My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
To answer before listening – that is folly and shame. (Proverbs 18:13)
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: 'People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.' (Acts 17:22-23)
According to John Stott, 'Christian witnesses stand between the word and the world, with the consequent obligation to listen to both.'
Recently, we unpacked listening to the word, on and for our frontlines. However, most of us already see the need for this. Scripture is, after all, God-breathed. But there's just as much obligation to listen to the world too.
To answer before hearing the question, just waiting for the opportunity to make our point, is a folly, and risks rendering the gospel irrelevant. But, like Paul wandering the streets of Athens, when we listen to people on our frontlines, to their fears and longings, we're motivated by empathy to discern how best to share the good news of Christ in a way that offers meaningful responses.
And there's more. Not only does listening lead us to speak better words, but it also gives us the opportunity – like Paul in Athens or Daniel in Babylon – to meet God where we might not expect to find him. We listen to a neighbour and sense the Spirit moving in their life, or discover God's comforting presence in stories of pain and loss. Where might there be an opportunity to join in the work he's already started?
To do this, we listen humbly to learn from the wisdom of the world around us, rather than assuming a position of superiority. We listen prayerfully with the help of the Spirit, to discern what's going on beneath the surface. And we listen patiently – this takes time. We're called to be quick to listen, not to listen quickly.
This isn't something to get out of the way, a box to tick before we minister with our words – to listen is to minister. As David Augsburger put it, 'Being heard is so close to being loved that, for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.' So, practically, let's love our colleagues, friends, and family by asking wise questions which help us hear their heart: what are their hurts, hopes, and struggles, and how might the gospel meet their deepest needs?
Following Stott, 'We listen to the word to discover ever more of the riches of Christ. And we listen to the world in order to discern which of Christ's riches are needed most and how to present them in their best light.' Through your listening, may you clearly present the much-needed riches of Christ on your frontline this week.
Matt Jolley is a researcher at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC). This article was first published on the website of the LICC and is printed here with permission.