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The Ministry of Listening


We live in an age where everyone is talking but nobody is listening. We are always connected to others through our social media, but as more and more research is finding, we are feeling more alone and isolated than ever. In such a time, one very practical way that we can love to someone else is simply by listening to them. Again, Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives some excellent advice to Christians in his book Life Together, calling all Christians to engage in “the ministry of listening.”  “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.”

Bonhoeffer observes that many Christians think they must always speak in order to contribute something to someone else, and we easily forget that that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Truly caring for someone else involves more than speaking to them, we must listen as well. He writes:

“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.” 

In one of his most challenging observations, Bonhoeffer calls out our tendency to only half listen to someone else while we spend our time thinking about what we want to say.  “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. This is not fulfillment of our obligation, and our attitude toward our brother only reflects our relationship to God.” 

Whom is God sending into our lives this week that we can show the Love of God to simply by giving our full attention and a listening ear? Our child? Our spouse? Our neighbor? Our co-worker? If we are prepared to truly listen to others, we may be surprised at what we will hear, and the opportunities that will come our way.  As Bonhoeffer says, “We must listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.” 

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