As a pastor I often come across people who are trying to help others through difficult times. Very often they will lament how little they can do for this person who is struggling. “All I could do was listen” they say.
I want to be gentle with someone who is trying to help others, but I also want to push back against the idea that listening isn’t doing something. Far from it, listening is a powerful tool and one of the key things we can do for someone in need. We need to value listening not look down on it.
Why is listening so powerful? Here are three reasons:
The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry; (Psalm 34:15)
Listening is what God does. His ears are attentive to the cries of his people. We see that again and again in the Bible, and lived out in the ministry of Jesus.
In Mark 10, Jesus is surrounded by a huge crowd as he left Jericho. Yet when he heard a blind beggar calling out to him, Scripture says, “Jesus stopped.” He called Bartimus to himself and listened to him.
When we listen, we are demonstrating something of God’s character.
Listening shows value
Listening to another person shows that we think they are important; it demonstrates that we care for them in a fundamental way; it allows them to be honest and open. You listen to those people or things that you think are worth listening to. Listening shows worth.
Listening helps us to understand
Listening always comes before speaking. Even if there is much that we might want to speak into that person’s life, listening well first allows us to understand what that person is going through. When it comes time to speak, it means we will speak well and accurately into that person’s life and situation. It means we aren’t flippant or dismissive. It means that we don’t assume we know what’s going on, but really get to know the person before we respond. Very often listening also allows a person to express themselves and in doing so clarify their thoughts and ideas – listening does achieve a great deal!
Finally, consider that listening to others demonstrates something of the health of our own spiritual life. Listen to these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“He who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life . . . . Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.”
Let’s listen well to God, and listen well to other people. And let’s never look down on the opportunity simply to listen to someone else.