The age of the Internet has produced almost endless means to disseminate information to the masses. A teenager with a smartphone can reach the world in much the same way as an experienced journalist, politician, or artist does. Anyone can write a blog, create a series of videos, post newsworthy events, comment on world affairs, express creativity in photography, music, and art, interact with famous people, make friends a world away, and criticize anyone and everyone. However, if we are being honest, this unfettered access to media has contributed to a culture filled with people who know very well how to express themselves and their opinions while showing little interest in other people and their points of view. People know how to talk—if in less than perfect English. But we show little interest in listening. And that failure (and it is indeed a failure) has long term consequences—not only on the moment but on our character.
The book of Proverbs offers an inspired collection of practical advice for daily living, and it bears noting that the opening chapter centers on the importance of listening. In the first few verses, Solomon establishes that listening is the foundation for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom, for “A wise man will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel” (Prov. 1:5). We often substitute “hearing” for “listening.” We think that because we heard the words that we listened and considered their meaning, but those are very different things. The truth is, we cannot learn unless we really listen, and we cannot really listen until we stop and give others our full attention. Until we do this, we will fool ourselves into thinking that we alone have something worthy to say and miss out on the benefits of true wisdom. But once we realize the importance of listening, we should focus first on listening to God because “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). Many do not turn to the Bible for wisdom because it immediately contradicts their assumptions, their desires, and their instincts. And that is actually the point. We need to learn these weaknesses and overcome them, but to do so we must humble ourselves and listen to God. Ideally, this begins in the home where children learn the importance of respect for authority and the value of patience by learning to listen to parents who love them and want the best for them. “My son, hear the instruction of your father, And do not forsake the law of your mother” (Prov. 1:8). Obeying parents in the home provides the framework for appreciating the value of obeying our Heavenly Father throughout life, and obedience begins by listening. In the absence of godly parents, godly mentors can fulfill a similar role, but their guidance can help only so much as a child truly listens. Therefore, from an early age, learning the right kind of listening skills is key in forming the self-discipline and decision-making capabilities we ultimately employ as adults. And this is why we must learn, as early as possible, how to listen with spiritual discernment. Not everything you read on the Internet is true. Not everything you read in a textbook is true. And not everything that your friends tell you is true. That is why we must listen carefully to what we read and what people say so that we can evaluate it spiritually. “My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent” (Prov. 1:10). Satan knows well how to use our ignorance and naïveté against us. He understands how to twist the trust we have in what makes us comfortable into a way to lure us into his lair, and that is why we must learn to listen—so we do not listen to him. This is no innate skill that human beings possess, as Eve’s actions so long ago remind us (Gen. 3:6). Rather, we must learn to listen to wisdom (Prov. 1:20), to the voices of experience rather than to the immature cries of easy answers, selfish desires, and generational hubris. Instead of whining and complaining at correction—of fact, doctrine, or behavior—we should respond with humility to wise rebuke rooted in patient explanation, years of experience, and loving hearts (Prov. 1:23). Why? Because listening to wisdom will be to your own benefit. “But whoever listens to me will dwell safely, And will be secure, without fear of evil” (Prov. 1:33).
It can be a difficult balance as we grow through life to learn and grow, to listen respectfully to others while also finding our own voice. But wisdom dictates maturity as a process of diligence through the years rather than insight in the moment. The younger generation brings great energy and enthusiasm to bear that should be nurtured and valued; the older generation brings experience and discernment that only time and maturity can build. They both offer intelligence. But intelligence does not matter at all unless you are willing to listen so that you can learn.