A fishing buddy of mine observed, “Shallow streams make the most noise,” a delightful turn on the old adage, “Still waters run deep.” He meant, of course, that people who make the most noise tend to have little of substance to say.
The flip side of that problem is that we don’t listen well either. I’m reminded of the line in the old Simon and Garfunkel song Sounds of Silence about folks hearing without listening. Oh, they hear the words, but they fail to silence their own thoughts and truly listen. It would be good if we all learned to be silent and still.
There is “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Eccl. 3:7). Good silence is a listening silence, a humble silence. It leads to right hearing, right understanding, and right speaking. “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters,” the proverb says, “but one who has insight draws them out” (Prov. 20:5). It takes a lot of hard listening to get all the way to the bottom.
And while we listen to others, we should also be listening to God and hearing what He has to say. I think of Jesus, scribbling with His finger in the dust while the Pharisees railed on the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). What was He doing? May I suggest that He could have been simply listening for His Father’s voice and asking, “What shall we say to this crowd and this dear woman?” His response is still being heard around the world.
My niece’s husband recently wrote these words on a social media site: “I would say a lot more online if it weren’t for this little voice that prompts me not to. As a follower of Jesus, you might think that little voice is the Holy Spirit. It isn’t. It’s my wife, Heidi.”
With the smile comes a sobering thought. The cautions of a discerning friend can reflect the wisdom of God. Ecclesiastes 9 says that the “words of the wise, spoken quietly, should be heard” (v. 17 nkjv).
Scripture warns us not to be wise in our own eyes or proud (Prov. 3:7; Isa. 5:21; Rom. 12:16). In other words, let’s not assume that we have all the answers! Proverbs 19:20 says, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise.” Whether it is a friend, a spouse, a pastor, or a co-worker, God can use others to teach us more of His wisdom.
“Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning,” declares the book of Proverbs (14:33). Part of recognizing the Spirit’s wisdom is discovering how to listen and learn from each other.
The outreach activities of our church culminated with a city-wide service. As the team that had organized and led the events—comprised of our youth music group, counselors, and church leaders—walked onto the stage, we all excitedly applauded and poured out our appreciation for their hard work.
One man, however, was hardly noticeable, yet he was the leader of the team. When I saw him a few days later, I thanked and congratulated him for his work and said, “We hardly noticed you during the program.”
“I like to work in the background,” he said. He was not concerned with getting recognition for himself. It was time for those who did the work to receive appreciation.
His quiet demeanor was an entire sermon to me. It was a reminder that when serving the Lord, I need not seek to be recognized. I can give honor to God whether or not I’m openly appreciated by others. A Christ-first attitude can subdue any petty jealousies or unhealthy competition.
Jesus, who is “above all” (John 3:31), “must become greater; I must become less” (v.30). When we have this attitude, we will seek the progress of God’s work. It is Christ, not us, who should be the focus of all we do.
“He thinks he’s really something!” That was my friend’s assessment of a fellow Christian we knew. We thought we saw in him a spirit of pride. We were saddened when we learned that he soon was caught in some serious misdeeds. By elevating himself, he had found nothing but trouble. We realized that could happen to us as well.
It can be easy to minimize the terrible sin of pride in our own hearts. The more we learn and the more success we enjoy, the more likely we are to think we’re “really something.” Pride is at the core of our nature.
In Scripture, Ezra is described as “a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses” (Ezra 7:6). King Artaxerxes appointed him to lead an expedition of Hebrew exiles back to Jerusalem. Ezra could have been a prime candidate to succumb to the sin of pride. Yet he didn’t. Ezra didn’t only know God’s law; he lived it.
After his arrival in Jerusalem, Ezra learned that Jewish men had married women who served other gods, defying God’s express directions (9:1-2). He tore his clothes in grief and prayed in heartfelt repentance (vv. 5-15). A higher purpose guided Ezra’s knowledge and position: his love for God and for His people. He prayed, “Here we are before you in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in your presence” (v. 15).
Ezra understood the scope of their sins. But in humility he repented and trusted in the goodness of our forgiving God.
To detect health problems before they become serious, doctors recommend a routine physical exam. We can do the same for our spiritual health by asking a few questions rooted in the great commandment (Mark 12:30) Jesus referred to.
Do I love God with all my heart because He first loved me? Which is stronger, my desire for earthly gain or the treasures that are mine in Christ? (Col. 3:1). He desires that His peace rule our hearts.
Do I love God with all my soul? Do I listen to God telling me who I am? Am I moving away from self-centered desires? (v. 5). Am I becoming more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient? (v. 12).
Do I love God with all my mind? Do I focus on my relationship with His Son or do I let my mind wander wherever it wants to go? (v. 2). Do my thoughts lead to problems or solutions? To unity or division? Forgiveness or revenge? (v. 13).
Do I love God with all my strength? Am I willing to be seen as weak so that God can show His strength on my behalf? (v. 17). Am I relying on His grace to be strong in His Spirit?
As we let “the message of Christ dwell among [us] richly . . . with all wisdom” (v. 16), He will equip us to build each other up as we become spiritually fit and useful to Him.
Dr. Brian Goldman obsessively tried to be perfect in treating his patients. But on a nationally broadcast show he admitted to mistakes he had made. He revealed that he had treated a woman in the emergency room and then made the decision to discharge her. Later that day a nurse asked him, “Do you remember that patient you sent home? Well, she’s back.” The patient had been readmitted to the hospital and then died. This devastated him. He tried even harder to be perfect, only to learn the obvious: Perfection is impossible.
As Christians, we may harbor unrealistic expectations of perfection for ourselves. But even if we can somehow manage the appearance of a flawless life, our thoughts and motives are never completely pure.
John the disciple wrote, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). The remedy is not to hide our sins and to strive harder, but to step into the light of God’s truth and confess them. “If we walk in the light,” said John, “as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (v. 7).
In medicine, Dr. Goldman proposes the idea of a “redefined physician” who—in a culture where we are hesitant to admit our errors—no longer toils under the tyranny of perfection. Such a physician openly shares mistakes and supports colleagues who do the same, with a goal of reducing mistakes.
What if Christians were known not for hiding their sins but for loving and supporting each other with the truth and grace of our God? What if we practiced a risky yet healthy honesty with each other and with the watching world?
The Nile of Africa, which spans 6,650 kilometers (more than 4,100 miles) and flows northward across several northeastern African countries, is the world’s longest river. Over the centuries, the Nile has provided sustenance and livelihood for millions of citizens in the countries it passes through. Currently, Ethiopia is building what will become Africa’s largest hydro-power dam on the Nile. It will be a great resource for the area.
From time to time, we read of people who are offended at not being treated with what they consider due respect and deference. “Do you know who I am?” they shout indignantly. And we are reminded of the statement, “If you have to tell people who you are, you probably really aren’t who you think you are.” The polar opposite of this arrogance and self-importance is seen in Jesus, even as His life on earth was nearing its end.
When our children were small, I often prayed with them after we tucked them into bed. But before I prayed, I sometimes would sit on the edge of the bed and talk with them. I remember telling our daughter Libby, “If I could line up all the 4-year-old girls in the world, I would walk down the line looking for you. After going through the entire line, I would choose you to be my daughter.” That always put a big smile on Libby’s face because she knew she was special.