, but a Teacher/student situation nonetheless. Almost everything that I encountered last weekend seemed to speak to this topic. And so I've been trying to do my homework and learn this material well. I haven't mastered it yet, but here's what I've gotten so far.
For one, our pastor spoke last Sunday on doing things "in Jesus's name" and for His glory. There's no part of that permitting me to steal credit from the One who truly deserves it all. "It is not good to eat much honey, Nor is it glory to search out one's own glory." (Prov. 25:27)
I came across a passage from Psalms that says, "You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry." (Psalm 10:17) That reminds me that Jesus may or may not choose to use me to encourage someone; He can do it by Himself.
The third chapter in the book Encouragement by Drs. Larry Crabb and Dan Allender talks about the reasons why our words often don't have power and about how encouragement will not develop in surface community. Instead, for my words to have any power, I have to know the person well in order to know what will speak most to that person's heart.
And then there are all the Proverbs that deal with holding one's tongue:
When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable,
But he who restrains his lips is wise. (Prov. 10:19)
He who restrains his words has knowledge,
And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. (Prov. 17:27)
Also it is not good for a person to be without knowledge,
And he who hurries his footsteps errs. (Prov. 19:2)
Like apples of gold in settings of silver
Is a word spoken in right circumstances. (Prov. 25:11)
But these verses from Ecclesiastes were most convicting:
Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few.
For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words. (Ecc. 5:2-3)
I'm sure that while I'm studying this issue I will have many opportunities to practice holding my tongue. It always seems to work like that. I hope that I will be able to draw on the Truth to guide me through those tests.
What helps you steer clear of offering unnecessary words? I'm all ears.