One thing that I notice from time to time is the fact that some Christians don’t listen. As a pastor, I often get questions about various topics. Sometimes I can tell that the person is not listening to my answer because he has already mind made up his mind even before he asked the question. He was simply looking for someone to agree with his viewpoint and the question he asked wasn’t an honest one.
I also believe that the mass of Christian information on the internet and in print has hurt our ability to listen well. A Christian can download all the sermons and podcasts of his favorite Calvinistic or Reformed celebrity pastor, read all this person’s books, and spend hours in front of blogs, FB posts, and You Tube video clips. What sometimes happens then is that this person – largely self-taught – starts to get selective hearing. He’s a solo listener, a solo reader, and he doesn’t know how to listen well because his learning has been a solitary self-led endeavor. It is very difficult to change this person’s mind because in his own self-educated world his theological mind has been made up. As one of the fathers said, “He who has self for a student has a fool for a teacher.”
We need to take to heart these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. 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. It is God’s love for us that he not only gives us his Word but also lends us his ear. So it is his work we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him.”
“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he be not conscious of it.”
“There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person. This is no fulfillment of our obligation, and it is certain that here too our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God.”
Not being able to truly listen is indeed a spiritual problem. It may be good for Christians to get away from downloading sermons, stop reading blogs of their favorite popular pastor, and quit reading so many books alone. It will help us listen better if we pay attention on Sunday to the pastor God has given us in our local church, interact with him and other Christians face to face, attend lectures and Bible studies in person, and read books in a group setting. These types of things will help us listen better and contribute to the fellowship of the saints.
Bonhoeffer is right: if we can’t listen to other people, most likely we have a hard time listening to God.