What you hear

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more. 

Mark 4:24

Jesus had just gotten accused of being possessed by a demon by the Pharisees. He was casting out demons everywhere He went, and they didn’t want to admit that this was from God. So their assumption was that Jesus’s power was coming from a demonic spirit rather than the Holy Spirit.

When His own family members saw the large crowds following Jesus, even they said, “He is out of His mind!”(Mark 3:21) They still saw Jesus as their brother, a carpenter from a small town, and struggled to understand what was happening with so many people getting healed of disease and delivered from demons.

After telling the Parable of the Sower, Jesus then says, “Consider carefully what you hear.” We might expect Him to say instead, “Be careful what you say.” But He doesn’t say that. He wants people to guard what they hear. He wants them to know what they consume, with their ears and eyes, will affect them.

Based on the follow-up statement about measuring others, Jesus is saying there is a direct connection between what we listen to and how we will judge others. If we listen to gossip, we will measure people incorrectly, just as the Pharisees and Jesus’s own family did with Him. If we listen to bad news all the time, we will measure the world incorrectly. What we allow in our ears matters.

One of the strategies of the enemy is to manipulate what we hear. He is a master linguist who loves to manipulate language. He’s a master at propaganda and slogans that change the meaning of words to fit his evil schemes. We see this characteristic reveal itself in political powers that have committed genocide and horrible atrocities throughout history. One thing that is true of almost all of them is that they were good at manipulating people through propaganda, slogans, and the redefinition of words.

It’s happening now in our own culture over the definition of love. The enemy is trying to get our entire society to embrace a selfish kind of “love” focused on self-fulfillment rather than the self-sacrificing kind of agape love of scripture.

I saw the same thing happen in the church as this slogan became popular, “It’s okay to have doubts.” This was a reaction against fundamentalism’s obsession with certainty. And, originally, “doubt” meant “uncertainty.” So, originally, the idea was that it is okay to be uncertain about things. Being uncertain about some things is not contrary to a life of faith. I agree with this whole-heartedly.

However, what started to happen was a slight-of-hand with the definition of “doubt.” Soon, doubt no loner meant “uncertainty” and started to mean “unbelief.” Yet, people used the same slogan, “It’s okay to have doubts.” But now this slogan meant that it was okay to embrace unbelief. I couldn’t disagree more. Unbelief is antithetical to a life of faith. Unbelief became welcomed and accepted in the church through the Trojan-horse word “doubt” all by simply manipulating its definition.

Can you see how it works? Can you see the enemy’s scheme with language and definitions? Can you see why Jesus said, “Consider carefully what you hear.

The same kind of manipulation of language is happening now around discussions of gender identity and racism. Words that used to mean one thing now mean another. Old definitions are thrown out and manipulative new definitions are added.

We saw the same thing happen in the abortion debate. The murder of children became “a woman’s choice.” Who in their right mind would be against something labeled simply as a “choice.” And who in their right mind would be against “re-education” if we label it correctly. Again, you can see the enemy’s schemes clearly once they are exposed.

Language matters. Correct definitions matter. Truth matters. What we actually allow ourselves to listen to, what we allow our children to listen to, matters. We need the Holy Spirit to give us discernment to see through the nonsense that is out there in our culture right now.

Consider carefully what you hear.

The dangers of “gaslighting”

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus… I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 

2 Timothy 4:1-4

What is “gaslighting” you ask? The term itself comes from the title of a 1938 play that was turned into a 1944 movie entitled Gaslight. In the movie a husband psychologically manipulates his wife to try to get her to think she’s insane. His goal was to have her committed to a mental institution and steal her inheritance.

Taken from that movie, the term “gaslighting” was originally used in clinical psychology to help those who have suffered from mental manipulation in an abusive relationship. And in this context the term is useful. It can help an abuse victim understand how she has been psychologically manipulated.

The problem with this term now is that it has been taken out of the context of abuse. This term is now used in a colloquial sense to describe every day interactions, and this is where it has become dangerous. Instead of it being understood as an intentional psychological abuse used in an abusive relationship over time, it is now thrown out there as an accusation in the middle of a conversation that involves simple disagreement.

Here’s how gaslighting is being defined today: “Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories.” Can you see how this definition is problematic if it is taken out of original context of an abusive relationship? Here’s how the term “gaslighting” is now being misused: if you make me question my perception of reality or my memories then you are psychologically abusing me.

Can you see how destructive that claim is? Can you see how the term can be used to prevent your listener from disagreeing with you for fear of being accused of psychological manipulation? Can you see how this term is now used to silence people into compliance?

