What does it mean for us to follow Jesus as a servant-listener? “Listening is minute by minute submission to others” (Jan Johnson, Invitation to the Jesus Life, Experiments in Christlikeness). It’s dying to self, as he did: letting go of our desires to be heard, to be acknowledged by others, our agendas, of using words to shape people’s opinions of us or to impress them or get attention. Rather than engaging in conversations with people for our own gain or just to hear ourselves talk, we can follow Jesus by loving them through listening.
Instead of talking about ourselves, we can pray as we listen that God will help us draw others out. Ask the Holy Spirit for help to hear their deeper selves. As we pray and listen, God helps our speech become a way of loving and blessing, rather than putting ourselves forward.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when we only half listen to someone, we are dismissing them as having less value, and disrespecting them as human beings. “There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive type of listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person.”
Remember, at the same time we are listening to others, Jesus is listening, loving and blessing both of us. If we can become more aware of this, we can learn to love and listen, listen and love, and forget about ourselves for a while. And who knows, it could lead to closer friendships and deeper relationships.
Last time I mentioned Jesus is a servant-listener. I became acquainted with this term in a book by Jan Johnson, Invitation to the Jesus Life, Experiments in Christlikeness. We already know Jesus came to be a servant (Philippians 2), but the connection between listening and serving is one I hadn’t made before.
It’s hard to imagine Jesus doing anything other than being attentive. In our always-connected digital culture, most people are anything but. They look at their phones many times a day, and if they’re not looking at them, they are thinking about looking at them and wondering what they’re missing. In conversations, a lot of half-listening goes on. People often look around for someone more interesting to talk to or are simply distracted by what they think they need to be doing.
If Jesus had access to a cell phone, I’m sure he would have turned it off when he interacted with his friends, or anyone, for that matter. As usual, he is our example in this. As we experience him listening to us, we can learn to listen to others. He is never too busy or distracted. He never tires of us, even when we repeat ourselves over and over. He’s never looking around for a more interesting conversation. For him, listening is a vehicle for loving and blessing.
Next week: How to Be a Servant-Listener
Most of us have used the old saying, what you don’t know won’t hurt you. It means remaining ignorant of a situation relieves you of responsibility to worry or think about it (idioms.thefreedictionary.com). The corollary is ignorance is bliss. Sometimes it is but most of the time it’s not, including when it comes to our interactions with others. Being unaware of what’s happening in a person’s life can lead to insensitive comments or hurtful actions; conversely, being aware gives us opportunities to pray and possibly help.
A comment I heard by a conference speaker illustrates how we need to at least be aware something might be happening beneath the surface. She said you don’t know what someone has gone through, what they are going through right now and what they may be facing in the future. This reminded me of Philippians 2, where Paul gives us insight into what it means to have the mind of Christ in our relationships. We are to consider others better than ourselves, and to think of others more than we think of ourselves. This often requires dying to our desires to talk about ourselves, give advice or share our stories.
When Jesus interacted with people, he looked them in the eye, listened to them to the point of discerning their hearts and cared about what they shared. While we may not be on the same level of servant-listener as Jesus, we can stop talking and pay attention to others with the intention of knowing them, loving them and being present in whatever way they need.
A recent development in the social media world is the abundance of influencers. Some of them have many followers, who apparently pay a lot of attention to what they say. Historically, someone who has influence over others has been admired for their character, wisdom or expertise. On social media, it seems anyone can be an influencer and all they need is a cute face or a gimmick. I couldn’t name a single social media influencer and no offense, but I’m not interested in letting these people sway me to do or think anything they recommend. I prefer to think for myself.
But there is one influencer I listen to and I think you know where I’m going with this. Jesus was and is the greatest influencer of all time and up until recently, his impact spread without the help of the Internet. His followers enthusiastically spread word of his love, compassion, compelling teachings and of course, his resurrection. They weren’t afraid to say his name or talk about how wonderful he was.
Today, we may not be afraid t,o mention his name, but in many places, we aren’t allowed to talk about him. We can still be influencers for Jesus by the way we treat people. We can be patient and kind, helpful and cheerful, selfless and giving. We can be peacemakers and peace-spreaders, and in this way, be real influencers in this sad, unkind world.