“Christians just preach at you.”
“They shove the Bible down your throat.”
“I got the 'Jesus lecture.'”
“They tell me what to believe, but they don’t even know me.”
In general, Christians have a reputation for speaking too quickly and listening too slowly. In an earnest attempt to share "the answer," we speak before we've heard the question. Any student of public speaking is taught, "you have to know your audience." Maybe we haven't listened long enough to know who we're speaking with. God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we would do twice as much listening as speaking. So how good of a listener are you?
A necessary skill for Christians in the 21st century is the art of listening. Jesus gave us the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, mind and strength. And love your neighbor as yourself.” To love your neighbor means that you have to know your neighbor. To “love your neighbor as yourself” means that you have to know your neighbor at least as well as you know yourself. Which is to say that the Great Commandment requires you to be present and to listen.
"Loving our neighbor" means demands that we listen to our neighbor. We are curious and inquisitive about people. We ask “Who are you?” and then shut up long enough to hear the answer. To get to the question of "Who are you?" here are some questions I commonly use to get to know people.
- What was it like growing up? You can discover a lot about a person from their upbringing.
- What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done? This is a non-threatening question that gives you clues into someone's struggles, challenges, and triumphs.
- Tell me the story behind your tattoo. Every tattoo has a story. No one inks their body with something that has no meaning . . . usually.
- Tell me about your family. Our families and places of origin shape us - for better and worse. You'll know a lot about a person based on their family background.
- That’s interesting. Why do you think that? This question prevents me from being defensive or combative. We often encounter people we don't agree with. People may say things that offend us, or things we don't believe. This statement acknowledges their statement without agreeing with it. And then it seeks to understand what's behind their position. Example:
Person: "I believe my cat is a divine being and I worship my cat in a ritualistic ceremony involving cotton balls, duct tape, and a princess tiara."
Me: "That's interesting. Why do you think that?" ("I still think you're crazy.")
It is increasingly vital that Christians hone the skill of listening. The Great Commandment demands that we know our neighbors. After all, God knows who you are. He even knows your polluted past and the parts you’re embarrassed for anyone to see. The amazing thing is that he knows who you are and he still stays with you. Now will you do the same for someone else?