Are you a good listener?
Scripture: "My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.But I desire to speak to the Almighty
and to argue my case with God. You, however, smear me with lies;
you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent!
For you, that would be wisdom. Hear now my argument;
listen to the pleas of my lips. Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf?
Will you speak deceitfully for him? Will you show him partiality?
Will you argue the case for God? Would it turn out well if he examined you?
Could you deceive him as you might deceive a mortal? He would surely call you to account
if you secretly showed partiality. Would not his splendor terrify you?
Would not the dread of him fall on you? Your maxims are proverbs of ashes;
your defenses are defenses of clay." Job 13:1-12
The book of Job is one of the books of the Bible that intimidates me the most. It's one of the oldest books of the Bible, and that distance feels massive as I try to understand it. It also deals with the question of human suffering––one of the most complex theological topics to wrestle with.
Intimidated and a little nervous, I decided I needed to stop avoiding this book and get into it. I was surprised and grateful to find the Holy Spirit gently guiding me through something I thought would be really difficult.
The context for this book is pretty interesting, as we get an inside look at Job's conversation about his suffering with his "friends."
I put friends in air quotes because their response isn't often the kind of response we'd hope for from a friend, and I can see myself both in Job and in his friends.
The passage where I really recognize Job's frustration comes in the thirteenth chapter. Here, he is suffering and his friends are telling him all sorts of things about what they think he should do and why.
Job doesn't want human wisdom though, he wants to hear from God himself.
I've been like Job's friends before––quick to offer advice and give my opinion. Especially when you have been through a similar circumstance it's easy to read into someone else's situation and assume we understand and we know best. But we probably don't.
Actually, I think God alone knows what's best for us and for our communities, and if we aren't relying on Him for wisdom, our wisdom is empty––just like what Job was calling out his friends for.
In a book I read on how to have effective pastoral conversations it talked about how there are different levels of listening. These levels of listening were coined by Steven Covey and they are; ignoring, pretending, selective listening, attentive listening and empathic listening.
As you might assume, we're going for empathic listening. It's not just listening attentively where you might be listening while coming up with a plan on how to respond. But it's listening with the intention to understand. In this type of listening, you aren't trying to think of what you're going to say next. Instead,
you're listening trying to empathize and understand the experience of another.
As I read this, I thought two things.
God is the best empathic listener.
I want to become an empathic listener.
When I read Job's frustration with his friends, I know that feeling and I've had that experience. I've shared my thoughts and feelings with a friend only to receive a solution I wasn't looking for or didn't want. I don't want empty wisdom from people. I want God's thoughts, and when someone is prayerfully offering their thoughts I'm all ears. But often, I think we jump into responding to others based on our own thoughts, emotions, and experiences, thinking that we know and understand the situation without fully listening.
I think Jesus modeled a much better way.
First, He came and walked the earth with people embracing human limitations so he could truly empathize with the human condition. Now, seated at the right hand of the Father He's our intercessor.
The best intercessors are empathic listeners.
Maybe you too have been Job, needing someone to truly hear what you are saying. Or maybe, you're realizing you've also been Job's friends––offering off the cuff advice and wisdom based on your own thoughts and feelings.
If you're like Job dealing with a circumstance of suffering, know that God is an empathic listener. Not only is He ready to hear you out in prayer, but He is understanding. He is with you in your experience.
We get to be that person to other people in our lives, and maybe that's the best way to show a world in need who Jesus is. As He turns His ear to us to listen to our prayers, to be with us in our pain, and to intercede for us, we get to do the same thing for others around us.
To turn our ears to them, to not offer our own ideas but to listen without the intent to just respond, but to really thoughtfully seek to understand.
-When was the last time someone shared their suffering with you? How did you respond?
-When was the last time you shared your suffering with someone else? How did their response make you feel?
-Consider how God both understands and listens. How would empathic listening change your conversations with others? How could it change your prayer life?
Think of someone who is in a season of suffering or experiencing a difficult experience. Practice empathic listening with that person. If no one comes to mind, ask God to provide you with an opportunity to listen to another person's experience this week.
Lord thank you for demonstrating for us how to listen and understand. Help us to be attentive as we seek to hear your voice this week and understand your ways. We ask for an outpouring of your thoughts and wisdom in our lives. Empower us to be empathic listeners who can understand and hear the stories and experiences of others. Amen.