“Are you talking to me?” In comedy, the question implies a refusal to engage seriously with the speaker. I can relate. Like King Ahab in the Bible, I don’t always want to hear prophetic words that warn of disaster or deny my prayers. Yet, like Ahab’s contemporary, King Jehoshaphat, I do not want to make bad decisions because I failed to ask the Lord God for direction. Sadly, also like both kings, I may inquire of the Lord, receive an answer, and then choose to do things my way, regardless of the warnings. Why is that? Is it a listening problem?
Listening has several components besides the act of hearing sound. A good listener is one who can wait patiently for the speaker to finish. I have a family member who speaks with long pauses between words or thoughts. Yet what this person says is meaningful and often witty if one listens intently. Rushing ahead of what someone might be saying, finishing their sentences before they speak, interrupting their words with “I know that,” or “I understand what you mean,” can cause frustration for the speaker and cause the listener to misinterpret what the speaker intended to say.
Listening also involves being open to opposing viewpoints. Angry outbursts and verbal bullying are more likely to occur when the listener forms preconceived ideas about the speaker’s intent. When the prophet Micaiah was brought before the kings Ahab and Jehoshaphat, Ahab had this to say about the prophet, “…but I hate him, because he does not prophesy good concerning me, but evil.” That’s how I feel sometimes when I watch the news or listen to talking heads; I just want to turn off the television or radio because I’m tired of hearing the speaker or the message that opposes my point of view. Do you, too, become frustrated with the friend who argues with you on topics which you are passionate and opinionated? I had a conversation recently about the effects of marijuana on drivers of motor vehicles. The speaker was adamant that for those who have smoked for years marijuana enhances driving abilities. Since addiction, hence drug information and research, is the focus of my career, and as the self-appointed expert in the conversation I became offended at such misinformation and felt it was my duty to set this person straight. Listening to the friend was not happening as I climbed upon the proverbial soap box. It was only after jumping off of the box that I heard the speaker’s real intent for defending the driver – relief in the restoration of their relationship that, yes, still has challenges to overcome. I had made the conversation about me, instead of listening to the speaker’s heart.
Another problem with listening is our natural desire to be with the ‘in crowd.’ There were four hundred other prophets who advised with one accord that Ahab and Jehoshaphat should embark on their desire to war, saying that the Lord would bring victory to the kings’ armies. This need to be with the popular crowd may cause the listener to turn a deaf ear to internal or external warnings. Making an unpopular decision based on the urging of the Holy Spirit, a dream, or a word from the Bible may seem odd and unconventional or even foolhardy to many.
However, there were five divine dreams that spoke to the important players in the birth and safety of Jesus Christ. First, Christ’s mother’s betrothed, Joseph, was told to take Mary as his wife because the Child she carried was born of the Holy Spirit. Second, the wise men from the East who found the Messiah shortly after His birth were warned not to return to King Herod who would later kill male children in an attempt to murder the Christ child. Third, Joseph was warned to flee to Egypt until Herod was dead. Fourth, Joseph was told to return to Israel to raise God’s Son. Fifth, after being warned to avoid the area of Christ’s birth, Joseph moved his family to the safety of a city called Nazareth.
Imagine if any one of these five dreams had been denied, ignored, or deliberated by those who heard the messengers. Mary could have been an outcast trying to raise an illegitimate son. Herod could have found and killed Jesus. Joseph might have been responsible for the capture or death of the Son of God. And the prophecies concerning the birth of the Messiah could not have been fulfilled.
Perhaps listening is more than just being polite. By actively listening we may receive the message that saves us from ourselves, from our egos, from impending doom, and therefore receive the blessings that God has reserved for us.
“Are you talking to me, Lord?”
“I am listening.”