“Don’t try to fix it! Just listen.”
Sometimes we just want people to listen and sympathize. We may even know what to do about our problem, but we just want to be heard.
Sometimes we resent “fixers” because they haven’t taken the time to listen first. They start spouting solutions before they even know what the problem is. James warns us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (James 1:19). Proverbs 18:13 tells us “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.”
Sometimes people with a lot of knowledge come across as arrogant know-it-alls. Some of them just want to show off or one-up their listeners. James says, “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice” (James 3:14-16).
By contrast, James says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom” (James 3:13).
That phrase, the meekness of wisdom, stood out to me. Meekness is not wishy-washy weakness. Moses was called the meekest man on the earth in his day (Numbers 12:3). Yet he faced down Pharaoh, led thousands of people out of Egypt, spent 40 days and nights alone with God when others were afraid to approach Him. Jesus said He was “meek and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:28-30). Meekness is strength under control.
Galatians talks about restoring a fallen brother or sister in Christ “in a spirit of gentleness” (6:1-3). And Paul tells Timothy “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24).
A truly wise man knows the answer and can give good counsel. But he doesn’t share it in pride or superiority. James goes on to say this wisdom is “from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (verse 17).
A few weeks ago in our writing critique group, one member’s piece was on the way men and women think differently. One of the ladies mentioned this video, a hilarious depiction of someone with an obvious and easily repairable problem who wants her hearer to listen and not rush to “fix” it.
When I posted a link to this on my Saturday “Laudable Linkage” a couple of weeks ago, one commenter shared that someone she loved recently accused her of “fixing” instead of listening. She lamented her inclination to want to change others instead of examining her own motives.
While it’s true we need to listen first and not rush in to tell others what to do, the opposite of the coin is true as well. When we have an obvious problem and someone offers a workable solution, how wise is it to rebuff them just because we’d rather wallow in “venting” than finding an answer? The meekness of wisdom can apply to receiving as well as giving wisdom.
Proverbs is full of references about listening to wisdom, instruction, and even reproof. Just one example: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice” (Proverbs 12:15). Fools don’t listen to advice, but wise men do.
The prophets lamented that people would not listen to their wise counsel. Jeremiah said, “the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the Lord persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets” (Jeremiah 25:3-4).
God told Ezekiel that people would regard him “like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it” (Ezekiel 33:31-32). What God had given Ezekiel to say in the previous verses was not beautiful music–it was a stern warning of judgment to come for their sins. Yet because the people would not listen and obey, they deceived themselves about the nature of what Ezekiel said.
By contrast, Moses accepted wise–and unasked for–advice from his father-in-law, Jethro, when Jethro saw that Moses was being worn out and needed assistants (Exodus 18).
“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Proverbs 1:5). Wisdom says in Proverbs 8:33-34, “Hear instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it. Blessed is the one who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting beside my doors.”
Sometimes silence is indeed the wisest option. Sometimes people just need to know they are cared for, heard, and not alone. We need to listen with sensitivity and empathy and offer counsel in dependence on God’s guidance. And we need to receive good counsel prayerfully, humbly, and gratefully, testing it against Scripture. We need meekness both to give and receive wisdom.
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