Do you have problems absorbing all that is preached every Sabbath day? Do you really LISTEN? Here's how you can improve your listening ability!
THERE'S an old joke that goes like this: "If all the people who sleep in Church were laid end to end — they would be much more comfortable!" That, unfortunately, is a joke with an ironic point to it. Many of God's people DO sleep during sermons — even sermonettes! — as nearly every one of God's ministers can testify. It is said that in good speaking practice, if the audience should begin to doze, someone should take a long pole with a pin on it — and prod the speaker! This may be true and there may be some excuse for becoming drowsy if the speaker is a dull, dry college professor teaching, in a stuffy, pedantic manner, a dull, dry college course! But if the speaker is a man filled with God's Spirit, expounding the words of eternal life and bringing out points that may save YOU from the Great Tribulation or the Lake of Fire, then THERE IS NO EXCUSE!! How often, brethren, have you sat in a Church service and had to fight drooping eyelids, a wandering sleep-drugged mind and benumbed muscles? How often have you heard it said in Church, that if you intend to sleep all day on the Sabbath you would be much more comfortable home in bed? Yes, it's true! Wandering attention, restlessness, bored, fidgeting, and sleeping during services, are all chronic problems in God's Church.
God wrote into the Law of Israel certain statutes that required the Law (the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament) be read to the whole congregation of Israel at regular intervals. This was a device instituted so that men might never plead ignorance to God's Law. (See Deuteronomy 31:9-13.) Today, the Bible is available to everyone, so it is no longer necessary to read and repeat in public liturgy those sections. But the same principle is followed every Sabbath Day! Each Sabbath, sermons are preached in the congregations of spiritual Israel, based directly on the Law of God as expressed throughout the whole Bible! You are held strictly accountable for every word that is preached in your presence! Notice what Christ said in Mark 4:23-25: "If any man have ears to hear, let him hear.. And he said unto them, TAKE HEED WHAT Y E HEAR: with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given. For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which lie hath." Christ placed great importance in paying heed to what we are taught, and then acting on it! We will be held accountable for our dullness in hearing! Read also Romans 13:11: "And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed." Paul is telling us to wake n p out of our SPIRITUAL slumber and lethargy, which is brought on directly by PHYSICAL dullness and laziness during those teaching periods on the Sabbath. Some will say: "But I don't have a bad attitude. I'm praying and studying. It's just that the hall is stuffy, and I'm flat worn out after a week's work that I find my eyelids becoming heavy and droopy." Is this YOU? Do you make excuses for your drowsiness? Or do you seek out a way to stay mentally alert during the sermon?
In many cases the reason for sleepiness is poor diet. Heavy starchy meals that are slow to digest may tie up blood circulation around your stomach and rather than stimulating your brain will result in lethargy. If you have a stomach full of heavy, starchy bread, potatoes, pastry, gravy or processed cereal, it naturally follows that your alertness will be grossly impaired. You'll feel torpid and listless! You'll want to take a nap! But during services is not the time to do so! You have two alternatives: either take a nap before services, or don't eat so much! Too much carbohydrate food is not good for you anyway. Of course, if you have a continually starchy diet (like most British people!), nothing you do on the Sabbath will help! You will simply be sleepy most of the time! Brethren, if you are drowsy in Church, as a continual thing, you may need to radically overhaul your diet! Jesus Christ holds you responsible for what goes on in your presence, in Church, on the Sabbath!
Sleep and Exercise
Another factor that causes sleepiness can be the lack of proper exercise, suitable to your age group. Take vigorous walks regularly. Do calisthenics at home. Do some jogging around a nearby park, or on a convenient playing field. If you have a regular exercise program (remember Mr. Luker's article in the August, 1966 GOOD NEWS?) combined with a careful balanced diet, your physical problem of drowsiness will begin to diminish! Of course, if you don't get enough sleep at night, naturally you will have problems, but the answer to that is simply. GET MORE SLEEP! A person who doesn't sleep at the right times is simply committing slow spiritual suicide! You will never be able to operate at maximum efficiency, unless your body is rested and rejuvenated at regular intervals. I well remember one College student who sat LIP all night to study for a test and the next morning slept right through it — and some others besides! His method was self-defeating, yet many of us are doing the same thing! It is a wonderful blessing to fellowship and visit and talk about the Bible and God's Plan, and certainly no one would ever discourage that; but if you sit up until early morning to do so and then sleep through the Sabbath service, have you really gained anything? Of course not! Sleep at the proper times — get about eight hours a night — and be sharp and alert during the day!
