The Lord Jesus said something once that I found odd. He said, take care HOW you hear.” I would have thought that he would have said to take care WHAT you hear. Apparently, the way in which you hear something is about as important as what you are hearing. When you think of it, the Lord warned often about ears becoming so dull that people would hear, but they would not hear.
You know I’ve never really given much thought about how I listen. Of course, my mom used to tell me that I wasn’t a good listener. Women often complain that men never really listen to them. Most of the time, we are so distracted we don’t really hear what is being said. I wonder how we listen when the Bible is read or when the sermon is preached. Do we hear, or are our ears dull.
If our ears are dull, it may be the reason why our faith is so weak. The Bible makes it very simple: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” So, the way we get faith is through our ears, and if our ears are dull, it’s no wonder our faith is so small. How we hear makes all the difference.
We need to understand why our ears grow dull. St. James gives us a clue – “Be doers of the word and not hearers only. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who sees his face in a mirror, but when he turns away, he forgets what he looks like.” This happens in Orthodoxy. We get excited about the things we’ve learned or heard that convince us that Orthodoxy is truth. We say, “YES, this is the truth.” Then, we don’t do what we have heard. The next we hear the same thing we say, “Yes, this is the truth.” Again, we don’t do what we have heard. Then we hear the same thing and now we say, “Yawn! Yes, that’s the truth, I guess.”
Yet, if we act upon what we hear, then St. James says that we will be blessed in everything that we do. Imagine that – blessed in everything we do. Such is the power of being careful about HOW we hear.
Then, it’s hard to hear when you are emotional. Have you ever tried to speak to someone who is very angry, or very sad, or even very happy? They hardly hear what you say. Many of us are such a rollercoaster of emotions, it’s a wonder we hear anything at all. We need emotional sobriety. We need Jesus to command us as he did the storm and the waves –“Peace, be still.”
Finally, we don’t often hear because our brains aren’t fully engaged. Women are right that often men only listen with 10% of their brain while the rest of the brain is somewhere else. Do we do the same in Church? Do we listen with divided attention? I often wonder if people hear the sermon that I preach. There’s a simple way to find out. About an hour later, just ask someone, “Well, what was the sermon about?” The answers are usually quite amusing if not somewhat sad.
We need to become active listeners with our brains fully engaged. I have some “radical” suggestions. First, read the relevant scriptures for each Sunday, and if you have time, read an orthodox commentary on the passage. Study the Saints who are to be commemorated. If you let Father know that you come to Church prepared to listen, he will knock himself out to write the best sermons possible. Second, I know that not everything that I say in a sermon is straight from God. Jeremiah, the Prophet, said that God’s Word is like chaff to wheat. Well, in the old days they would beat the wheat on the threshing floor and then it would be thrown into the air so that the chaff would blow away, and the heavier wheat will fall back to the floor. Maybe my sermons and blogs are 95% chaff and only 5% wheat. If so, the 5% of wheat is worth keeping. So, if something you hear in the reading or the sermon impresses you as the truth, then God has just spoken to you. Realize that this is being impressed upon you as the truth because it is something that you are meant not only to hear, but to do as well.
Jesus said, “Take care how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him.” It is a blessing to stand in the Holy Orthodox Church and hear the word of God, but it is not enough if all you do is hear, but never do. Even your Orthodoxy can be taken from you. Is this hard to believe? Well, in my short time, I have seen many come to the Faith with great enthusiasm and piety. Sadly, like the seed sown on bad ground, the word did not take root. Eventually, these people left the Church and so far they haven’t returned.
Be doers of the Word and not hearers only. Take care how you hear!