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I recently read the article, Engagement without understanding leads to violence. The main thrust of the article, it seemed to me, was that we need to listen to others who are different from us and step into their shoes, so to speak. By doing this, we will better understand and better sympathize with those who are different from us. I agree 100% with these thoughts.
However, I’m wondering how we balance a verse like James 1:19, which calls us to listen, with a verse like Hebrews 13:9 – “Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.”
I want to listen to those who have different viewpoints but I also don’t want to fall into a trap of stepping so far into their shoes that I accept things to be true that aren’t actually true about God or the world.
I tend to be a pretty critical person, and I don’t want this to stop me from being able to listen to those around me. But I also don’t want to lose my sense of critical thinking for the sake of listening, thus falling into false belief systems, however small that might be.
How can I free myself up to listen and engage with those who are different from me in a way that is loving and understanding without slipping into laziness with my thinking?
In our training, I try to teach the students how to listen at two levels. Level one is listening to what the person says. This is the entering into their story part. Level two is listening to God. This is staying tuned into to the illuminations of the Spirit part.
Entering into someone’s story does not mean shutting down biblical discernment. Engagement is not putting your brain in neutral or opening yourself up to whatever the person says or believes.
Listening to a person’s thoughts and accepting their thoughts as truth does not have to happen if you are filtering their thoughts through the grid of Scripture.
Prayer is like this. God listens to me all the time. However, that does not mean I’m persuading Him to my way of thinking. In fact, that will never happen. Praise God for that.
But he is unchangeable, and who can turn him back? What he desires, that he does. For he will complete what he appoints for me, and many such things are in his mind. – Job 23:13-14
Any of my anti-biblical thoughts do not strike fear in His heart. However, the fact that He would listen to me, enter into my story, and care about me means everything to me.
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. – Hebrews 4:15
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. – Ephesians 5:1
And if you don’t enter into a person’s story, listen to them, and try to understand them, you’ll not be able to adjust, correct, or refute their anti-biblical thoughts, if they have any. That is how bad counseling happens.
The counselor is barely (if at all) listening to the person because he is formulating his thoughts while the counselee is talking. After the counselee finishes talking, the counselor begins shooting his Bible bullets, only to miss the mark because he did not fully enter into and engage the other person.
This also happens in marriage. Couples do not take the time to listen for understanding (1 Peter 3:7), choosing rather to speak first. Understanding a person’s mind is essential if you want to help them renew their inner being (Ephesians 4:23).
Listening to another person is showing biblical empathy for them, a person made in the image of God. And, of course, the goal of listening to another person is to serve them redemptively. No Christian listens without gospel-motivated objectives.
If a person is afraid of getting lost in another person’s story and/or being easily swayed by their story (their arguments), there are a few things to consider: