Listening is something that we all like to do, right? On one hand I would say yes; I love to listen to music, podcasts, and read books. Many people feel a compulsive need to be constantly absorbing information, no matter what medium it is through. Social media allows us to listen to the opinions of our friends and people we hardly know as they discuss almost anything. However, I would argue that our culture as a whole is actually really bad at listening. Social media often turns into a platform for us to boldly proclaim whatever we want, then argue with anyone who would dare contest our viewpoint (the best part is, if things get really out of hand, we can just block them completely). Surely the 2016 Presidential election was one marked by understanding and empathy. Just check out almost any political debate and you’re sure to see an abundance of patient, kind listening, right? Listening well is incredibly valuable, and yet our culture has much room to grow in this area.
As important as I know listening is, I’ve found that through my time as a music student I’ve had its importance pressed into me countless times. I remember my early days of trumpet lessons when my first teacher would show me stacks of 20-30 CD's that he’d checked out at the library that week, only to listen to them, return them, and check out more for the next week. He was always impressing the importance of listening upon me because that’s how we learn to play different styles and speak different musical languages. Through diligent listening, playing along with recordings, and imitating them I gradually began to learn to play jazz, classical, orchestral, and many other styles of music. Even as a teacher of budding middle school musicians, my hope is that they’ll learn to listen deeper to their playing in order to improve their skills.
We can listen well to others through reading books, enjoying music and podcasts, and watching movies. Listening through these mediums is unique because we can easily hear from many diverse people about pretty much any topic imaginable. We can also enter totally new worlds through stories (admittedly, I’ve read very little fiction, but I’m working to change that, so don’t ask me yet about Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings…) However, as good as books, music, and movies are, one of their downfalls is that they don’t often allow much discussion between the consumers and the creators. Especially with more prominent figures, the odds of us having a conversation with them about their motives or reasons for their work are extremely slim.
Right now I’m reading a collection of Van Gogh’s Letters, but I’m not actually able to ask Van Gogh why he painted certain works or why he denounced religion after being fully devoted to it for a couple of years. Sure, I can deduce reasons through his letters, but I can never fully know because I can’t ask him. We are also able to pause or stop podcasts if we disagree with something or dislike a point that the speaker is making. We can stop songs at parts we don’t like, or we can turn off a movie whenever want. This reduces a lot of our current media consumption to an individualistic activity of listening, which isn’t all bad, but as consumers we are missing out on deeper understanding if we’re not able to discuss back and forth with the creators. One of the beauties of having conversations with real people comes from our
ability to ask them questions.
Listening to Real People
How do we do when it comes to listening to real people with feelings, emotions, and beliefs that are different from ours? When we listen intently to those around us as they tell about their past and share stories, we can listen with the hopes of getting to know them better and understand their lives. What a counter-cultural act to do in today’s often divisive climate!
The book of Proverbs provides much instruction on listening, even challenging us to seek to understand firstly. “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions” says Proverbs 18:2. As Christians we ought to listen with the goal of understanding above all. When we’re listening to others are we busy formulating a response in our minds while they’re still talking? Are we thinking more about how we can prove our point than about what they believe? Do we actually listen while being open to having our minds changed? Let’s listen with the intention of understanding where others are coming from.
Listen to Love
Another motivation for listening that we should not neglect is listening to love others better. How would our interactions change if we realized that the person we’re talking to is made in the image of God and is therefore deserving of dignity and respect? 1 Corinthians 13:4, one of the infamous passages on love, reminds us that “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud”. In order to reflect love as best as possible, let us strive to be a people who listen kindly, humbly, and patiently. How do we do that? We can do that through giving them our undivided attention, asking follow-up questions, adding brief, appropriate comments, and having a caring, interested demeanor.
Listen to Share the Gospel
Lastly, we should be motivated to listen well so we are able to speak the truth of the gospel to others better. Francis Schaeffer, a philosopher and pastor, was once asked what he would do if he had an hour to share the gospel. Schaeffer wisely responded that he would spend 55 minutes listening in order to have something meaningful to say in the last five minutes. As we listen to people and get to know them we gain insight into the areas of their life that the gospel speaks to the greatest, and the areas where they are the most open to receiving the gospel. We get a glimpse into their hurts, fears, hopes, and dreams, and are able to lovingly proclaim how much better Jesus is than all of that!
When we read books, listen to music, and watch movies by people that are different from us we learn much about other cultures and people. When we pay attention to others in order to understand them, love them, and be able to better share the gospel with them, then we are doing something totally counter-cultural. I apply this challenge to myself, as I too often let information go in one ear and out the other. I too want to improve at asking follow-up questions, being curious about others, and loving them through listening. I hope that Redeemer Stillwater, by the grace of God, can continue to become a congregation that listens readily to others, loves them well, and is able to better serve our community through listening.
Here are some articles that helped me in writing this blog that I would recommend: