Theme: How to Serve Others: Listening
This week’s lessons remind us that true discipleship is marked by selfless service to others, because that is how Christ treated us.
Scripture: John 13:1-17
We must be practical at this point. Jesus served us by leaving heaven, taking on a true human nature, teaching, and then dying on the cross for our sin. We cannot do that. So we must ask, “How can we serve others? In what way must we demonstrate the servant nature of our master?” I suggest the following.
1. We must listen to others. Dietrich Bonhoeffer calls this the first part of genuine Christian service:
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.1
The reason why listening is so important is not always that people have a great deal to say but rather that they are so desperate to have someone listen to them. Our world is characterized by a great cacophony of voices. People are shouting at us everywhere. They are shouting in commercials, in books and magazines, in signs by the roadside, at home, at work, and at play. Everywhere we go someone is trying to get some message across to us, and the trouble is that no one is listening to what we have to say. Everyone is too busy talking. For many people, life is like picking up a telephone, dialing a number, and getting a recording. We want to say, “Stop playing that thing, and listen to me.” But, of course, no one is even listening to our complaint.
So we have the unique phenomenon in our day of people paying other people to listen to them, which is what the psychiatric and counseling professions are all about. Counseling is a billion-dollar business. But it is not that counselors actually advise or guide people in the vast majority of cases. Basically all they do is listen. They are paid to do what people in an earlier day did naturally.
Christians should be the greatest listeners this world has ever had. But unfortunately, they too are talking instead of listening. Or even if we are listening, we are often listening only partially or impatiently, as we wait for the person to stop so we can get on with telling him what he should do to get right with God or get his life in order. Is that not true? Think of conversations you have had recently, and ask yourself if your mind was not wandering as the other person spoke, if you were not hoping they would make it short, if you were anxiously restless until you got your turn to speak. Ask yourself if your conversations with others are not mostly your sounding off about what interests you rather than really hearing the other person and responding directly to what he or she has to say.
Why does Bonhoeffer believe that listening to others is the first service that should be given?
From the lesson, why is listening to another person so important?
Why is listening difficult?
Reflection: Can you recall any recent conversation with someone during which you were not a very good listener? What were your reasons for it? How do you think your approach might have been viewed by the other person? What steps will you take to improve throughout this week, so that you do not miss out on opportunities for service that the Lord brings?
1Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. by John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), p. 97.