“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.
Christians talk a lot. Sometimes for good. Sometimes not. If you turn on the radio you might hear Christians preaching. You might be flipping through channels and find a doomsday “prophet”. There are plenty of Christians arguing on social media too. We Christians have a lot to say. Perhaps it would be better to listen at times. Don’t get me wrong, too often Christians don’t speak up about issues facing our nation and world today. Too often we don’t verbally share our faith in appropriate ways. It’s important to share our faith stories with others, but it’s amazing what you hear when you simply listen as well.
The last several weeks have been filled with a lot of listening for me. As I have met with many leaders in my new church and city, I have taken the time to listen, ask questions, and listen some more. I heard a lot of excitement and passion for specific ministries in these conversations. At times I could hear weariness from years of service. Other times I heard a desire to serve God and the church. It’s amazing what you hear when your quick to listen and slow to speak.
There is one particular conversation that has continued to be on my mind. I met with a man in our community who shared with me his very real experience of racism in our community. There are times when he is worried about simply driving around his own city because of the color of his skin. He is fearful for his children and the lives of his children’s friends. I simply listened. He openly shared his fears and his concerns all because I was willing to listen.
Too often these sorts of challenging conversations can cause us to become angry because of what we don’t understand or when we realize that we’re all to blame for the injustices in our own communities, nations, and world. I see this within many conversations in the church in general. We’re afraid to talk about the major challenges our nation and world face today. We can talk about racism, immigration, refugees, sexuality, marriage, or any issue the church is facing today, because we are people who live up to the standard that James set: Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.
We need to listen to each other’s stories, our fears, our hopes, and our dreams. How often have we taken the time to hear the experience of our African American brothers and sisters who live with institutional racism every day? How often do we personally hear the fear of immigrant families being broken apart? Do we hear the cries of the poor while Proverbs 21:13 reminds us “Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need”?
Following the conversation with the man in our community, he thanked me for listening to him and said, “You listen well.” I took that as a high complement. When I took the time to listen and hear the authentic fear of this stranger, he ended up leaving that conversation a brother.
It’s amazing what happens when we take the time to listen. We might just find that the person across the street experiences the same fear that we all carry. We might realize that some in our own community are hurting. As we listen, we might realize that the person on the other side of town, across the street, or even in another pew is really a brother or sister, not a stranger after all. It all begins with listening.