Jan 21 2009
I was in the mood for some Bonhoeffer today. This is from Life Together:
The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for brethren is learning to listen to them. It is God’s love for us that He not only gives us His Word but also lends us His ear. So it is His work that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.
Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon no longer be 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, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it. 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. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 97-98)
As I was typing this, I was both blessed and convicted — blessed by thinking of the times in the last few weeks, months, year when people have genuinely ministered to me simply through listening.
I’m convicted, though, that I don’t listen enough. I don’t listen when people are hurting and simply need a sympathetic ear rather than hearing platitudes or a sermon from me. I don’t listen when I don’t have time. I don’t listen when I want to “fix” that person’s problem. I don’t listen when I feel like I have the right to get something off my chest, or when I don’t really care what the other person has to say. And I don’t listen when — as Bonhoeffer says here — I’m thinking that I have such great things to contribute to the conversation that they simply must be spoken.
May the Lord help me to listen more and to speak less, both in conversation with Him and with those around me.