I had a chance encounter with an old acquaintance recently that gave me something to think about. She is the mom of one of my son’s former classmates from elementary school who I haven’t spoken with in several years. After a few minutes of small talk she said, “Would you ever have time to meet for coffee? I’m thinking about going back to work full time and it would be great to chat about it with you.”
Since my professional background isn’t in her line of work, I was taken aback. “I’d love to meet you, but I don’t know how much business advice I have to offer. I’m happy to just sit and listen though.”
Her tense facial expression changed to a relieved smile. “That sounds like exactly what I need.”
I hadn’t done a thing, but to my surprise, she seemed grateful and looked less anxious.
A few days later I opened Mary Jo Sharp’s Why Do You Believe That? I discovered that the topic of the entire third week of study is about being a good listener. My encounter with my acquaintance suddenly made perfect sense. Although our conversation had nothing to do with apologetics, I realized that most of us are longing for someone just to listen to us. When we find a person who is willing, it’s such a relief. The ability to listen to others well is a way to minister to them and to open the door for future conversations about our beliefs. We can’t engage in effective faith conversations or apologetics without it.
Mary Jo cites the words of Christian theologian Deitrich Bonhoeffer:
“So often Christians, especially preachers, think that their only service is always to have to ‘offer’ something when they are together with other people. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people seek a sympathetic ear and do not find it among the Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening.” (Beonhoeffer, Dietrich; Life Together; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005, 95. Quoted from Why Do You Believe That? page 53)
If we don’t listen to others, it’s difficult to build relationships or to respond to their ideas and questions. We can’t show someone we care if we’re not bothering to pay close attention to what they’re saying. Each of us has one mouth and two ears–maybe our anatomy is a clue from God that we’re supposed to talk less and listen more. My prayer is that I can begin to listen twice as much as I speak. I want to show others that I value them by hearing their words. The apostle James puts it this way:
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19, NIV)
Whether we are engaging in conversations about apologetics with people who don’t know Jesus or we are talking with family, friends or complete strangers, listening well is a way to show them the love of God.
Here are a few things we can do to become better listeners:
-Being intentional about looking people in the eye and not past them to other things happening in the background
-Keeping our phones out of site so we’re not tempted to multi-task by checking them while having a conversation (being physically and mentally present)
-Moving closer to someone so that we can hear clearly
-Eliminating background noise or stepping out of a noisy place to hear a person better
-Asking questions sincerely and then waiting for the complete answer (“How are you?” is not a valid question to ask someone when we’re in a rush)
-Not glazing over, becoming distracted or thinking about what we’re going to say next
-Not interrupting or finishing someone’s sentences, letting them speak until they finish a complete thought
-Not letting our minds wander to our “to do” lists
-Making the effort to remember what they say so that if we do get interrupted, we can ask them to pick up where they left off instead of starting a new topic
-Following up and asking about what they’ve shared when we see them at a later time
-Being sensitive to recognize when a person needs more time to talk than we have to give at that moment and then being intentional about following up to hear more later
Is there one thing from this list or from Mary Jo’s lesson that you’ll commit to working on this week? I think I’ll start by following up with the acquaintance that suggested we meet for coffee. Maybe there is something I haven’t included that you would add to this list. Leave a comment so we can work on these things together.
Josh Wilson has a great song called “Listen.” Although he’s specifically referring to listening to God, I think the principles fit with listening to other people as well. For me, it’s a great reminder (and a bit convicting too). Click on the link to be inspired by it.
Sharp, Mary Jo; Why Do You Believe That? A Faith Conversation; Lifeway Press; 2012 & 2014.