The Wisdom of Listening
by Burk Parsons
Wise men are difficult to find. We must go to great lengths - we must search high and low in order to find a man who is truly wise. I grieve for my children and my children’s children as I consider the future reality of a world in which wise men cannot be found. Most of my life I have earnestly sought the wisdom of older men. In seeking such wisdom, I have often had to endure admonishment, rebuke, or chastisement. And although receiving such tough wisdom was never enjoyable at the time, over the years, by God’s grace, I have been given the wisdom to recognize how unwise I am while recognizing the manner in which the wisdom of God was shining forth in all its glorious brilliance through the wisdom of my older fathers in the faith.
Throughout my life God has brought many wise men across my path, men who have taken me aside and have shared with me the hard lessons from their lives, men whom God has humbled and who have humbled themselves before me in order to teach me about how God’s ways of humbling us will make us wise, men who have recognized that it is only the wisdom of God that has enabled them to persevere through life’s most challenging circumstances. Such men are wise because they are men who have discovered the lost art of listening and have listened to other wise men. As they aged they became great men precisely because they were great listeners.
I recall the old advertising campaign of the one-time, second-largest brokerage firm in the United States of America: “When E. F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” E. F. Hutton, and presumably his representatives, had earned the right to be heard by investors. When investors want to invest their hard-earned money, they want to know where to place their money for the greatest yield; they want to place their money with those they can trust, with those who have a proven track record of wise investing. We always turn to those who are wiser when we are dealing with significant matters; we turn to those who have earned the right to be heard, and if they have earned the right to be heard, it is precisely on account of the fact that they have proven themselves to be good listeners. In fact, the greatest speakers, the greatest teachers, and the greatest preachers are the greatest listeners. Often, it is assumed that in order to be a great preacher one must merely be a great speaker. However, it must be understood (especially by men who are training for future pastoral ministry) that the greatest preachers, the most consistent, steadfast, staunchly biblical preachers are the greatest listeners. Such shepherds know their flocks; they listen to the people whom God has entrusted to their care. Pastors who listen to their flocks know the levels of maturity of their particular sheep. They know how to tend to the real, spiritual needs of their sheep and not just massage their ever-changing felt needs. Such shepherds are able to love, nurture, and feed their sheep properly because they know precisely what their sheep are prepared to feed upon, namely, the living, active, and never-changing Word of God.
To listen or not to listen, that is the question before us all, but it is especially a question for those who have been called to shepherd the people of God. The greatest pastors will ask themselves incessantly: Am I listening to the Word of God, and am I listening to God’s people? In the asking of these questions, and in the biblical responding to these questions, pastors are held accountable in the way God intended.
Does your pastor listen? And more importantly, much more importantly, does he listen to the Word of God? I guarantee that if your pastor is not a good listener, he is likely not a good pastor. He may indeed be a good speaker, but unless he has a proven track record of being a good listener, he has likely not earned the right to be heard. Nevertheless, whether or not your pastor is a good listener, if he preaches the Word of God faithfully,
you should listen to him faithfully.
Throughout the Bible, God commands us to listen, and in order to discern how God commands us to listen, during my third year of Bible college I decided to engage in a semester-long study of what the Proverbs had to say about listening. It was one of the more fulfilling studies I have ever undertaken. One of the primary lessons I learned from my study is the root meaning of the infinitive “to listen.” Throughout Scripture the word is employed in various ways, but it is primarily used in the imperative voice. That is to say, it is used largely as a command. In my study I noted that the word did not simply mean “to hear” but to perceive and to heed. When Jesus sovereignly and insightfully declared to His audience, “He who has ears to hear let him hear,” He was not merely concerned that they simply heard the words coming out of His mouth but that they heeded His instruction promptly and sincerely.
Toward the end of Genesis, we are given the opportunity to listen to what the patriarch Jacob said to his sons before he died: “Then Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you what shall happen to you in days to come. Assemble and listen, O sons of Jacob, listen to Israel your father’” (Gen. 49:1–2). Twice in this passage we read of Jacob’s exhortation for his sons to listen to him. And as we look back upon his life, the many lessons he learned, and the wisdom God gave him, we too are inclined to listen to this wise old man who was wise only because He listened to the only wise God.