Listen . . .
It has been said that when we encounter non-Christians, we speak and give answers. But when Jesus encountered non-Christians, he listened, and told stories. I think that’s about right. While Jesus is the Son of God, completely full of the Spirit, much of His wisdom came not from taking advantage of His supernatural power, but from perfectly doing the human skill of listening. Think along with me about this vital skill:
Listening is how we find out what words, if any, would be best for the moment. I don’t mean the kind of listening that is so eager to start talking that the lips quiver in anticipation of jumping in. By listening Jesus discovered what stories, of the thousands he could have told, would picture previously unseen spiritual realities to his hearers. That’s the point: not precision of thought, but removal of blindness, and clarity of sight. We are lovers of beauty first, and then thinkers, justifiers of why we find this or that beautiful.
Listening is required because we are late “on the scene”. Whoever we meet, we can know that our sovereign God has been on the scene long before us. What is best for the moment is what would further that work. But what is that work? We find out by listening. Listening helps us determine what beauties of Christ are best to put forward, and how. It makes our speech constructively efficient, not thrashing and wandering about.
Listening fosters further wrestling by the speaker of their own thoughts. It is not unusual for a speaker to listen to their own thoughts, and then say, “But I don’t know. Now that I hear myself say that, I’m not sure if that’s right.” In that sentence, something important happened - cognitive dissonance was confronted and laid out for both people to wrestle with.
Listening fosters ownership of new thoughts and growth. For any of us to be a Christian, we must face our old thoughts, and face Jesus, and find the courage to jettison those old thoughts in favor of taking up His yoke. We have to own it ourselves. Listening fosters the often-messy processing of all that. Listening fosters ownership of new belief. We can’t believe for others.
Listening says “I think you’re human, and therefore incredibly valuable.” In other words, listening itself portrays to the other person how God feels about her. “You are made in My image; You are worth listening to. I made You; therefore I delight to hear from you.” Listening pictures God.