The ministry of Listening

Over the past few months my neighbor and I have been having a Bible study at his house with some people he has met and some people literally right off the street. I have enjoyed this time because it has given me some of the best lessons that I could never get from a Bible college or seminary. Mainly, it’s what I am hearing these people say about themselves, their stories, and their encounters with God and Christians that leave me perplexed and often confused at what to say or do. Often I find myself apologizing for the misdeeds or lack of grace coming from a pastor or fellow Christian. Even more often I find myself trying to correct their misunderstanding of the gospel and God’s character that they seem to understand as unloving as their earthly fathers. I also find myself being thankful for how God could have put me in anyone of their situations but he chose to give me my family, who even though they bug the snot out of me somedays, I still love them no matter what.
I say all of this to tell you a little story, a true story, right from my very experience of the Bible study. So one week we start reading in James where we had left off the last week. Halfway through the Bible study two guys that, for as much as I can tell, don’t really like how much I understand the Scripture and the way I explain it (probably more of the “intelligent” vocabulary that I use), walked out. As you might think to yourself if you had been there, the whole situation was very confusing at first. So my neighbor goes and talks with them for a couple of minutes and comes back and then we finish the rest of the chapter with the one other dude that was still there. Later, after Bible study we take people home. I normally just ride along with my neighbor so we can chat about how things went. That night we did just that but towards the end he told me why the two other people left. “They think you are very prideful and arrogant” he told me. At first, I feel the need to defend myself from such blunt-force criticism, then I feel the tug of the Holy Spirit on my heart convicting me somewhat of this Bible-answer-man persona that I had pinned on myself as my role in this group. After thanking my neighbor for his bluntness and sharing some of my own struggles and frustrations within my own personal life and my desire to be a spiritual leader I just break out in crying. I don’t know that I’ve ever cried like that in front of a grown man, but I know that this is just one way that God is continuing to humble me and conform me more into the likeness of Jesus within the apartment community that I live in.
Two weeks pass, neither of the people who had a problem with me came. We finished James. The next week we were onto 1 Peter and then one of the guys showed up. 1 Peter 1:22 says “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.” All of a sudden this man spoke up and started telling me how he had been feeling and that even though he was upset he still wanted to come and hang out and get the chance to know me. He said that he had gone and talked with his pastor who told him that we have to learn to love and forgive one another even if we do upset one another because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. The past couple of weeks in classes at seminary we had been talking about biblical conflict resolution and I also had been reading “Life Together” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer; there it was, the beauty of the gospel, working in a process of forgiveness and reconciliation. After we had our words with one another hugging ensued, not just any type of hugging though, the manly type that happens when your favorite team just ended up winning the super bowl! It was such an awesome Bible study!

As if there wasn’t enough excitement for one night, I still had to finish reading “Life Together” and to my surprise, what were the last two chapters on? Ministry, and Confession and Communion. In these last two chapters Bonhoeffer’s comments on Listening spoke to me.

Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them…Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. (pg.97)

Also

It is the command of Jesus that none should come to the altar with a heart that is unreconciled to his brother. If this command of Jesus applies to every service of worship, indeed, to every prayer we utter, then it most certainly applies to reception of the Lord’s Supper. (pg.121)

Reconciliation, mirrored through my reflection of Christ to the world, must be in the vocabulary of every avenue that I travel and occupy in life. Starting with my marriage, extending to my broader family, church, neighbors, and co-workers. As an ambassador of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:20) the peace of God that I extend to others must be about investing holistically into others. I liken this to the work of a famous TV teacher, Will Schuester (yes from Glee). No matter what things in life his students are going through he wants to be as supportive as possible through his investment of time and energy into people in his area of influence, the classroom. Are you a youth pastor? Are you a parent? Are you someone who has a passion to reach others for Christ? Reach out to those in your grasp, whether that be a student, your neighbor, or your grandma and extend God’s reconciliation of grace, love, and wholeness through his son Jesus Christ to them today and listen up because your opportunity may come without you needing to say words. People are more likely to be vulnerable with you if you will just listen.

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