How to Be a Servant-Listener

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.

The Servant-Listener

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