Then God came and stood before him exactly as before, calling out, “Samuel! Samuel!” Samuel answered, “Speak. I’m your servant, ready to listen.” [1 Samuel 3:10 (ESV)]
When friends moved into an apartment in a brand-new senior living community, I asked the wife how she liked it. While she liked their new home, she admitted being tired of meeting new people—and everybody there was new to the community! She then confided that it wasn’t the new people that exhausted her; it was having to listen to her husband tell their latest acquaintances the same old stories she’s heard him recite for the last thirty plus years! As nice as he is, I’m not sure I could have lasted three years, let alone three decades, with her loquacious husband. We’ve vacationed with this couple and her husband is best taken in small doses!
My conversation with her spurred me to ask another friend if she experiences the same thing with her equally outgoing and chatty husband, a man who is always ready to start conversations with strangers at the drop of a hat. She, however, hasn’t grown tired of meeting new people and hearing many of her husband’s same old stories. Oddly, I don’t think the difference lies in the wives’ attitudes—it lies in the men.
The first husband rarely pauses in his banter to listen to anything his listeners have to say. If they do manage to get a word in edgewise, he doesn’t let whatever has been said redirect his monologue. When he’s on a roll, there’s no stopping him. Conversing with him is more like listening to a long soliloquy or an operatic aria. He’s the star of his show and everyone else is his audience. Of course, his wife is tired of listening to him (as are many of his friends).
The second husband, however, is a wonderful conversationalist because he’s a good listener. While he may start the story, he draws in his listeners as he speaks. He asks questions, listens to their answers, and responds to their replies. His isn’t a solo performance; it’s an exchange of thoughts and ideas. He values what others say as much as what he has to say. Granted, he may tell many of the same old stories but, since others become involved in their telling and share their stories as well, there is always a new twist to them. Conversing with him is like being actors in the same play or singing together in a choir—everyone participates in the show.
Thinking of those two men, I wondered what it’s like for God when we come to him day after day in prayer. Does he ever tire of hearing the same thing over and over? When we pray, are we like the first husband? Do we approach God, time and time again, with the same old thanks, complaints, petitions and intercessions without waiting for his response? Do we focus our prayers on what we want rather than what God wants for us? Or, like the second husband, do we come to God as anxious to listen as to speak, as ready to learn as to explain, and as willing to change as to ask for change? When Samuel was just a boy, God spoke directly to him but we don’t read about Samuel giving God his two shekels’ worth in return. Samuel responded that he was ready to listen and, for the rest of his life, that’s what he did as he passed on God’s word to the Israelites.
While hearing is easy, listening is not and we can only hear God if we have a heart that listens. We expect God to listen attentively to us when we pray but I’m not so sure we do a very good job of listening in return. Since it’s difficult to hear anyone else when we’re doing the talking, perhaps we should follow the Psalmist’s advice to be still and know that He is Lord. I’m sure God is never at a loss for words but, if we’re not quiet, we won’t hear His voice! The Greek philosopher Epictetus said we have two ears and only one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. Did I hear a heavenly “Amen!” to that?