Encouraging with Your Ears
The value of one's ears for encouragement purposes is readily apparent to those who understand the importance of listening. Listening is arguably the most essential skill needed by an encourager.

If we are plagued with poor listening skills, we may unintentionally discourage others. Failing to make eye-contact with a person who is speaking to you is rude and can be discouraging (e.g., an employee attempting to share a new idea with his boss notices that he seems disinterested and keeps looking at his watch). Attempting to do something else while a person is speaking to you is often impolite and can be discouraging (e.g., a woman tries to tell her husband about her day, but he never stops changing channels on the TV). Interrupting others and only thinking about what to say in response--instead of really endeavoring to comprehend what is being spoken--is also improper and can be discouraging. These are just some of the ways that people hurt and discourage each other every day. Although there may not be any intent to discourage, it nevertheless results from behaviors such as these.

What is the root cause of poor listening skills? The answer in one word: selfishness. One who is insensitive to the feelings of others (as illustrated above) discourages others because of his poor listening.

It should come as no surprise that the Lord Jesus is a marvelous example of a good listener. Consider Mark 10:46-52 on this point - "As He [Jesus] went out of Jericho with His disciples and a great multitude, blind Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, sat by the road begging. And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' Then many warned him to be quiet; but he cried out all the more, 'Son of David, have mercy on me!' So Jesus stood still and commanded him to be called. Then they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Be of good cheer. Rise, He is calling you.' And throwing aside his garment, he rose and came to Jesus. So Jesus answered and said to him, 'What do you want Me to do for you?' The blind man said to Him, 'Rabboni, that I may receive my sight.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Go your way; your faith has made you well.' And immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus on the road." Jesus gladly took the time to listen to common folks, even when others thought He didn't have time to be bothered by such. Do you make time to really listen to people? Or, do you discourage others through selfishly poor listening skills? It is certainly true that careless listening eats away at the most precious ties of life.

Friends, ask yourself: What kind of listener does God expect me to be? I believe James 1:19,20 holds the answer - "So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath." Although these verses refer primarily to man's relationship with God (note the context), who would question the wisdom that can be gleaned here for human relationships as well?

If one is swift to hear, he will have a ready disposition to listen. A ball player can't throw the ball until he catches it. Likewise, a person should not speak until he understands (i.e., "catches") the viewpoint of the other person. Otherwise, an error will result.

One who is slow to speak will not say just anything that comes to mind. There is a time to bite your tongue! The wise will reserve their comments until they are certain they know what they are talking about and have considered the best way to communicate their thoughts. You see, communication involves results as well as intent. Just having noble intentions is not good enough. Consider how people might hear it, and not just how it was intended! I have made some big mistakes in recent years in this area. Although I always try to speak the truth in a well-intended way, there have been times where I certainly could have communicated the same meaning in a much more encouraging way.

One who is slow to wrath will not easily become enraged and cause communication to break down. Once a person becomes angry, communication always suffers. Tragically, hostility is sometimes more from faulty communication than from issues of real significance.

So, what kind of listener are you? Do you treat those speaking to you with the respect that you would wish to receive when you speak, or are you a selfish listener? Are you following the Golden Rule as a listener? Do you enter conversations with a commitment to give the other person your all?

May we use our ears as a tool to encourage others!