Happy Thanksgiving! This year, I'm thankful that Jesus listens to me. What a gift to be thankful for!
Now, why am I thankful that Jesus listens to me? Well... probably because I can learn to listen a whole lot better than I do. After all, I think Toby Keith was right. Our lives and world today might need a little less talk and a lot more action. That is, if the action is active listening. Simply put, in a world filled with noise and where talking louder gets more attention than silence; listening can be a great gift you can give to somebody who desperately needs to be heard.
Recently, I reread Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I was reminded that listening is a foundational part of what it means to be Christian community - or oikos, family. Bonhoeffer writes, “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God's love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother and sister when we learn to listen to them.”
Here are three ways you can listen well.
Relax. Be in the moment.
I have personally found that I can be so focused on the next thing I need to do or say that I forget that God has me in this specific moment for His purpose. Eugene Peterson wrote in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society, “From time to time, impatient with the slowness, I would try out ways of going about my work that promised quicker results. But after a while it always seemed to be more like meddling in these people's lives than helping them attend to God”. I have found that a great way to begin relaxing and being in the moment is to take a deep cleansing breath and remember that God gives me every second and this is what He has given me to do right now. Here we go.
Own what you hear.
It’s sometimes difficult to own what you hear, especially if you personally disagree with what you’re hearing. In college, I read Communication for Organizations by Dr. Dalmar Fisher. She points out that it’s hard to own what we hear because we tend to seek to fix, give advice, agree, or disagree with what we are hearing. With credit to Fisher, to own what I hear, I will sometimes repeat back what I hear the other person is saying in the emotional feeling that they said it. By doing this, I not only seek to understand what is being shared with me, I own the feeling with whom I am sharing the moment. The writer of Hebrews emphasizes that Jesus is our high priest who empathizes with our weaknesses because he has been tempted in every way (Hebrew 4:15).
Trade your periods for question marks. Statements end conversations. Questions continue conversation. Jesus asked some of the best questions that kept the disciples talking (and Jesus listening!). According to Martin Copenhaver, the gospels record Jesus asking 307 questions. My guess is that Jesus asked a whole lot more - which means Jesus listened even more.
And because I’m generous, here’s a BONUS THOUGHT: Remember who and whose you are. God made you a listener. It’s who you are. You belong to Christ (1 Corinthians 3:23). I’ve been told that we’ve been given two ears and one mouth for this reason. Joking aside, we are listeners because Jesus first listened to us. When we were still dying and dead in our sins, Jesus came and died for us (Romans 5:8). Jesus listened to the woman at the well (John 4). Jesus listened to Zacchaeus (Luke 19). I mean, how may times does the Psalmists cry out to God and God hears and listens? From being brokenhearted (Psalm 34) to burdened with sin (Psalm 51) to being scared stiff (Psalm 27), God hears us. God always makes the first move and listens to us.
So, this week, let’s be the ones to make the first move with the people God has strategically placed in our lives. Let's be the ones who give the gift of Jesus-like love and care as we listen to someone as we remember to also give thanks to God that Jesus first listened to us.
The OSLC ministry team is a growing collection of women and men who live as a family on mission, leading the OSLC family in connecting an unchanging God with a changing world by loving God, loving people, and living like Jesus.