James 1: 19-20
19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.
It is better so the saying goes to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.
James seems to reinforce that counselling his readers to listen long before they speak. When I trained as a counsellor for an organisation dealing with addictions it was impressed upon us from day one that our most important role was to listen. To reflect the clients situation back to them we must first of all listen to understand what that situation is. To use the trainer’s phrase “active listening”, paying great attention to what they are saying and then using that to help them find their way. When I did become a counsellor my most successful sessions were those in which I hardly spoke but the client did a lot of speaking.
I looked up the adage about ‘we can tell we are supposed to listen more than speak because we have two ears and only one mouth’ expecting it to be relatively modern, but found that versions of it abounded in the ancient world long before the birth of Jesus, which tells us something.
The book of Proverbs has several verses advising us to keep silent, but of course it’s the Philosopher in Ecclesiastes 3 who reminds us there is a time to be silent and a time to speak, and he puts it in that order.
James goes on to advise that we must also be slow to anger, something that has been mentioned before in these meditations. If we are quick to anger then we cannot be listening to what the other says, we are instead concentrating on ourselves and how we are offended. There is a place for anger but it is never the first resort.
In these last few months we have heard many people crying out in fear and anguish, we have spoken out when it appears not enough is being done, and yes at times we have felt angry at the way things have been handled.
So too has God, he has heard the prayers of the frightened, of those who knew that they would not get to say goodbye to a loved one, of those fighting infection in their hospital beds. He has spoken to them in their hearts quietly and personally.
And did he get angry?
Probably at what seemed unjust or unfair but he would have been far slower to anger than he was to love and help.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, we know you listen, you hear us when we call unto you. Bless us, we pray, with the ability to listen when you speak.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,