The Space Between, Part One: The Lost Art of Listening

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility . . . His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two . . . and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.” – Ephesians 2:13-16

When we were reconciled to God through the cross, we were also reconciled to each other. Whatever divisions we had before no longer define us. We are “one new man,” one body of Christ. But just because we are already one doesn’t mean we can just phone in our Christian walk. That would be like a couple getting married, walking down the aisle, saying their vows, sealing them with a kiss and then going their separate ways: it just doesn’t make sense! There’s love there, commitment, a responsibility to each other that they have to follow through on in order to experience all the joys of marriage and the growth that comes with serving each other through thick and thin until the end. Likewise, when we heed God’s call to follow Him, we all end up walking together. Whether we realized it or not a commitment to Christ is a commitment to each other. We are a team! This is so fundamental that if you ever find yourself drifting away from regular fellowship with other Christians, you may need to ask yourself if you aren’t also becoming distant in your walk with the Lord. Conversely, if you notice yourself drifting away from close fellowship with God, seek out people who are seeking God and stick close to them. We need to be engaged in Christian friendships that go beyond a handshake and a smile at Sunday service. Those people you see praising God all around you are not strangers, they are brothers and sisters with stories and struggles and we need to walk alongside them through thick and thin through the end.

Paul says in Romans 12:10 that we are to, “be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” One very practical way to honor someone is to listen to them. The essence of good listening is empathy, which can only be achieved by suspending our preoccupation with ourselves and entering into the experience of the other person. “To listen,” says Dr. Michael P. Nichols in his book, The Lost Art of Listening, “is to pay attention, take an interest, care about, take to heart, validate, acknowledge, be moved. . . appreciate.” If no one ever listened to us, we would be trapped in the loneliness of our own souls. In fact, when we don’t have the kind of relationships that we need, we look for other ways to experience “excitement, enthusiasm, responsiveness, gratification—the same kinds of feelings that can be had from a good talk with someone we care about.” If we don’t find the kind of deep connections we need in the church, we may withdraw into isolation, use things like video games or Facebook as a substitute, or connect with people who may ultimately draw us away from God.

It may take one, two or ten times trying out different Bible studies, small groups, classes or the like before you feel like you click with the people there. Or you may end up making a quick connection right there in the pews after service. The important thing to know is that we can’t always be the ones looking for a listening ear. Sometimes we need to lend an ear to others. Ask them questions. Show some concern for what God is teaching them and doing in their lives. Though there are seasons when we need special attention to heal or grow, persistently imbalanced relationships, where one person routinely dumps on the other has less potential for meaningful, long-term fellowship. So if you catch yourself doing most of the talking most of the time, you may need to back down a little and give other people room to share with you.

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