“I can’t get him to clean his room. It’s a major disaster area and I refuse to do it for him. I know he’ll do it if you tell him. He’ll listen to you. He always tells me ‘Mrs. V says so!’ like it’s coming from God Himself!”
I was used to a variety of parent requests during conferences, but this was totally unexpected. I knew the child’s hearing was just fine. He was listening to his mom. He just wasn’t following through. I never realized my words could carry such weight with a nine-year-old boy!
The basic meaning of “to hear” is the physical ability to perceive a sound. But usually when we use the word, we expect so much more. If we are sure someone doesn’t have a hearing loss we lash out in frustration: “It’s like talking to a wall!” “What I say just goes in one ear and out the other!” We sigh when someone we are trying to reach with our words says, “I heard you, but I wasn’t listening.”
When I want someone to listen, I want more than just a passive reception. “Listen to me! Give me your attention! Concentrate on what I’m saying!” How discouraging when I hear a dismissive, “Yeah, yeah, I heard you.” On the other hand, there might be an opening for a good discussion if someone says, “I hear what you’re saying, but…”
Hearken is an old-fashioned word that has fallen out of use. However, it is what we mean when we expect those who are listening to not only pay attention to what we are saying, but also do what we are asking. Carefully weigh my words. Obey me! Follow directions!
In several versions of the Bible, “hearken” is used as a strong “Listen to me!” The entire book of Exodus is full of events where the Lord tells the people to hearken to His commandments, and yet they turned away. The history of the Israelite people is one of begging the Lord God to hearken to their pleas for deliverance when they repented of their ways. And He did, over and over. But down through the years, when the prophets spoke the words of the Lord, the people didn’t hearken to them and would not change their ways (Jeremiah 6:10; Ezekiel 3:7; Zechariah 7:11). Centuries later the Jewish leaders heard John the Baptist and our Lord Jesus just fine. But they didn’t listen. They didn’t hearken.
When our Lord Jesus was teaching the people, He often said: “Whoever has ears, let him hear!” (Matthew 13:9) He knew they all had ears and there was nothing wrong with their hearing. He was urging them to “hearken” unto Him (Mark 7:14). He also knew many had ignored the voices of the prophets and wouldn’t listen even if someone rose from the dead and spoke to them (Luke 16:27-31).
When I gave directions to my children, my class, or my choir, I knew they could hear me. I could see heads nod in recognition to the words I was telling them. Usually, they followed my directions and I got results. But sometimes that nodding head was just an unconscious reaction with no connection to what I was saying. There was no change in behavior, no follow through. It was like I had been talking to a bobblehead doll! Then came my questions: “Didn’t you hear me?” “What didn’t you understand?” And finally in exasperation: “What more can I say?”
Unfortunately, we sometimes take that tone with our Lord Jesus. Instead of our meek appeal in church, “Lord in Your mercy hear our prayer” we often get demanding: “I know You hear me, but You don’t seem to be listening!”
As leaders we must be sure that what we say is heard, listened to, and hearkened to. If we seem to be repeating ourselves over and over, there is a disconnect somewhere. We try to figure out a way to say it so people will understand. Perhaps our message isn’t clear, or our tone of insistence isn’t strong enough. Sometimes our tsunami of requests and directions are so numerous he or she has no idea what to prioritize to make us happy. Perhaps our request is unreasonable, or we haven’t followed through with consequences when our directions were ignored before. Maybe the person we’re trying to manage needs to hear from someone else, a different voice. Of course, they could just be stubborn and are refusing to listen. But before we assume the worst, we should have the patience to discover the true reason.
After all, our Lord Jesus has an abundance of patience with us. We can be that “bobblehead doll” to our Lord Jesus when we want to look compliant and cooperative. But our focus is fleeting. When the world demands our attention with its loud enticements, directions, and ideas, it can drown out the words of our Lord Jesus. We tune in to a different wavelength and end up doing what we wanted to, all along.
How can we truly hear Him, listen to what He’s telling us, hearken to His guidance if we allow the world to fill our ears with selfish ideas? How will we ever serve Him and others if we are only concentrating on the noise in our own heads?
It is times like these that I crave that walk alone in the garden with my Lord Jesus where He talks to me and tells me I am His own. He makes His priorities clear: to love Him with all my heart, soul, and mind and to love my neighbor. He reminds me I don’t have to be overwhelmed by the demands of the Law if I keep my focus on His love for me, my love for Him, and my love for those I lead and serve (Matthew 22:37-40). That assurance puts everything else I hear and listen to in its proper place.
And after that chat, He sends me out into the world once more, hopefully with a discerning ear to filter out the noise and truly listen to, hearken to His guiding voice. Only then do I find those words of encouragement to speak to others. Words I pray they will truly hear.