Stop trying to get the first and last word

I overheard a conversation between a Libertarian and a left-leaning Republican last night as I was sitting in a local coffee shop. I couldn’t really help but overhear, honestly. They were loud–really loud. And that’s saying something because this coffee shop is always busy, always bustling, and these two folks were straining to be heard above that noise.

Everyone could hear them. That fact wasn’t in question. But even though they could hear each other, I don’t think they were actually listening. They were just talking at each other, talking over each other, interrupting each other. They both had important points to make, important things to say, but they each saw their own perspective as more important. And what resulted wasn’t a conversation. It was just a shouting match, and nobody walked away happy.

New wheat sprouting in the southeast pasture at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New wheat sprouting in the southeast pasture at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 13:12.

To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.

This is a verse taken from the Parable of the Sower, sometimes call the Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed. It’s impossible to break this story down far enough to make a simple point about it. It’s so deep, so rich with meaning, so if you’ve got the time to read the whole thing, you really should. You can find the complete text in Matthew 13:1-23.

There’s just one very simple thought that this verse and its corresponding parable brought to mind, and only a small part of it is common courtesy. I mean, I don’t know where our manners as a culture have gone. It’s like we hit this era in communication where we can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and instantly all our civility has gone out the window.

I’m sure what you have to say is important. I’m sure what I have to say is important. But we both should be adult enough to respect each other enough to listen without interrupting, to consider without prejudice, to hear without condemning. Even if we don’t agree (especially if we don’t agree), we can still listen to each other and be polite in our response and tone.

Granted, what God says is right, and that won’t change. Not ever. Not for anyone or any reason. But we’re all joining God’s story at different places in our walk, and we need to give each other a little grace. Don’t you think?

More than anything, this story always makes me want to be a good listener. I’m a good talker. I’m a storyteller, after all. And while I don’t much like talking in front of people, if I can slip into storytelling mode, I can keep a crowd hooked for hours. But talking is easy and cheap. Listening is hard work.

One of the many points of the parable of the sower is that the farm plants seeds on different types of ground, and each type of ground reacts differently to the seed. But in every case, the seed is good. It’s the ground that has trouble. And that’s the way God’s Word works in our lives. When we read the Bible or hear truth from God’s Word, that’s a seed, and how it will affect our life depends on what kind of soil we’ve cultivated in our hearts.

I want the good soil. The rich, fertile soil that allows that seed to take root and grow strong. And while that works for God’s Word, I want it to work for other people too. I don’t want to be the hard, rocky ground that deflects everything from everyone else. I want to be the person who listens, who hears, who understands.

Now, of course, common sense has to come into play with a heart like that. Everything you allow to be planted in your heart should match up with what God says is true, but you get the idea. Those people who can listen kindly, respond gently, yet stand their ground with confidence and conviction–they have hearts with good soil, where God’s Word can grow and where other people can go to speak their minds and not be turned away.

We don’t have to agree. It’s probably better in some instances that we don’t agree. It keeps us on our toes. But it’s so much better to get along, and you don’t have to agree to do that. You just have to love each other, respect each other. So the next time you’re sitting down with someone to talk about anything, stop trying to get the first and last word. Stop trying to get other people to listen to you and try listening yourself for once.

Who knows? You might hear something you don’t expect.