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listening and hearing

I’ve been thinking a lot about listening. We do it every day without giving it a thought. I am a listener, but am I a good listener?

Yesterday morning I opened A Year With Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the books I picked up in the States, and read this paragraph:

Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives us God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to “offer” something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God. The death of the spiritual life starts here, and in the end there is nothing left but empty spiritual chatter and clerical condescension which chokes on pious words. Those who cannot listen long and patiently will always be talking past others, and finally no longer will even notice it. Those who think their time is too precious to spend listening will never really have time for God and others, but only for themselves and for their own words and plans.

Listening – a greater service than speaking? Yes. Not always, but often. Perhaps, I dare to guess, more often than not. I frequently kick myself for not being able to think on the fly; someone will pour out their problems to me and I won’t know what to say in response. I feel that I should be able to “fix” the problem. That I should present a 10-step plan to solve it. That I should unroll a mental scroll of scriptural promises to comfort them. When I can’t think of anything to say, I think there’s something wrong with me.

But there’s nothing wrong. If I stop and listen to someone’s story – really listen, with neither judgment nor interruption – I have ministered to them as Christ would. Listening to someone shows that you care. Listening without casting judgment shows that you love; that you are willing to help carry that person’s burdens. Giving advice or wisdom is great when appropriate or asked for, but often it’s not required or wanted. Those who are hurting are much more likely to talk to someone they know won’t cast judgment and try to preach to them. They just want someone to listen. If someone gives me an opportunity to listen, he or she gives me an opportunity to love.

“Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God.” This listening thing applies in my relationship with God, too. Can I sit in his presence and just listen? Or do I have to be talking the whole time – rehearsing a list of requests, with perhaps a few suggestions and words of advice as well? (I’ve noticed that when one presumes too often to give out advice to other people, one also begins giving advice to God. It’s habit-forming.)

When the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth. For He will not speak on His own, but He will speak whatever He hears. He will also declare to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, because He will take from what is Mine and declare it to you (John 16:13-14).

Jesus makes it clear that he wants to talk to me. The question is, will I be quiet and listen?


One Response

  1. […] reading Reversed Thunder, and when I read this passage the other evening it reminded me strongly of a post I wrote in 2008, with a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer that travels a similar trajectory of thought. I […]

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