For example, I can perceive that everyone is against me. But, if you try to convince me that my perception of reality is off, that maybe people are just misunderstanding me, then you are gaslighting me. You are psychologically abusing me. How dare you make me question my perception of reality!

Or if, because of my insecurities, my memories are filtered through a lens of self-hatred, and I “remember” that my friends were always mean to me growing up, you aren’t allowed to disagree with me. If you, as my friend who was also there, try to help me understand that wasn’t the case, you are gaslighting me. You are making me question my memories.

Do you see how accusing someone of gaslighting forces them to stop disagreeing with my “perception of reality?” If you disagree with me at any point and cause me to question my perception of reality, you are guilty of gaslighting, which is psychological abuse. So, you disagreeing with me is abusive. I get to weaponize my victimhood whenever someone disagrees with me.

The truth is that people often have skewed perceptions of reality. What they think happened, didn’t actually happen. But they are convinced it did because it comes through the filter and lens of their own life experiences, hurts, and wounds. What they think was said wasn’t actually said. Their own insecurities caused them to read subtext into the comment that actually was said. This happens ALL. THE. TIME. It is the most human thing in the world to do.

The thing about deception is that you don’t know you’re being deceived. We need help from others. We need people in our life who we trust who will cause us to “question our perception of reality.” This is what healthy relationships do. When I have a filter, or a bias, or a lens that is causing me to skew reality and skew what really happened, I NEED a good friend (and most often my wife) to cause me to question how I remember an event. This is not abuse. This is love. This is community. This is accountability.

Gaslighting, which is a useful term in a clinical setting, has become a dangerous accusation in a general setting with chilling consequences. It is a weapon used to eliminate disagreement and demand thought-compliance. It makes me an abuse victim every time someone tries to show me where my perception of reality is off. It makes me an abuse victim every time someone tries to show me where I might be wrongly filtering a memory through my own wounds. It’s too often used as a manipulative accusation intended to suppress disagreement.

If a person doesn’t feel heard in the middle of a conversation, disagreement, or argument, they should just state that they don’t feel heard instead of launching the accusation of “gaslighting.” The use of this term needs to stay in its original, useful context of counseling abuse victims. Outside of that, it becomes a thinly-veiled compliance tactic that silences disagreement.

Listening to Wisdom

…the whole assembly of Israel went to Rehoboam and said to him: “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”

Rehoboam answered, “Go away for three days and then come back to me.” So the people went away.

Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. “How would you advise me to answer these people?” he asked.

They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants.”

But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him. 

1 Kings 12:3-8

King Solomon had just died and his son, Rehoboam, was appointed to take the throne. Before he did, the people called on Rehoboam to lighten the heavy work load that had existed since the time of Solomon. Rehoboam decides to seek wise counsel from his elders.

The elders advise Rehoboam to become a servant leader. They advise him to listen and be in submission to the elders. They encourage him to lean into humility and compassion rather than pride and hard-heartedness. But Rehoboam arrogantly rejects their advice and seeks out the advice of his best friends and buddies that he grew up with.

He goes to his entourage, his friends from high school and college, and asks them what they think. They, of course, tell Rehoboam he was right to reject the wisdom of the elders. Instead of encouraging servant leadership, humility, and compassion, his buddies tell him that he needs to become even harder on the people. They tell him that to get these people in line he needs to become a tyrant. This advice aligns with Rehoboam’s arrogant view of himself and further puffs up the pride that was already swelling inside the soon-to-be king.

When Rehoboam announces that not only will he not lighten the load of the people but will make it heavier, he loses all but one tribe of Israel. Eleven tribes break away from Rehoboam’s rule and make Jeroboam their king. Only the tribe of Judah remained under Rehoboam’s rule. The kingdom of Israel was divided in half from this point on.

Rehoboam’s friends told him what he wanted to hear. They told him what soothed his own self-image and pride. Only the elders, the one’s with more experience and wisdom, were willing to tell him the truth. Only they were able to see clearly a way forward. Rehoboam’s inability to humble himself and submit to those with more wisdom was his ultimate downfall.

This is an important story for anyone leading an organization, business or church. Listening to the elders, the decision-making body, or the one’s with more experience is absolutely essential to leading well. Taking the posture of a servant leader–in humility and compassion–is essential to being an effective leader.