Are You Really Listening?
However, in spite of applying the above remedies and many others besides, some of God's People still have difficulty in getting the most out of Sabbath Services and Bible Studies. They seem alert and attentive, yet much of what is preached is missed. They forget things. Try this little test on yourself. Without looking up any notes write down the subjects of the last six sermons you heard. Can you do it? Very few could do it successfully without faltering, groaning, racking their brain; and emitting sounds of anguish! This points up a weakness in the human faculties! There is a problem with HEARING and LISTENING! Extensive tests have shown conclusively that immediately after the average person has listened to someone talk he remembers only about half of what he has heard — no matter how carefully he thought he was listening! Various research projects substantiated the shocking fact that two months after listening to a talk, the average listener will remember only about 25 percent of what was said! In fact, after we have barely learned something we tend to forget one-half to one-third of it within eight hours! This is made even more startling when we realize we forget more in the eight hours immediately following than in the next six months! Brethren, these facts become important when we understand what is required of us! Why is it that a sermon we were particularly moved by on the Sabbath day is half forgotten by the following Sunday? Try as we will, we always seem to forget the explanations of simple basic questions that we heard the minister preach in a sermon! WHY? Well read on and find out.
Tracks and Sidetracks
One factor that presents a great barrier to developing good listening techniques is the fact that we think inestimably quicker than we speak, The average rate of speech for most people is around 125 words a minute (this may vary depending on nationality). This rate is slow going for the human brain which makes even the most sophisticated computer look like an illiterate clod! Thoughts race through our brains considerably faster than the spoken word. This means we can listen and still have time to think. It's the use and abuse of this spare "thinking time" that causes the problem! How many times have you been listening intently to the sermon when a statement or word will trigger off a reaction or memory in your mind? Instead of fighting the temptation to reminisce or wander, we float off the main stream for a few seconds to put in a few thoughts of our own and then float idly back. This is a process which repeats itself many times, each little sidetrack getting longer and longer, until you are missing great chunks of what is being said! Then, because you can't capture the theme again, you simply tune out! Sure, you are alert and bright! Certainly you aren't drowsy or lethargic! But you still miss about 50 percent of everything that is said. Shocking? Yes, but clinically proved! No wonder announcements have to be continually repeated time after time during the Feast of Tabernacles! Now the well-worn expression, "There's always someone who doesn't get the word!" stands justified! Nevertheless, Jesus Christ tells us to LISTEN, to HEAR and to UNDERSTAND! We need to know how!
Steps to Improve Listening
Like everything else that ought to be well-done, good listening habits take time and effort to develop. Since however, more of our time is spent in listening rather than speaking (about 80 percent) we have ample opportunity to practice. Your listening and retention can be improved one-hundred-fold simply by following seven straightforward steps. They require very little effort and since most of the time will be spent in listening anyway, you might as well begin to learn to use it profitably! It has been proved unequivocally that it is possible to improve your listening — statistics are available to prove it! You do not need to be especially gifted, or have a college education to begin improving! Start now and find the thrill in getting 50 percent more from every sermon'
Step One: Make a JOB of Listening
The first step in our improvement campaign is to LOOK AT THE SPEAKER! Make a JOB of listening intently — don't relax! — work hard at it! As he looks at you in the audience, look right back at him! Don't put on a glassy-eyed empty stare — that's what a lot of "sleepers" do — and don't pull faces! Show by the expression on your face that you are listening. Read, outwardly, to what is presented! Be intent on what is being said. Be interested; get absorbed in what is being said! In one example shown in Acts, a man was healed because he expressed the way he felt on his face! Read the account in Acts 14:8-10. Paul KNEW that that cripple really believed what was being said! He was INTENT — and excited! The second step ties right in with number one. It is: DON'T ALLOW YOURSELF TO BE DISTRACTED. This takes work and no little effort, but if practiced will be well rewarded with greater comprehension and retention Don't let children distract you (unless they are your own and need attention) or their parents. A mind which is easily distracted is an immature mind! In Imperial Schools the children are taught to pay attention — distractions are painfully frowned upon! We should he training our children to exercise these same good habits — and then set the right example ourselves! Allowing yourself the "luxury" of a mental "side-trip'' can cost you important points of the sermon — and usually the ones we miss are those we need most! Learn to concentrate and focus your attention and steel yourself to resisting minor distractions that disrupt your train of thought.
