Love Listens

I try to listen. Do I agree with every conclusion in every conversation? Not at all. Does listening imply that I believe that the person who is speaking is properly informed? Not always.  Listening without criticizing, correcting, or even confirming allows me to learn. Some conversations go over ground traveled many times before.  I try to listen because I know that person needs to say it again. Maybe it is a way of explaining themselves, or an attempt to sort through confusing circumstances, or even a sub-conscious attempt to gain affirmation.  I know this – relationships deepen when people actually listen to one another.  

I would like to be a better listener than I am. I am prone to rush a conversation, sometimes forming a conclusion before the other person has finished his thoughts.   I wonder how many conversations I have never had, ones that might have enriched my life or helped another to carry their burdens because I pre-judged the other person, deciding not to engage myself. Psychologists tell us that we form an opinion about another within 7 seconds. Those ‘first impressions’ are usually superficial, based on the shape of another’s face, the tone of her voice, his posture, even the clothes they are wearing.  It is a fact that people who enjoy a high ‘likeability factor’ go on to develop a better sense of self-esteem and have an advantage in virtually every part of life.

Christian, Jesus asks us to do better in this. He teaches us to love, and part of that is hitting the pause button on forming those opinions about the worth of another that keep us from engaging, from really hearing others. His words to us are starkly clear – “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1, NIV)  Because we are deeply loved by God, though flawed even sinful, we can love, but do we?

Among the lessons that I have learned in my sojourn on this planet is that life is a process.  Nobody makes a great decision or a poor one without context! Our daily choices come from our information, which is often incomplete. They are shaped by the complex networks of life – including reactions to the decisions of other people, the ability to understand opportunity, and even our emotional state. This does not mean that we cannot form convictions about what is best, what is right, what is true.  We need those boundaries to guide us but if we overlay our experience onto others without grace and compassion, we become judges not brothers.

We all have those moments when it seems so obvious to us what our friend needs to change, how he should act, the choices he needs to make! “Come on,” we think, “what’s wrong with you? Why don’t you just get it together?”   I hear your objection, “So, Jerry, are you suggesting that we just ignore the poor decisions, the sinful choices that our brothers make?” 

Jesus’ appeal is not that we reject all standards or that we develop a kind of rosy vision that cannot see what is true. Wisdom and discernment are critically important parts of life for every Christian.  That being true, our Lord asks us to allow  the Holy Spirit to give us a loving heart that will engage meaningfully even with that person we believe is erring.  Love listens, not just to the words but to the heart. Love looks deeper, to see the context, to find the way behind the what.  Engaging is a choice that is much more costly to you and me than judging will ever be. Judgment, even about the small things of life, gives us permission to step away and to blame the victim. The loving heart that engages people living with sin is like Jesus. That love demands much of us – patience, willing to get involved, enduring pain, and yes; the risk of disappointment. Not everybody responds well. Some dig deeper into the mess they are making. They just keep making poor choices, living sinfully.

Ready to pounce, to take the place of a judge?  Consider this wisdom of the Word.
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:1-5, NIV)  That passage seems to be contradictory in regard to our responsibilities, doesn’t it?   We are told to carry each other’s burdens, but then we read that everyone should carry his own load.  Digging deeper, we see that we must help one another with life’s crushing burdens all the while realizing that we must accept personal responsibility for ourselves.  It is a familiar theme in God’s Word. We are part of His Body, called into close community, as inseparable as eye and ear and foot! Yet, we are seen by our Creator with our individual gifts and opportunities which He desires that we use in the best ways.

Let me return to my main thought today – Love Listens. The word from the Word comes at the end of Jesus’ encounter with men who dragged a woman who had sinned to him. They pressed Him to condemn her. He refused. May this simple sentence become compelling in our hearts and minds today. “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7, NIV)

Lord, help us to live the process, to wait for the results, not to rush to judgment. Amen.
______________

No Longer Slaves

(Knowing that you are a child of God sets you free to love!)

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

You unravel me with a melody
You surround me with a song
Of deliverance from my enemies
Till all my fears are gone

I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God
I’m no longer a slave to fear
I am a child of God

From my Mother’s womb
You have chosen me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again into Your family
Your blood flows through my veins

You split the sea so I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me so I could stand and sing
I am a child of God

Brian Johnson | Joel Case | Jonathan David Helser

© 2014 Bethel Music Publishing

CCLI License # 810055

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