The Ignored Discipline of Listening

By: Bethany Mortelliti, Communications Assistant at the180

When you think of Christians, do you generally think of "good listeners"?

In my experience, people do not know many Christians who easily fit that description. Personally, I can picture a Christian standing on a proverbial soapbox shouting out answers to [sometimes unasked] questions far more readily than I picture a Christian patiently holding a conversation with a non-Christian.

We are generally eager to rattle off Scripture and memorized answers and far more hesitant to let others share their concerns and questions.

Is it possible that we fear the implications of listening? I think so, and I think as followers of Jesus, we would do well to grapple with our difficult call to be quick to listen (James 1:19).

See, listening is not as simple as sitting back and letting our non-Christian friends have more airtime in our lives; it’s actually a practice that calls for a lot of courage.

Consider these three tough implications of listening:

Listening is humbling.

When you listen, truly listen, you are acknowledging that you do not know everything. It’s so easy to assume that you know everything, and it’s often not until it comes down to an actual conversation that you see how much pride there can be in maintaining your own opinion. When you truly listen, you choose to admit how limited your understanding is, and how the opinions and perspectives of others are just as valid as your own – in fact, others may even bring up questions that you might need to learn to wrestle with!

Listening requires patience.

By choosing to close our mouths and open our ears, we may feel ourselves at risk of not pointing people in the right direction. I remember as a kid feeling a pressure to provide all the right answers for my non-Christian friends for fear that they might not see the truth that would set them free. In these moments we need to learn to be patient with where people are at. Someone once said, the right thing at the wrong time can feel like the wrong thing. We would do well to follow the example of Jesus, who practiced much patience as he listened to the doubts and questions of his disciples and followers.

Listening is an opportunity for trust.

Choosing to listen well often brings us face to face with our limitations - the uncomfortable sense that we don't know what to do, or the lack of control that we feel when the outcome of a conversation is unclear. However, God himself has instructed us to be quick to listen (James 1:19), and often God’s commands are a perfect opportunity for growing trust. When we choose to listen rather than speak, we are in a sense saying, God, I trust you to be at work in a way I can't see right now.

So, listening is a humbling, patience-building opportunity to trust God - it’s no wonder that we find it difficult, and easy to ignore! But the best thing is that God has called us to be listeners, and He will equip us for this important task.

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This past weekend at the180, Dom took some time as part of the teaching to interview someone who has been skeptical of Christianity and its claims. Since our vision as a church is to reach out to people who don't go to church, we thought it wise to listen with open hearts and minds to someone who might help us unlearn. To practice the kind of listening discussed in this post, consider listening to the interview here.

Hope to see you tomorrow at 9:30am for a Leadership Sunday where we will discuss "The Joy of Accountability."