Your lovingkindness wraps me up, welcoming me with arms open wide to hold me, grace pouring over me; no, I don’t deserve this. You listen to me, lovingly letting me pour out to you my worries and concerns. I’m comforted, secure. We meet there in the middle, a precious place of peace and joy, one purpose in your calling me: to live together with you. I yearn for lovingkindness, and eagerly run toward it, hoping it will course through me transforming who I am. (Ps. 23:6; Jn 15.7; 17:21,26; 2Tim 2:22)
Just think of all the blabbing prayers being offered to God right this minute all around the world. And he hears all of them, listening to the ones that come from those devoted to him (Prov. 15:29). That is one proof of his omnipresence and amazing love that blows me away. He listens.
We cannot listen to everyone at once, but if we are to become like him, a capacity to listen well should indeed be one of our goals.
“Put on your new nature, created to be like God — truly righteous and holy.“(Eph. 4:24 NLT)
Being righteous is being who we ought to be, doing right. Being holy means being set apart, living out the ethics and morals that come with living together with our Lord, citizens of his kingdom.
Hmm – “living together with our Lord” – this is a reference to close companionship. When we live with someone as loving and kind as he is, we naturally becoming increasingly close to them. The loving attachment actually changes us. Think about this:
[Christ] died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (1 Thess. 5:1 NIV)
“Living together with him” — this describes each of us attached to him, and to each other, in life on earth as well as after leaving this world. This truth has been underlined for me for years, but this year more than ever. I am participating in a group memorizing the Sermon on the Mount, and it has led me to read the deep writings of Martin Lloyd Jones and Dallas Willard on those passages. What the Word says, and what these authors keep repeating, is that knowing and loving the Lord our God is indeed the first commandment, the essential one for our growth in becoming those blessed people that Jesus listed in the Beatitudes. It is not an instantaneous fix, either, but a progressive kind of maturation as we get to know the Lord better and better. It’s like the way that I know my husband Glenn much better now than I did when I married him! Building an ever deeper conversation and daily walk with the Lord means I get to know him better, which leads to ongoing progress in maturing spiritually. And that changes what I view as important in my relationships with others.
That verse in 1 Thessalonians says that as a result of living with Christ, we should be encouraging each other, building each other up. Learning to truly listen to someone is a key way to to do this, but many of us are not very skilled in doing that well. We tend to interrupt or try to offer a quick fix. Sometimes we assume that we know things about a person that we actually have not yet given them space to explain. If we listen well, first, and wait for understanding to grow, then we can offer words that are appropriate and even offer that “unmerited favor” that is grace:
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, (Jas. 1:19 NIV)
You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Eph. 4:29 NET)
When I was going through a period of loneliness during our years in Côte d’Ivoire, I met a woman from another mission who had recently arrived in Abidjan, a major city that we sometimes visited. I was at a church there one Sunday, and my 3-year-old got too squirmy to be able to sit quietly. I took him outside, and there I met Janet, walking her 3-year-old around. We began to share our life stories. A very special connection began! And even though we only saw each other once in a while, months apart, I knew I now had a safe place for the kind of encouragement I needed as I shared my journey and listened to hers. We learned from each other.
What made the difference? Someone was listening to me without judging me, but empathizing and praying with me.. I had a mature friend with the same devotion to Christ as me, who also humbly shared what she was learning.
Developing these qualities of being an encourager who listens well takes time for most of us. It is part of our process of maturing as we keep on growing in attachment love for our Lord, letting him direct us in our conversations.
And then, of course, it can also be that the Lord is telling us that there is someone who is truly in need of a safe friend right now. An incident here in my Detroit neighborhood showed me that I need to pay attention to him when he prompts me to go offer a loving moment to someone.
I was making a cup of tea in my kitchen but could not stop thinking about the widow who lived across the street. She was also a believer and our times of connection in the past had been sweet. But I had been traveling and hadn’t seen her for a while.
I set my cup down and walked over to her house. After knocking repeatedly and trying to get the doorbell to ring, I wondered if this was really a good time. I could hear television noise; maybe that was drowning out my knock. Just as I was ready to leave, the tv was turned off and I heard sobbing. Now what should I do? I knocked again, and this time I heard footsteps and the door was opened. When my neighbor saw me she pulled me in, hugged me and kept sobbing in my arms. When we sat down she shared that this was the date of her husband’s birthday, the first time it had shown up since he passed away. I let her pour out her grief.
That was all the Lord wanted from me that moment: to listen lovingly. I was so glad I had obeyed the prompt!
If we prioritize growing in our intimacy with God, and recognizing his voice and his prompts, it will become a way to better fulfill the second commandment: to love that person next to us in our community. Listening may be just what they need.
Let’s be quick to listen, just like our Lord, our loving Father!