Take Care How You Hear!


My mom used to tell me that I wasn’t a good listener and she wasn’t the only one to say it. Women often complain that men never really listen to them, and while this may be true, I don’t think its just limited to men. In my years of ministry, I’ve had a number of couples in my office with marital problems. At the root of most of them was a failure of communication. Folks argue over many things, but they never really hear each other. If you don’t hear, then there has been no real communication.  When a spouse or opponent speaks, we are often thinking about how we can respond to prove them wrong or defend ourselves.  At least, we are so distracted we don’t really hear what is being said. There are now companies and educational organizations that teach the techniques of communication. Marital counselors spend a lot of team teaching listening skills. Obviously, though we talk a lot, good communication doesn’t come naturally.

Jesus warned about ears being filled with wax. I’ve come to think that the wax in our spiritual ears is the noise of life that occupy most of our time; or it is that internal voice that strives for self-justification. This noise fills our ears even when we pray, read the Bible, or attend Church. There is an important reason why this is critical.  We plead with God that our faith is small and we wonder how we can get more faith. The Bible makes it very simple: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” The way we get faith is through our ears, and if our ears are dull, our faith is small. How we hear makes all the difference.

We hear something that convinces us that Orthodoxy is truth. We say, “YES, this is the truth,” but we don’t act upon what we have heard. The next we hear the same thing we say, “Yes, this is the truth,” but again, we do nothing about it. Finally, we hear the same truth but now our response is, “Yawn! So what?” On the  other hand, if we act upon what we hear, then St. James says that we will be blessed in everything that we do. Imagine that – blessed in everything we do. We must be doers and well as hearers.

It’s hard to hear when you are emotional. Have you ever tried to speak to someone who is very angry, or very sad, or even very happy? They hardly hear what you say and you do not hear them. We are such a rollercoaster of emotions, it’s a wonder we hear anything at all. We need emotional sobriety. We need Jesus to command us as he did the storm and the waves –“Peace, be still.”

Finally, we don’t often hear because our brains aren’t fully engaged. Women are right that men only listen with 10% of their brain while the rest of the brain is somewhere else. Do we do the same in Church? Do we listen with divided attention? I often wonder if people hear the sermon that I preach, or if their minds are elsewhere. There’s a simple way to find out. About an hour later, just ask someone, “Well, what was the sermon about?” The answers are usually quite amusing if not somewhat sad. I remember that St. John Chrysostom noticed that his congregation was not listening. So, he stopped and said that he wanted to read a letter from a parishioner that would outline the failings and sins of some of the members. Suddenly, all eyes were on St. John with rapt attention. The Saint said to them that it was sad that they could not focus on the Word of God, but were ready to hear the latest gossip.

I know that not everything that I say in a sermon is straight from God. Some priests are skilled at sermons, and some are not. When it is a poor sermon, is it just a waste of time?  Jeremiah, the Prophet, said that God’s Word is like chaff to wheat. They would beat the wheat on the threshing floor and then it would be thrown into the air so that the chaff would blow away, and the heavier wheat will fall back to the floor. Maybe my sermons and blogs are 95% chaff and only 5% wheat. If so, the 5% of wheat is worth keeping. If something you hear in the reading or the sermon impresses you as the truth, then God has just spoken to you. Realize that this is being impressed upon you as the truth because it is something that you are meant not only to hear, but to do as well.

If we have really heard a word from God, we have done well yet hearing is only one side of the coin.  We need to become active listeners, doers of the Word. St. James says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who sees his face in a mirror, but when he turns away, he forgets what he looks like.” St. James uses a very human experience to illustrate this fact. You can spend a lot of time bathing and grooming until all is “perfection.” You check the bathroom mirror several times to be sure.  Then, even though there has been no windstorm raging through the house as you walk down the hall, you check yourself again when you pass the hall mirror. Its almost like you have forgotten what you look like.  In the same way, we can hear something, but if we do not put it into practice, it will soon be forgotten.

I have some “radical” suggestions for good listening. First, read the relevant scriptures for each Sunday, and if you have time, read an orthodox commentary on the passage. Study the Saints who are to be commemorated and come with an awareness of the theme of the service. Let Father know that you come to Church prepared to listen. He will knock himself out to write the best sermons possible. To come prepared – my, that is radical.

Jesus said, “Take care how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” It is a blessing to stand in the Holy Orthodox Church and hear the word of God. However, just standing in the service, but with your ears closed, will not accomplish much. Some said that standing in an Orthodox Church doesn’t make you anymore Orthodox  than standing in a garage makes you a automobile. If we are not doers of the Word, then even our Orthodoxy can be taken from us. Is this hard to believe?  I have seen some come to the Faith with great enthusiasm and piety, but they later leave the Faith.  Sadly, like the seed sown on bad ground, the Word did not take root.

Be ye doers of the Word and not hearers only. Take care how you hear!

2 Responses to “Take Care How You Hear!”

  1. Lucias Clay Says:

    Listening is always the hardest part of communication isn’t it ?

    I tell my children God gave us two ears and one mouth so we can listen twice as much as we talk. If only I could learn to do what I say.

    I did stop and think and I can tell you what the Father spoke of in the homily Sunday. So take heart, sometimes some of us remember.

  2. Betsy Says:

    I came to your service one Sunday, and I listened to EVERY WORD you said. I literally sat on the edge of my seat, in rapt attention, when you delivered the sermon. I hope to make it back to your church sometime soon.

    I HEAR everything you say (and write). Doing is the HARD PART. Keeping quiet, not losing my temper, not feeling frustrated with life’s problems and certain people in my life, realizing in retrospect that I have been prideful— These are all my great challenges.

    But your words are like a booster shot every time I read them. You are not administering placebos–your wheat to chaff ratio is much higher than you have assessed. At least for me. 🙂

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