Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Bonhoeffer on the Ministry of Listening

What follows are some challenging words, of which I readily admit I have failed often to keep them. Well... I've certainly kept the wrong ones. The bolded passages are especially hard to read. May we all be better listeners.

"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 that we do for our brother when we learn to listen to him. 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.
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. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

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. (Ouch)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.

Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy, which has attracted great numbers of people, including Christians. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by him who is himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God."

I think probably the most eye-opening part of this was his connection to listening to others and listening to God. Challenging words and a good reminder that we are called to put others before ourselves and consider their needs as more important than our own.  Listening well is just one example of how that plays out in our lives.


Andy Howerzyl said...

John, this is really powerful - thanks for sharing. What will really keep me thinking about this is how it applies to parenting as well...

John C. Majors said...

Good word my friend. Listening is an act of love we give to our children. Yet it is an art as well. I've found eliminating distractions is one of the keys to listening. (currently ignoring my children so I can type this....)