The world is full of noise. If you are like me, you find it very overwhelming. Social media hasn’t helped curb the constant stream of ideas, feelings, and opinions flooding our personal spaces.
I have often thought about the lost art of listening. I believe one of the primary ways that God touches broken lives is through attentive listening by kind-hearted people.
Don’t misunderstand me: words are important. Many of us have experienced a life-change due at least in part to someone’s well-timed words.
The old adage that says “actions speak louder than words” is true. Yet, actions without words can be just as impotent as words without actions.
However, we so easily forget that it is not always our opinions and words that will change the world. We change the world by listening.
Here are a few reasons why.
1.) We cannot possibly know what people need until we stop and listen.
Listening to people while keeping an ear open to God for insight is one of my favorite things to do. This doesn’t mean I offer advice or insight very often at all. It simply means I keep my heart open to what God might want to say to the person talking to me. That is very, very different from pushing forward with my opinions and ideas (which is way too easy for me to do).
Sometimes God has words for me to share with people, often words that I would never have thought of on my own. But more often He simply wants me to ponder what I hear, to hold it in my heart until He tells me what to do with it.
Maybe the person talking needs love in some tangible way, such as help with a project or money for physical needs. Maybe they just need to know someone has time and energy to care. Talking may be their way of sorting things through and finding a path forward on their own; they may not need my input at all.
Only if I stop talking long enough to see–really see–the world around me am I able to even begin making a difference.
2). We cannot learn from other believers if we are unwilling to listen to them.
When I think of change that needs to happen in the world, my mind goes dozens of directions. But I must not forget that the first person who needs to change is me.
Those of us from a strong religious background can find it very hard to truly listen and learn from other Christians. I was raised Anabaptist, so my theological loyalties are strongly Anabaptist. But realistically, the Anabaptists have been only a miniscule slice of believers throughout history. Even today, the growing and thriving church in closed countries has probably never even heard of Anabaptism. Yet they are dying for their faith while I live in comfort. Why do I think my particular strand of Christianity is so superior?
I might think I am open-minded and informed, when I am actually narrow-minded and arrogant. But I cannot learn this until I listen to the worldwide Church.
3. We cannot make spiritual progress without listening for specific instructions from God.
Learning to listen to God and to people is an ongoing process for me. When Will and I moved to Medicine Lodge five and a half years ago, we asked God what He wanted us to do in our new town. The answer came very clearly to both Will and me: Listen.
That instruction from God has never left the back of my mind in the past five years. I can’t even begin to describe how my life has changed through God teaching me to listen.
I’ve seen God at work in other people’s lives that makes me stop and catch my breath with the beauty of it. I’ve become much less arrogant and much more open to learning from others. Most of all, I have a keen sense of walking with God, walking with Him and seeing the world through His eyes.
These things convince me that we can’t begin healing the terrible wounds of the world by talking and talking; by flooding people with our ideas and holding up a rigorous standard for them to attain. I think we will change the world by being Christ in the flesh, a tender, caring presence with time to listen.
As people talk to us, and God talks to us and them, a holy healing grows in that space of quiet, loving attentiveness. We find ourselves on sacred ground.
We will change the world, including ourselves, by listening.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
James 1:19 (ESV)