As I’ve shared with you in previous posts, listening to others is an important part of relationships. I hope you have been able to practice servant-listening on your friends and family and to help bring this lost art back in vogue.
We also need to practice listening to the voice of our shepherd. In John 10:27 (NIV), Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” We can only learn to recognize someone’s voice by time spent together, listening and becoming familiar with them.
Many misconceptions surround this topic, which is why I recommend the best book I’ve ever read about listening to God and of course, it’s by Dallas Willard. It’s called Hearing God: Developing a Conversational Relationship with God.
The first thing to know about hearing from God is that it’s “not just to hear the voice of God but to be mature people in a loving relationship with him.” Hearing from God is only a part of the relationship.
A great way to prepare to hear from him is a beautiful song from Mercy Me: Word of God, Speak. I recommend listening to the song, reading the book, and in the stillness of a quiet, humble heart, begin listening to his still, small voice.
Next week, more about how to listen to his voice.
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.