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prov·o·ca·tion - something that provokes, arouses, or stimulates. pant - to long eagerly; yearn. a collection of thoughts intended to provoke and inspire. these posts are hoping to encourage people to think, especially Christians, and pant even harder for the waterbrooks of the Lord. If you are not a believer in Christ Jesus, I welcome your perspective and encourage your investigation on these matters.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Piper on Listening Before You Answer

"If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame." Proverbs 18:13 At the close of last week, I went to a couple of men in my life whom I love and trust and asked them about how I could have better handled the situation that occurred on my post which got out of hand in the comments section. I am grateful for their advice, admonishment, and sound words that I so often need. One brother directed me to a meditation John Piper wrote almost a year ago to this date regarding Proverbs 18:13. In his article, Piper gives ten reasons why you should listen to questions before you answer. I am finding these thoughts most helpful for me and pray they will for you as well. It is really easy in the flurry of comments and the fast-pace blogging environment to blow right past someone, their questions, and their argument. Listening, I have come to find, is an area that I need to really work on, and if you think about it, pray for me in those regards. I do not want to misrepresent anyone, especially the Lord, and while I earnestly want to become a better listener regarding others, it all begins with me becoming a better listener to God. As you consider these ten reasons provided by Piper, maybe it would be worthwhile to meditate also on a passage the Lord brought to my mind regarding this. It is Isaiah 50:4-5:

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward.”

Here are Piper’s ten reasons:

1. It is arrogant to answer before you hear. Humility does not presume that it knows precisely what a person is asking until the questioner has finished asking the question. How many times have I jumped to a wrong conclusion by starting to formulate my answer before I heard the whole question! Often it is the last word in the question that turns the whole thing around and makes you realize that they are not asking what you thought they were. 2. It is rude to answer a half-asked question. “Rude” is a useful word for Christians. It means “ill-mannered, discourteous.” The New Testament word for it is aschëmonei. It is used in 1 Corinthians 13:5 where modern versions translate it, “Love is not rude,” but the old King James Version has “Love doth not behave itself unseemly.” This means that love not only follows absolute moral standards, but also takes cultural mores and habits and customs into account. What is polite? What is courteous? What are good manners? What is proper? What is good taste? What is suitable? Love is not indifferent to these. It uses them to express its humble desire for people’s good. One such politeness is listening well to a question before you answer. 3. Not answering a question before you hear it all honors and respects the person asking the question. It treats the person as though their words really matter. It is belittling to another to presume to be able to finish their question before they do. 4. Careful listening to a question often reveals that the question has several layers and is really more than one question. Several questions are all mixed into one. When you see this, you can break the question down into parts and answer them one at a time. You will not see such subtleties if you are hasty with your answer and not careful in your listening. 5. A question sometimes reveals assumptions that you do not share. If you try to answer the question on the basis of your assumptions without understanding the questioner’s assumptions, you will probably speak right past him. If you listen carefully and let the person finish, you may discern what he is assuming that you do not. Then you can probe these assumptions before you answer. Often, when dealing at this level, the question answers itself. It was really about these deeper differences. 6. Questions usually have attitudes as well as content. The attitude sometimes tells you as much as the content about what is really being asked. In fact, the attitude may tell you that the words being used in this question are not all what the issue is. When that is discerned, we should not make light of the words, but seriously ask questions to see if the attitude and the words are really asking the same question. If not, which is the one the questioner really wants answered? 7. Questions have context that you need to know. So many thoughts and circumstances and feelings may be feeding into this question that we don’t know about or understand. Careful listening may help you pick up those things. It may be that there is just a small clue that some crucial circumstance is behind the question. If you catch the clue, because you are listening carefully, you may be able to draw that out and be able to answer the question so much more helpfully. 8. Questions are made up of words. Words have meanings that are formed by a person’s experience and education. These words may not carry the same meaning for both you and the questioner. If you want to answer what they are really asking, you must listen very carefully. When the possibility exists that their question is rooted in a different understanding of a word, we will be wise to talk about the meaning of our words before we talk about the answer to the question. I find that talking about the definitions of words in questions usually produces the answer to the questions. 9. Proverbs 18:13 says it is our “folly” to answer before we hear. That is, it will make us a fool. One reason for this is that almost all premature answers are based on thinking we know all we need to know. But that is “foolish.” Our attitude should be: What can I learn from this question? The fool thinks he knows all he needs to know. 10. And finally Proverbs 18:13 says that it is our “shame” to answer before we hear. What if you are asked publicly, “My wife and I have had serious problems and we were wondering . . .” and you cut the questioner off by giving your answer about the value of counseling and what counselors might be helpful. But then they say, “Well, actually, what I was going to say was, “My wife and I have had serious problems and we were wondering, now that our counseling is over and things are better than ever, how you would suggest that we celebrate?” Then you will be shamed for not listening.


Blogger leslie said...

i really needed to hear this, thanks!

10/23/2006 04:19:00 PM

Blogger Cara said...

Hey Timmy,
I read this article a while back through my husband and I am still trying to apply it in my life. I realize so many times I have answers formulated in my head before they are done talking, asking a question, or sharing their heart. Timmy, I enjoy reading your blog and you display many godly characters. My husband and I appreciate you a lot and pray God's richest blessings in your lives. We are a work in progress. I often tell my husband that when I am old and if I display characteristics of unteachability to slap me(not literally) :) With the Lord as your strength, keep up the good fight.

10/23/2006 04:52:00 PM

Blogger Timmy said...

Thank you ladies very much. In an environment where scud missiles are flying across the screen, it is refreshing to hear feedback from you all. While I always appreciate any feedback, I am especially grateful for the encouraging words you shared. It is most unfortunate that only controversial topics and heated debates get any attention these days. If only our pursuit for holiness was as engaging as our pursuit for truth . . .

Semper Reformanda


10/23/2006 08:42:00 PM

Blogger Renee said...

This is a great reminder for any and all situations. You always hear at first and then half listen as you start thinking up what you will say. It is better to completely listen and then just have a pause while you think about it before responding. Wait, I think that's in the bible, quick to listen and slow to speak (somewhere in James). Thanks for this post!

10/24/2006 09:53:00 AM


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