LISTENING is an important factor in learning. It can also influence a person’s prospects for survival. When Jehovah was preparing to deliver his people from bondage in Egypt, he gave instructions to Moses, who told the older men of Israel what they must do in order to save their firstborn from the angel of death. (Ex. 12:21-23) The older men then conveyed this information to each household. This was done orally. The people had to listen carefully. How did they respond? The Bible reports: “All the sons of Israel did just as Jehovah had commanded Moses and Aaron. They did just so.” (Ex. 12:28, 50, 51) As a result, Israel experienced an awe-inspiring deliverance.
Today, Jehovah is preparing us for an even greater deliverance. Surely, the instruction he provides merits our earnest attention. Such instruction is given at the congregation meetings. Are you benefiting fully from such gatherings? Much depends on how you listen.
Do you retain highlights of the instruction given at the meetings? Is it your habit, week by week, to seek ways to apply in your own life the instruction given or to share it with others?
Prepare Your Heart
To benefit fully from the instruction provided at Christian meetings, we need to prepare our hearts. The importance of doing so is highlighted by what occurred during the reign of King Jehoshaphat of Judah. Jehoshaphat took a bold stand for true worship. He “removed the high places and the sacred poles from Judah” and commissioned princes, Levites, and priests to teach Jehovah’s Law to the people in all the cities of Judah. Still, “the high places themselves did not disappear.” (2 Chron. 17:6-9; 20:33) The worship of false gods and the unauthorized form of worship of Jehovah practiced at the pagan high places were so strongly entrenched that they were not eradicated.
Why did the instruction arranged by Jehoshaphat fail to have a lasting influence? The record continues: “The people themselves had not yet prepared their heart for the God of their forefathers.” They heard but failed to act accordingly. Perhaps they felt that traveling to the temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices was inconvenient. In any case, their hearts were not moved by faith.
To avoid drifting back to the ways of Satan’s world, we must prepare our hearts to receive the instruction that Jehovah is providing today. How? One important way is by prayer. We should pray that we will receive divine instruction with a thankful spirit. (Ps. 27:4; 95:2) This will help us to appreciate the efforts of our brothers who, though imperfect, make themselves available for use by Jehovah in teaching his people. It will move us to thank Jehovah not only for new things that we are learning but also for the opportunity to deepen our appreciation for matters that we have learned before. Having the desire to do God’s will fully, we pray: “Instruct me, O Jehovah, about your way. . . . Unify my heart to fear your name.”—Ps. 86:11.
Focus Your Attention
There are many obstacles to our listening attentively. Our minds may be crowded with anxieties. Noise and movement in the audience or outside the meeting place may distract us. Physical discomfort may make it difficult for us to concentrate. Those with young children often find that their attention is divided. What can help us to keep our attention focused on the program?
The eyes strongly influence where we focus our attention. Use your eyes to help you concentrate by keeping them on the speaker. When he cites a Bible text—even a familiar one—look it up, and follow along as he reads it. Resist the temptation to turn your head in the direction of every noise or movement. If the eyes are flooding your mind with distracting information, you will miss much of what is being presented from the platform.
If any “disquieting thoughts” make it difficult for you to focus on the program, pray to Jehovah for the calmness of mind and heart needed to pay attention. (Ps. 94:19; Phil. 4:6, 7) Do so repeatedly if necessary. (Matt. 7:7, 8) The congregation meetings are a provision from Jehovah. You can be confident that he wants you to benefit from them.—1 John 5:14, 15.
Listening to Talks
Likely, you can recall favorite points that you have heard in talks. Listening to a talk, however, involves more than just collecting outstanding points. A talk is like a journey. Although there may be interesting things to see along the way, the main thing is the destination, the objective. The speaker may be trying to lead the audience to a certain conclusion or move them to take some action.
Consider the speech Joshua made to the nation of Israel, recorded at Joshua 24:1-15. His objective was to move the people to take an uncompromising stand for true worship by completely separating themselves from the idolatry of the surrounding nations. Why was that so important? The prevalence of false worship posed a serious threat to the nation’s good standing with Jehovah. The people responded to Joshua’s plea by saying: “It is unthinkable, on our part, to leave Jehovah so as to serve other gods. . . . We shall serve Jehovah.” And they did!—Josh. 24:16, 18, 31.
As you listen to a talk, try to discern its objective. Consider how the points the speaker brings out contribute toward reaching that objective. Ask yourself what the information calls for you to do.
Listening During Discussions
The Watchtower Study, the Congregation Book Study, and portions of the Service Meeting are conducted as question-and-answer discussions of printed Bible-based material.
Listening during a discussion is, in certain respects, like sharing in a conversation. To benefit fully, listen carefully. Observe the direction in which the discussion is moving. Note how the conductor emphasizes the theme and the main points. Mentally respond to his questions. Listen as others explain and apply the material. Looking at the information from the viewpoint of others may give you fresh insight into a familiar subject. Contribute to the interchange by offering your own expressions of faith.—Rom. 1:12.
Studying the assigned material in advance will help you to be absorbed in the discussion and to follow the comments made by others. If your circumstances make it difficult to study the material thoroughly, at least take a few minutes to get an overview of the information prior to the meeting. Doing this will enable you to get more out of the discussion.
Listening at Assemblies and Conventions
At assemblies and conventions, there are likely to be more distractions than at congregation meetings. This can make listening a greater challenge. What can help us?
An important factor is getting enough rest at night. Before the program begins each day, fix the theme firmly in mind. Look at the title of each talk, and try to anticipate what will be presented. Make good use of your Bible. Many people find that taking brief notes of main points helps them to keep their minds focused on the program. Make a note of instruction that you plan to apply in your own life and ministry. Discuss a few points as you travel to and from the assembly site each day. This will help you to retain the information.
Training Children to Listen
Christian parents can help their children—even infants—to become “wise for salvation” by bringing them to congregation meetings, assemblies, and conventions. (2 Tim. 3:15) Since children vary in disposition and attention span, discernment is needed to help them learn to listen attentively. You may find the following suggestions to be helpful.
At home, arrange times for your young children to sit quietly and read or look at the pictures in our Christian publications. At the meetings, avoid using toys to keep young ones occupied. As was true in ancient Israel, so today young ones are present “in order that they may listen and in order that they may learn.” (Deut. 31:12) Where practical, some parents provide even very young children with personal copies of the publications being considered. As children get a little older, help them prepare to have a share in programs that call for audience participation.
The Scriptures reveal a close link between listening to Jehovah and obeying him. This can be seen in Moses’ words to the nation of Israel: “I have put life and death before you, the blessing and the malediction; and you must choose life . . . by loving Jehovah your God, by listening to his voice and by sticking to him.” (Deut. 30:19, 20) Today, listening to the instruction Jehovah provides and obediently applying it in our lives are essential to gaining God’s approval and the blessing of everlasting life. How vital, then, that we heed Jesus’ admonition: “Pay attention to how you listen”!—Luke 8:18.