Step Three: Think Ahead of the Point Being Made
Another useful step to take concerns the subject material the speaker is covering at the time: TRAIN YOURSELF TO THINK AHEAD OF THE POINT BEING MADE. Using this technique will help to burn the points into your mind, whether you are right or wrong! If you are a little ahead of the speaker, perhaps mentally tying in scriptures or quotes, when the speaker gets there it will be impressed on your mind doubly. If he takes another tack you will remember being WRONG! — and that always sticks! Remember that you can think much faster than anyone can speak. Capitalize on this fact and utilize the time between points in thinking one step ahead! One side-point to do with this step is to develop the added ability of thinking in "ideas" rather than "facts." Don't listen and try to memorize statistics or cold facts! Try to memorize the idea that the facts or statistics are driving home! The IDEA, the CONCEPT, is the important thing — the statistics will go right along with it! Strangely enough, grasping the idea first makes the statistics easier to remember! This is a tremendously valuable key to good listening when tied in with the other steps!
Step Four: Apply It Personally
Step number four concerns YOU! As the speaker makes his points, driving them home with scriptures or statistics, ask yourself: WHAT DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH ME? Become personally involved in what is being said! Continually apply the points that are being made to your own condition at the time. Take it PERSONALLY! This is the way to really get attention and ACTION — which, after all, is the whole purpose for your listening in the first place! Remember continually: It may NOT apply to my neighbor, but it sure applies to me! It seems that human nature is such that it will take the direst offense at the tiniest imagined slight, but become stubbornly bull-headed when caught flat-footed in the wrong! Overcome the urge to reject what you hear; get personally involved with it! This is another tremendously important step in any listening situation!
Step Five: Reserve Your Judgment
Step five is somewhat linked to getting personally involved! Researchers in aural communication have found that everybody has a built-in "emotional filter." Sometimes these filters can bring on "deafness" while at other times listening can be a real pleasure! Listening to a travel agent outlining an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii can be a real pleasure and chances are you WON'T miss a single thing! But let your local pastor pay you a visit concerning some of your obvious bad habits, and your "aural emotional filters" automatically come into play! Let's be aware, brethren, of our deep-seated prejudices and "deaf spots"! When you are sitting and listening to any sermon on a subject that emotionally affects you, learn to apply the fifth step to better listening: RESERVE YOUR JUDGMENT UNTIL THE END! Get the whole story first! Don't, under any circumstances, sit there planning a rebuttal, or formulating questions intended to embarrass the speaker! While your mind is off on a tangent he may well be answering your objections! Conversely, when we are listening to a subject with which we completely agree, we tend to drop our guard and let down the mental barriers. Every salesman who ever came out of sales school knows that; and chances are that is why you bought the suit, the car or the furniture that you did! A good salesman knows that while he is pandering to what you want to hear, you won't ask embarrassing questions or try to put him on the spot! Keep your faculties alert the whole time and let your head rule your heart, rather than the other way around! Learn to control those "glandular spasms" that can seriously disrupt clear thinking and intent listening!
Step Six: Prove All Things!
Step number six: TEST THE VALIDITY OF EVERY STATEMENT MADE! When you are listening never take any statement for granted! Put it to the test! Ask yourself: Is that a valid conclusion? Does the remark fit the facts? Do statistics and other facts bear it out? This is a good listening aid that can be applied to any speaking situation, but try it particularly on the next political telecast you see! You'll be amazed at how much politicians rely on the poor listening habits of their constituents! This step, combined with learning to grasp ideas and thinking ahead makes listening an exciting experience! It will also convince you of the fact that God really does inspire His ministers and that they do preach His infallible, unbreakable Word! Until you put these steps into practice, brethren, you will never know what it means to really listen!
Step Seven: Review and Summarize
The seventh and final step is a continuing mental process that should go on throughout the whole listening situation. While the person is speaking, train yourself to REVIEW AND SUMMARIZE as he goes along. As he adds a point or delivers a specific concept or idea, mentally repeat the points that went before and maintain the thought flow. This will help you keep in mind the points as they are covered, and aid in grasping the overall structure of what is being said. In effect, this step is the one that can most easily be written down in the form of notes. Don't let any point slip away, tuck it into your mental outline, and jot it down in your notebook.
NOW — TRY IT!
These seven steps, applied collectively will improve your listening ability above anything you could imagine! Tests have shown that businessmen who practiced good listening habits for only seventeen weeks (one day a week under supervision) improved their listening facilities by more than 40 percent! If you want to get more out of the sermons that God inspires. to remember more and to be moved more deeply than ever before, apply these seven steps — they really work! Remember Christ's words, "Take heed therefore how ye hear: for whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have." (Luke 8:18.)