It’s Hard to Listen While You Preach

Stephan N. Tchividjian National Christian Foundation President

I was recently triggered to think about how I listen. We often listen with more than our ears. We have all been guilty of listening without really listening. We all chuckle when a comedian or speaker shares the scenario where, as one is speaking, the other is not listening but thinking of what they will say in response. Marriages are especially susceptible to this bad habit.

I often think that I have much to say, that my perspective is worth listening to and that my opinion is probably the most rational. However, the arrogance of that is it creates many embarrassing moments. My most embarrassing moments are when I am falling asleep at night, and as I am drifting off to “Never Never Land,” I reflect on my day… and many times I am embarrassed by how much talking I did and how little listening.

preachRecently listening to the song “Every Breaking Wave” that appears on the Songs of Innocence album by U2, Bono eloquently says this most profound and accurate phrase: “It’s hard to listen while you preach.” I thought about that comment. I, from time to time, get the honor of preaching. I am humbled by the opportunity because when you preach in a pulpit (fancy word for podium in a church), you realize this is not simply a speech or a motivational talk; this is teaching the Word of God and its Holy. I often pray before I preach that “the words that come from my mouth would be God’s words and that if any of the words are mine, they will easily be forgotten.” In other words, I am saying that I have very little to offer in my own right; however, if I avail myself to be a vessel for Him, then He can say some profound things. Perhaps you will never get the opportunity to preach; however, you do “preach” to your friends, family members and anyone whom you have influence. The same principle applies there too. There is a lot of “preaching” these days, some of it over a cup of coffee, sometimes on a social media platform and other times around a dinner table.

I was intrigued by Bono’s phrase, and found it to be scriptural. James speaks of being quick to listen, slow to anger and slow to speak. I find that most of the time I am doing the opposite. My diary may suggest that I ought to be quick to speak, quick to anger and slow to listen. I am often embarrassed by what I say and wish I listened more.  Jesus asked a lot of questions and only answered a few. I recently finished a book entitled, “Jesus is the Question” subtitled with these words, “The 307 questions Jesus asked and the 3 He answered.” Wow… Jesus only answered three questions. I laugh because my life is probably characterized as the opposite. I answer questions and ask few. Therefore, when Bono says, “It’s hard to listen while you preach,” he is reminding me that while I am speaking, I may miss the very thing that I am espousing because I am doing too much talking and not enough listening.


How to listen

preachPerhaps I can become an expert listener. I often don’t give enough space between my sentences, and as a result limit the richness of the conversation because there is no time for someone to respond. We listen not only with our ears, but we listen with our body language, by the questions we ask, by our eye contact and by the pace we set for the conversation. For example, if I am trying to convince you of something that I am familiar with, I can easily oversell the value and not provide you an opportunity to object, ask a solid question or simply ponder on what you are hearing.

I am intrigued by how God speaks to me. He starts by listening. He hears my opinions, my gossip, more of my opinions, my angst, some more opinions, a bit of pontificating and then more of those pesky opinions. He simply listens. I have the audacity of complaining that He doesn’t listen, rarely responds and appears aloof. However, He is simply a superb listener. I know that when I take the time to listen to Him, my perspective is always altered. God has a unique way of letting me see life through His eyes when “I do more listening and less preaching.” 


Too much noise

Perhaps there is too much noise today. Everyone has an opinion about everything, and if we don’t agree, we simply ignore one another. I acknowledge, it is difficult and awkward. For example, I have friends that continue to send me videos, podcasts and articles around the dangers of being vaccinated. I know they are well meaning; however, I have been vaccinated and that decision is one I made with peace. So, what do I do with that friendship? I simply want to be your friend and don’t need the “preaching.”

Therefore, perhaps as we journey through this thing called life, we take a page out of Jesus’ behavior. We learn to ask sincere questions; we listen and we ponder. Perhaps we react less and sometimes we may hear something that we did not hear simply because we were quiet long enough to hear something that we would not have heard if we were preaching.

Scripture shares many times the beauty and value of listening. Mary heard the angel. Joseph heard the dreams. David heard Nathan’s admonishing. The shepherds heard the angelic choir. The soldier heard Jesus’ last cry. Moses heard God’s instruction, and many more. So, let’s listen more, and perhaps we will find ourselves less anxious, less angry and more teachable.


Stephan N. Tchividjian is the president and founder of the National Christian Foundation South Florida. Visit to learn more.

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