How Well Do We Listen (Especially When We Are Paid Talkers)?

Decades ago (never mind how many), I took a vacation from the congregation where I preached to visit relatives in the Midwest. On Sunday morning, as is my custom, I worshiped with the saints, assembling with the congregation where my father’s sister went. After the service, my aunt paid me a most unexpected, and at the time confusing, compliment. This daughter of an elder and sister of a preacher observed, “You listen to other preachers’ sermons better than any preacher I ever saw.” As I said, this confused me, for I knew my weaknesses as a listener well. Yet it also troubled me and provoked the question with which I entitled this entry. How well do we listen when we hear others preach, when we read blogs, when we sit as students in Bible classes that we might teach better (emphasis on might)? It is difficult to hear when one is accustomed to being the authority. David experienced this phenomenon when the prophet Nathan confronted him with the implications of his adultery and murder.(2 Samuel 12:1-14). Peter the Rock must have struggled within when Paul the former persecutor challenged his unethical behavior in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). Why do we find it hard to listen? Perhaps after-service plans or on-going problems distract us. We may have preconceived notions about the speaker and assume (because he has too little education or too much, because he stutters, because he uses a different Bible translation or writes for the wrong magazine) that he has nothing to say to me. We may assume that our role is to judge the competence and soundness of the speaker, not to learn from the message. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminded his readers that God’s word cuts to the heart. When Christ stood at the door and knocked (Revelation 3:19,20), he asked for Christians to respond. When I manage to overcome competition for my attention and listen to preaching half as well as my aunt thought I did, I do so because I realize that I too need the nourishment of the Word. When a speaker’s words offend me or I question his interpretation, I pause to consider whether it is his error or my sin that causes my negative reaction. I try, no matter how much experience or education I have attained, to remain a student of God’s word. I try to hear God’s Word when it is proclaimed, for I need it. How well do we listen? May we learn to listen better so that we may learn to teach better.

#church-of-christ, #discipleship, #listening, #paul, #peter, #preaching