I have been plodding my way through David Mathis’ new book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines. I wholeheartedly recommend it to you (so much so, that I’m giving away two copies…see below). Within his section on Christian fellowship, he has a word to us on the much underrated ministry of listening. Borrowing extensively from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, Mathis has these important reminders for us:
1. Good listening requires patience
How often do you find yourself thinking about your next comment while the other person is still talking? James’ words need frequent repetition: “…be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Talking too quickly may cause your comments to be insensitive and simplistic. Drawing out the other person and allowing them to put expression to what they’re thinking, puts you in a better position to say something helpful because you more thoroughly understand what life is like for that person.
2. Good listening is an act of love
Bonhoeffer notes that one way we express love to God is by listening attentively to his Word. Ditto with human beings. Listening demonstrates our interest in another’s interests (Philippians 2:3-4). Being slow to listen and quick to speak is the antithesis of love.
3. Good listening asks perceptive questions
Asking perceptive questions isn’t about being smart. It’s about being a good listener. I would say 90% of perceptive question asking comes from attentive listening.
4. Good listening is ministry
Again Bonhoeffer makes a good point: many times “…listening can be a greater service than speaking.” This, of course, is the proverbial problem men have as portrayed in this hilarious video. While there’s some truth to this, seeing listening as a greater service than speaking isn’t just a male problem. It’s a human problem.
5. Good listening prepares us to speak well
Proverbs 18:13 says this, “To answer before listening, that is folly and shame.” Abraham Lincoln is credited with this witty quip: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I’ll spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Good listening contributes to good speaking.
6. Good listening reflects our relationship with God
If you’re quick to speak and slow to listen with other people, what are you like with God? Both Mathis and Bonhoeffer make the case that how well we listen to other people mirrors how well we listen to God. The one who is quick to listen to people will likely be quick to listen to God.