My job involves a lot of talking. Between 5 and 9 every morning, I deliver the news over the radio to hundreds of millions (or perhaps just a few hundred) people anxiously listening, hoping to find out what’s going on out in the world.
Oddly enough, as much talking as I do, I think my job involves even more listening. In addition to talking on the air, I also have to do more than a few interviews to collect audio and get background for the news stories I want to write. Obviously, this involves a lot of preparation. Getting questions together, making the appropriate contacts, and sounding like an authoritative news-type person when I get in touch with a potential interview subject are all important parts of that preparation, but listening might be more important than all of those things.
When I go into an interview, I generally feel like I have a pretty good idea what my subject is going to say, but assuming that I know everything can be dangerous. More often than not, the interviewee will say something that surprises me, and if I spend my time sticking to exactly what I had planned to say, it’s real easy to miss a potentially interesting, unexpected twist to a story.
Case in point: this summer Mitt Romney visited a local business as part of his campaign to earn the Republican nomination for president. After he’d left town, I spoke with the business owner to see how the visit had gone. Of course, he said all the typical things, but he surprised me with one bit. Apparently, the owner had provided some snacks from a local bakery for the presidential wannabe. When he was about to leave, the last thing Romney said to the owner was that he really appreciated the extra gesture, and that he wouldn’t mind having a few more chocolate eclairs the next time he was in town.
Was it politically significant? No, but those kind of details add flavor (a chocolate eclair flavor, apparently) to what would otherwise be a run of the mill political story.
I think the same principle translates to two aspects of Christian life. First, I think our prayer life needs to be as much about listening as talking to God. If we approach our prayers as one way conversations, we may miss something interesting and unexpected that God has for us. I’m convinced that God has a lot more to us to say through prayer than we have to say to him.
Secondly, Jesus’ command to love our neighbors may be most easily expressed by our desire to listen to our neighbors. When you’re going through a difficult time, would you rather have someone tell you what they think or listen to what you think?
It’s a trap I fall into far too often. At prayer request time in Bible study, someone will share a meaningful prayer request, and the only thing I can think of is how I went through a similar thing last year and how interesting it would be to share that experience. Instead, it might be more meaningful to that person if I asked that person what they’ve been struggling with and what kind of help they need. Wouldn’t that be more loving?
Whatever the case, it could be better for many aspects of our Christian life if we spent more time with our mouths closed than open. A little silence during prayer may allow God to reveal more of himself to us, and respectfully listening to a friend or neighbor may show a little more of God to them.