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If a counselor is to work effectively with those whom he or she counsels these folks must be persuaded that they are being heard.  Being a biblical listener is a prerequisite for being an effective counselor.

Perhaps the greatest challenge of learning to be a good listener is that nothing less than the of love Christ is required. Love means that you put the needs of others before your own. Practically speaking, this means it is important to close your mouth and open your ears. This action offers tangible proof of your desire to serve your counselee. It will also pave the way for earning the right to speak when it is time to do so, especially since you will quite likely have some hard things to say.

Below are several proverbs that directly address the value of being a good listener. Examine these passages from the vantage point of being a loving counselor who listens.

Proverbs 17:27-28

27 A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,

and a man of understanding is even-tempered.

28 Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,

and discerning if he holds his tongue. NIV

There is always danger in saying too much. No doubt, many of your counselees will need learn the truth of these two verses! The caution here is not simply to avoid saying bad things. More to the point, it is making sure that what you say is useful to your hearer. In order to do that, you must listen first. The parallelism of verses 27 and 28 illustrates that restrained speech is so rare that even a fool appears wise if he just keeps his mouth shut! Restrained speech is an indication of wisdom in action. You can’t listen when you are speaking. 

Proverbs 18:2

A fool finds no pleasure in understanding

but delights in airing his own opinions. NIV

Your opinion is not the most important point. Notice carefully that the Holy Spirit says that a fool delights in airing his own opinions. This should bring great pause to the desire to speak quickly. For those called to biblical counseling, this proverb challenges you not to speak your thoughts just because they are pleasing to you. This proverb, like many others, is a plea, an urgent reminder that speaking quickly and giving your own opinion is not what God desires. The thoughts of men are common; it is the wisdom of God that is uncommon.

Proverbs 18: 12-13

Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud,

but humility comes before honor.

He who answers before listening —

that is his folly and his shame.

Biblical wisdom literature uses parallelism to show that verses 12 and 13 work together to make an important point about listening. The first line of verse 12 corresponds to the first line of verse 13 and similarly, the second line of verse 12 corresponds to the second line of verse 13. So we see that a proud heart is linked with the practice of answering before listening, while honor and humility are contrasted with one who answers before listening. This one-two literary punch illustrates just how serious a matter it is to answer before you have listened. Quick, hasty responses often leave the listener with frustration and a realization that they have not really been heard. If this is the case, the words of the counselor  will tend to be dishonored. This can be true even if the speaker’s words have good content. Being a counselor is not only about being right. You ought to be right. But it is also about love, putting others first. In this way the counselor can be most effective, especially when hard things must be said.

Thus, we see that a habit that many have acquired, answering before listening, is a shameful thing. God wants your answers to be received so that those under your care will be helped.  Listening first and speaking later is one vital way to accomplish what God wants you to do.

Proverbs 18:15

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge;

the ears of the wise seek it out.

Verse 15 of this crucial 18th chapter is the cure for speaking without listening. This verse teaches that first, it is your ears and not your mouth that should be active. Certainly, one important goal for any counselor is to be discerning. In order to be discerning you need wisdom and knowledge. To help accomplish this, God directs you to have active ears. The heart, your inner man, and your ears are connected; together they form a vital conduit.  What you hear informs your heart.

Therefore, you must listen carefully to seek the knowledge you need to be an effective counselor.

Proverbs 18:17

The first to present his case seems right,

till another comes forward and questions him.

Also note this related proverb.

Proverbs 18:8

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;

they go down to a man’s inmost parts.

The last component of being a wise listener in this chapter is found in verse 17. The first to present a story or case is often persuasive, but not always accurate. Sometimes the first to present a case is telling the facts accurately, as the narrative in I Kings 3 demonstrates.  Solomon did not take only the word of the first woman, he heard the second woman as well. Then he made his judgment. What this verse teaches is that there is a strong possibility of arriving at a wrong decision if you hear only one side of a story or case, no matter how convincing the case appears to be made. If you make a judgment based upon hearing only one side, you can have little confidence that you have judged correctly. This passage is an important safeguard to keep you from making an ill informed decision. The eighth verse of the chapter underscores this truth. If you listen to one side of a dispute without hearing the other side, you may be listening to gossip. Gossip is something that by its very nature is appealing. That is, it is like a choice morsel. It settles deep in the soul. The safeguard to avoid the trap of gossip is to hear both sides. It is possible that the first person speaking to you about an event or other person does not desire to gossip. However, if he says something that he expects you to believe without independent verification, then at that moment it becomes gossip to you. This is why verse 8 forms an important part of this discussion. No matter how believable the first person’s statements may be, you must seek some independent verification.

As a counselor, you will hear many forceful and seemingly believable statements from people. However, you always have a biblical way to respond by following the principle laid out in verse 17. Your response to any matter brought before you should always be something like, “what do you think the other person you are speaking of would say about this. This is a serious matter which I am happy to help you resolve.”  Sometimes, the other person is not readily available. Perhaps they have moved or even died.  You can still appeal for a way to gain independent verification of your counselee’s story.  The way your counselee someone responds to your request for verification answer will provide insight as to the actual facts of the case presented.

You have an obligation to all to hear both sides of any story. If someone is unwilling to go with you to clear up the matter then you have the opportunity to help that person restate their concerns to you. You can help him or her understand that things are not always what they first appear to be. Here is a series of questions that you might ask when someone brings unsubstantiated charges or assumptions to you:

• Have you talked to the person in question about this?

• Do you know for a fact that they are angry (or bitter or upset etc.) with you?

• Did this person really say that you were _____________?

• How did you find out this information about __________?

• Who are the other people who are supposedly upset about this matter? How do you know that they are upset, did you talk with them or hear from someone else?

By asking questions like these you will save yourself and your counselee from much unrest and disturbance. Proverbs 18:17 teaches that you must seek independent verification of charges that you hear. You must, in short, be a wise listener.

When you have listened well, you are now ready to speak well.

In my next post we will take an in depth look at I Kings 3 and see how Solomon’s use of listening and discernment  can be of great value to biblical counselors.  

Posted on April 5, 2014