“Seek 1st to Understand”

Prior to worship yesterday, I lay on my face in the church sanctuary praying for insight, for wisdom, for stability.  It was a desperate prayer because I feel like a man adrift on a rudderless ship; life defies understanding right now. The actions of my government confound me. The inability to find common ground on just about any issue is frustrating. The civil unrest which includes violence and destruction continuing across the nation makes little sense to me. It is my nature to quickly propose solutions so that life can get ‘back to normal.’  In these days I hear God’s Spirit asking me to listen. It is hard to do, I confess.  I want to shout.

In my worst moments, I let myself rant, blaming, arguing, blustering – all clear evidence that I am feeling stress, anger, and confusion. And God asks me to rest on Him, to secure my mind and heart in His promise, and to listen – to Him, to others, that I might learn.

The citizens of ancient Jerusalem were confused by the words of the prophet that told them of a coming day of destruction at the hands of the Assyrians. “No way,” they said, “that cannot be. We are God’s city, the home of God’s Temple.  We’ll find a way to stop this!”  God replied, “Only in returning to me and waiting for me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength. But you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will get our help from Egypt. They will give us swift horses for riding into battle.’ But the only swiftness you are going to see is the swiftness of your enemies chasing you!” (Isaiah 30:15-16, NLT)

Will we listen to Him, to one another?
Will we stop talking long enough to think?
Can we let go of what we think we know long enough to learn things that are true?

Stephen Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, lists consideration as habit #5. “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  He wisely teaches that most of us “listen” to the words of others but not to really hear them. We listen with the intent to reply. Even while they’re speaking, we are starting to formulate our answer. What inevitably happens in that communication pattern? We get only part of the message before we stop listening, and the other person senses they are not “being heard.”  

Covey also points out that we never really understand others IF we only listen autobiographically. In that kind of ‘listening’ the words that enter our brain are uncritically filtered through our own experiences.  When we assume the speaker thinks from the same framework as we do, that their values and attitudes are the same as ours, no real understanding is possible.

The Spirit is asking me (and you perhaps?) to listen with understanding. It is a basic expression of Christ-like love to care enough about others that we would work at gaining understanding. Only then can we actually address real needs! Jesus said, “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NLT) In another context, He said, “…you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NLT) Imagine the kind of relationships we would enjoy IF we actually put that into practice consistently?

How would the words you are saying about ‘those other people’ (whomever they may be) change if you learned to listen with open ears and mind?
How would it transform your racial attitudes if you were really empathetic, ‘seeking first to understand, then to be understood?’

In a principle addressed to husbands, but with broad application to our relationships, Peter says to “dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife.” (1 Peter 3:7, KJV) The NIV says, “Be considerate.”  The command of the Spirit is to listen and understand, so you can actually address the real needs of the person you love.

Start with prayer that secures you in God. Worship His greatness, quiet before Him in prayer. Meditate on this declaration: “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?” (Psalm 56:3-4, NIV)  Practice active listening, disciplining the desire to speak, giving wisdom time to mature as you gain insight. Yes, it is hard not to rush to judgment. Lord knows I have done it so many times. Patient listening, waiting on the truth, is evidence of the Spirit’s life in us. It is an act of selflessness that honors the Lord of Life, who loved us while we were still sinners, and took action to meet our greatest need.

Here is a prayer for the day.

“Father God, in a world marked by conflict,
in my country that is torn apart by rage,
I want to hear, to understand, to be willing to let go
of what I think I know to learn.

Help me to love and make peace.
Oh yes, Spirit of God, make me a peace-maker!

Fill me with wisdom and insight. Grant me patient love.
Take away harsh judgment that quickly condemns,
replacing it with the gentle spirit you showed
when confronted with ordinary sinners.
Let me fulfill your royal law by loving others more than I love myself.

In the Name of Jesus, who loved me. Amen.

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