Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.
– Philippians 2:4, NIV
Isn’t it moving when someone expresses a true interest in your life rather than seeing you simply as yet another random person? One of the most beautiful things about friendship is that people listen to each other. One of the things people most appreciate about God is that He listens. The people closest to you, the ones you trust the most, are usually those who really listen to you when you need someone to listen. Romans 12:10 (NIV) says, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.” So if we are to represent God in this world, and to show His love to His beloved people, should we not listen to others with the same genuine interest that He does?
The pastor of the church I attended when I lived in Bolivia was one of the most amazing examples of this. Every time I saw him he would approach me and give me a big hug, and look right at me when asking how I am, in a way that said “I really am interested – I don’t want a one-word answer; I want to know how you really are”. It makes such a noticeable difference when people do not just ask out of politeness, but genuinely want to know about your life – even if you feel you have nothing interesting to say in response. I want to be one of those people, who truly listens to others, not consumed by myself but taking an interest in other people’s lives and showing that I listen to them.
I am an external-processing extrovert and as such I have a tendency to talk rather a lot, including when I really am interested in what other people are saying. This can sometimes stop me from being as good a listener as I would like to be. However, I have found that when I surrender this to God, He gradually teaches me to make myself stop talking when necessary in order to really listen to people. May we surrender to God our ability to listen to others, and surrender to Him the interest that we have (and that we show) in the lives of those around us. May we listen to others as God listens to them, and represent Him in our genuine care about people’s lives. We all want to be listened to – so let us “do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Matthew 7:12, NIV).
God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
– 1 Corinthians 12:24-27, NIV
As God’s people we are one body – whether we like it or not; whether we agree with other Christians of other denominations and theologies or not; whether we get on with the people in our church or not. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that if one part of Christ’s body suffers then the rest suffers with it; if one part rejoices then the rest also rejoice. So if a brother or sister in Christ is hurting, or is joyful, and shares this with us, we can indeed share it with them and be united with them in Christ as we listen and express an interest in their lives, situations and feelings. Romans 12 (vv.5, 15-16) says, “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. … Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” This sharing can bring us together in love, as it should be in the body of Christ. We must support and encourage one another as one body.
It can become a habit, or just a cultural norm, to say “Hi, how are you?” when we see people we know – but often these words are meaningless and sometimes we have no real interest in hearing the true answer. The expected answer, out of politeness, is “fine, how are you?” – though this, a lot of the time, is a lie – one that is usually given because of an awareness that the one who has asked the question probably has no real interest in knowing how they are. It makes a real difference when people know that we are interested and ready to listen to what they want to say, ready to hear how they really are. When we take an interest and listen to people we are God’s salt and light to a broken world.
We should not ask, “What is wrong with the world?” for that diagnosis has already been given. Rather, we should ask, “What has happened to the salt and light?”
– John R. W. Stott
Jesus taught us that our primary responsibility is to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31). What is love, if we do not listen to one another? If Jesus appeared to us today in human form, and we knew it was Him, would we listen to what He would say to us? Perhaps we would – because we love and respect Him and we are amazed by Him. God calls His created people His very own workmanship, and He loves each person far beyond measure. Thus we should take the same interest in listening to other people as we would to Him. Jesus taught us this in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) – when we feed or clothe or provide for other people, we are doing it for Him. When we listen to others and take an interest in their lives, it is for Him too.
Likewise, if Jesus were to appear in human form and tell us of a need that He had, would we not act on it? So when others share with us about their needs and their desires and their dreams and their fears and their worries and their hopes, why do we let it go in one ear and out the other? Will we choose to do something about it, for Christ’s sake? Listening often involves acting upon what we hear and showing that our interest in their lives goes beyond words, even if it is something as small as a hug or a prayer – or some sort of provision.
This way of truly listening and taking a genuine interest in the lives of those around us, however, can sometimes seem to be beyond our mental and emotional capacity. We need God’s help to be His ears to the broken people around us. We need His strength and guidance and love that far exceeds our own. We need to surrender to Him and allow Him to teach us to listen to people in a way that pleases Him.
At the start of John chapter 5, there was a man “who had been invalid for thirty-eight years” (verse 5), sitting by the pool of Bethesda – where the blind, lame and paralysed would come with the intention of being healed. In verse 6, Jesus saw the man and asked him, “Do you want to get well?”. It seems obvious that the man wanted to get well – otherwise why would he be there by the pool in the first place? Why did Jesus ask such a seemingly obvious and potentially insensitive question? Jesus wanted to listen to the man, to hear him speak out what he truly wanted, rather than to assume and heal him. This way Jesus could show a greater degree of love and care for the man – not guessing his desires and needs but asking him and listening for an answer.
Jesus would not force Himself on the man even though He knew what the man wanted. Jesus wanted to be there to listen to the man and then provide the man’s expressed desire, rather than imposing a blessing. Likewise we should not assume what people need or want, but be interested and listen to people’s desires and needs before responding appropriately, showing that we care about people personally. Sometimes we can be quick to offer advice or suggestions when people are pouring out their deepest needs and problems before us, when realistically all that this does is push them away, making them feel like we see them as something to be fixed rather than a person in need of love and a listening ear. We see many more examples in the Bible of when particular people, who were dismissed by everyone, were approached by Jesus who chose to listen to them instead. One example is in Matthew 20, Mark 10 and Luke 18 – the crowds dismiss people who are calling from the side of the street, but Jesus listens and shows genuine care, and changes the situation for the good of the Kingdom and for love of the person.
Sometimes there are very good reasons as to why it might not be preferable to listen to someone. Even so, may we surrender to God our own will and our decisions regarding who to listen to and who maybe to avoid or dismiss – and may we let Him teach us to listen to others the way He wants us to. What’s more, God might be trying to speak to us through people, sometimes through the most unlikely people – if only we would stop and listen. May we surrender to God the ways in which we listen to Him through other people.
May we honour those in positions of authority over us by listening to them. May we show children that we love them by listening to them. May we show God’s love to those who cause us difficulty, those who perhaps we would rather avoid, and this way show God’s compassion for them. May we listen to those who oppose us, giving them nothing to hold against us – and may we be the first to try to resolve situations of conflict regardless of whose fault it may have been or who may or may not be in the wrong. May we surrender to God the ways in which we listen to people, allowing Him to teach us and give us the strength to keep on listening to people as He does. When we listen to people as God listens to them, we can begin to see each conversation as an opportunity for Him to show His greatness in some way or other, whether in obvious ways or in very subtle ways.
Lord and Saviour,
Thank You that You care about what we have to say, and that You listen.
Thank You for trusting us as Your representatives here on earth.
I surrender to You my ears – please teach me to listen to people as You do!
I surrender to You the ways I listen to others:
– the ways I listen to my friends
– the ways I listen to strangers
– the ways I listen to those who oppose me and those I disagree with
– the ways I listen to my family
– the ways I listen to my colleagues
– the ways I listen to authority figures
– the ways I listen to children
– the ways I listen to other Christians
– the ways I listen to those who don’t yet know You
Please shape my understanding.
I surrender to You the way I live and relate to people as a result of the way I listen to others.
May I live in Your ways, following Your voice rather than my own thoughts and understanding.