As leaders we must be grateful for our friends and their support, but we must also have the wisdom to see that they are often biased in their desire to advocate for us. It’s okay to go to our buddies from high school and college when we need encouragement but not necessarily when we need wisdom. In moments when we are in need of wisdom, we must seek out those with more experience, those who are older and have seen more than we have. Youthfulness has its advantages but wisdom isn’t often one of them.

Rehoboam could have ruled the whole kingdom of Israel. He was one act of humility away from keeping the kingdom united and ruling for generations. His own pride got in the way. His unwillingness to listen to the wisdom of the elders was his downfall. As leaders in our various spheres of influence, let’s not let this become our story. King David and King Jesus are two great examples of leading with humility and compassion. Let’s imitate their life of leadership.

Hearing God

Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

1 Samuel 3:8-10

As a child Samuel was dedicated to the Lord, so he served with the priests at Shiloh. Eli was his chaperone and mentor. One evening, just as Samuel was lying down to sleep, the Lord called to him. Having never heard from the Lord, Samuel didn’t know it was the Lord. He thought Eli was calling his name. Finally, after the third time, Eli realizes it is the Lord and gives Samuel instructions on how to listen.

This scenario is still common today. Many followers of Jesus have never been taught how to hear the voice of the Lord. They have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, and yet they feel as though they’ve never heard the Lord speak directly to them. The reality is, much like this situation with Samuel, the Lord has spoken over and over again but, because we didn’t know what to listen for, we didn’t know it was the Lord. We need an Eli in our life to guide us in our hearing.

The results in Samuel’s life from hearing the word of the Lord directly were profound. Notice what happened to him.

The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

1 Samuel 3:19-21

None of Samuel’s words fell to the ground. Have you ever spoken and felt like your words just dropped to the ground having no impact? Like they didn’t even reach their intended audience? Samuel’s willingness to hear from the Lord changed the power and effectiveness of the words he spoke. Because he wasn’t just speaking his own words but was speaking with words laced with the word of the Lord, they carried weight and authority. Every time he spoke, his words impacted those who heard him. People began to recognized this and named him a prophet of the Lord.

Notice also that God was revealing Himself–His nature, character, and thoughts–through His word. When someone speaks, they reveal pieces of themselves through what they say and how they say it. It reveals what they care about and what they’re focused on. When Samuel heard from the Lord, he was learning a little more about God each time.

This happens with us. This is why John calls Jesus the Word of God in the Gospel of John. Jesus is the ultimate revelation of who God is and what He’s like. So as we read God’s word in scripture and as we hear God speak directly to us through the Holy Spirit, we receive little pieces of what God is like.

We can hear God speak to us in a variety of ways. He can speak directly to us through a scripture passage, a spontaneous thought, a mental image, a dream, patterns in circumstances, and through the words of trusted friends. If you’ve never heard directly from God for yourself, here is a simple practice that can help:

1. Quiet yourself. Set aside some time and space where you won’t be distracted. Play soft worship music if that helps but make sure you are alone.

2. Focus your heart and mind on Jesus. Picture yourself with Him if that helps. Pray this, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”

3. Ask the Lord a direction question. Don’t start with theological questions. Ask personal/relational questions. A good one to start with is, “Father, who do you say that I am?” Or, “What is your favorite thing about me?”

4. Watch and listen for any spontaneous thoughts that come to mind or any mental pictures that appear. There might also be a feeling that rises up or a mental movie in your mind’s eye. Don’t dismiss or edit these.

5. Write down what you hear or see. Ask the Lord a follow up question to what He said. Then write down His next response. Take what you’ve written down to a trusted friend who loves Jesus and has some experience hearing from the Lord. Ask them if they think what you heard or saw was really from the Lord.

Repeat this process until you begin to get a feel for what it’s like to hear from the Lord. The more you practice hearing from Him, the better you will get at it. He wants to speak to you. He loves to talk with you.

As we saturate ourselves in hearing the word of the Lord, our own words will begin to change. Our words will start to be woven together with the word of the Lord. Our words will become less and less harsh, angry, sarcastic, and condemning. They will become more and more encouraging, loving, and kind. They will also begin to carry greater weight and authority. People will begin to sense that our words impact people.

Don’t be surprised if you begin to use less words too. People who tend to go on and on–who use way more words than necessary–are verbally revealing, through their endless chatter, their own insecurities, identity issues, and self-absorption. When we begin to hear what God thinks of us and we believe what He says about us, those insecurities and identity issues get healed. We’ll stop feeling the need to give every opinion on every issue. We’ll stop giving every detail of every story. We’ll stop preemptively explaining ourselves and defending ourselves. And our words will go from having no weight to actually leaving a lasting impression.