Bonhoeffer on the Ministry of Listening

Are you listening?

The first service one owes to others in the community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for other Christians is learning to listen to them. … We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them. 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 Christians, because these Christians are talking even when they should be listening. But Christians who can no longer listen to one another will soon no longer be listening to God either; they will always be talking even in the presence of God.

Today I so hoped to complete my daily time devoted exclusively to listening to God, when part of that listening involved Bible Gateway dot com‘s 40 Days With Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Do you think I could get past that without needing to comment? Never! My issue with passing up an opportunity to pitch in my two-cents is, if I fail to do it now, I’ll loose it.

Bonhoeffer opens this segment with an absolute statement that, simply because it is an absolute, will beg for nitpicking. Yet, he makes a great case for it; the first act of godly love is always to listen. How else will we know how to serve? God models that behavior by listening to our prayers, even though he knows our needs before we know them ourselves. But listening doesn’t mean listening quickly, then busily jumping into “Service Mode.” Listening itself is an act of service.

Personally, one of my great frustrations when I need to share something of myself, is the ear to which I’m speaking, refusing to listen. That is especially true of “professional” listeners, who have heard so much in their careers that they know all of what I have to say after my first few words. Sometimes that may be true, but I still feel ignored if they won’t hear me out.

The other side of this ministry equation is, listening requires a sharer; if everyone is listening, or sharing, who will fill the opposite chair? Get this: We all need someone to listen to us, and denying that need is simply an act of pride. You’ll never believe this, but I’m a sharer. Ideas, thoughts, Bible passages, feelings, it doesn’t matter, I’ll blabber it. So, for me to listen requires discipline, and a great deal of tongue-biting. I suppose that’s why Bonhoeffer’s words so directly struck me.

Uh … well … guess I didn’t stop at two-cents. So call it a bonus. But now, I’m listening. Like my “Comments” box says, “If you have something to say, say it.”



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