The Art of Listening

“So take care how you listen…” (Luke 8:18)

I remember when our sons were young, they both overflowed with so much imagination and creativity. They continuously entertained us as make believe super heroes, adorned in elaborate costumes and speaking hilariously in these low but squeaky cartoon like voices. Their friends and acquaintances came to life inside their untainted imaginations as they carried on serious and profound conversations. We even found ourselves listening and joining in. Even today the whole family laughs together as we remember Fuffy the bear and Hanger the monkey soaring overhead, coming to our rescue in their magnificent flying machine. We cherish the memories and are somewhat befuddled at how fast time flies and how quickly young boys grow into men. In the midst of all their antics, I realize now my sons weren’t so much trying to impress us as they just longed for our full attention. It’s true though, the busyness of life robs us of those precious moments. Have you ever had a two year old put their two little hands on your face and turn your head so you will look at them and give them your full attention? What a picture that paints.

A few years back, in Austin, a homeless lady on the street corner caught my attention. I parked the truck and walked across the busy street to greet her. Obviously she had been attractive in her earlier years and was extremely intelligent. She offered up no kind of scam and just seemed grateful to have someone to talk to. I remembered asking her, “How in the world did you end up on the street?” That’s all it took, one simple question, and for the next hour I sat and listened to her story. Again I realized what a fine line it is between having a comfortable, successful life compared to finding yourself helpless, desperate, and barely surviving on the street. I’ve not seen her since but I’m often reminded of that encounter and what she said in the end. Sobbingly, through tear filled eyes, she said, “You are the only person that has ever taken the time to listen to me. I love you. Thank you so much!” I remember holding it together pretty good until I got back in the truck where I proceeded to totally loose it.

The missionary, Jim Elliot is quoted as saying, “Wherever you are, be all there.” I’ve learned that listening is a developed skill. I’m not always successful, but when I remember, I try to give people my full attention, like Jim says, “Be all there.” Probably the most important quality in friendship, ministry, parenting and life in general is listening. Sometimes, in a conversation, I find myself so busy preparing in my mind what I want to say that I’m not really listening to what the other person is saying. Sometimes I just zone out in my own imagination and all I hear is a faint blah, blah, blah. Sad but true. Help me Jesus! Have you ever wondered how this might relate to our relationship with the Lord?

A few years ago I was asked to teach at a home gathering of University students. The house was bursting at the seams and I so wanted to give them something substantial to practice and hold on to. Later Joel (the Pastor) and myself adopted the name Four Fifteen. In the world we eat and the result is we are full and satisfied. In the Kingdom of God, the more you eat spiritually the hungrier we stay. Just as a starting place I encouraged them to practice these disciplines for fifteen minutes each day, (1)PRAY…(2)STUDY THE BIBLE…(3)TALK TO SOMEONE ABOUT JESUS…(4)BE STILL AND LISTEN TO HOLY SPIRIT.

Surprisingly, listening generated the most feedback and the most questions. I do love this new generation of Christ followers! They are completely out of the box with no limits.  

However, on the flip side of this, when we pray, we correctly assume we have Our Father’s full and utmost attention. It’s true, the Lord is absolutely moved by our prayers! He listens, He cares, He responds, He loves, He guides, He protects, He provides! ASK! SEEK! KNOCK! There is no end. Need I say more? So now it’s up to us to provide Him the opportunity to speak. And when He does speak, we purpose ourselves to be all there, giving Him our full and undivided attention. It’s just such a reciprocal relationship, we worship, we pray, on our face we cry out to the Lord. In essence we are taking our little hands and gently turning Our Heavenly Father’s face toward us, saying “Daddy please pay attention to me!” In perfect form, He places His strong hands on our face to turn our face toward Him as He gently whispers and often times shouts, “I love you child!”

“When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face O Lord, I shall seek.”

(Psalms 27:8)

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When Leather Meets the Net

Maple Street, Bellaire, Texas ~1965.
Picture this: an average ten year old boy on a narrow, cracked up driveway. Ball in hand, he furiously drives toward the basket -fully convinced by his own imagination. The clock is ticking down, the shot goes up, the crowd is silent and then, and then the sweetest sound in all of basketball…when leather meets the net. As the crowd explodes, the boy leaps jubilantly up and down the driveway in total elation.  Victory, my friends, is sweet! Living inside the imagination of a ten year old boy, the dreams and the possibilities are endless.

I’ve always loved the game. I coached both of my boys all the way through school. A group of us played in the local gym every Sunday afternoon for years where my oldest son affectionately named the game, “Geezer Ball.”

Recently, I saw a correlation between basketball and the church. In the Christian culture you hear the expression “Five fold ministry” quite often. One of the scriptures this is based on is,

 “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelist, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” -Ephesians 4:11-13

Wow, that’s a mouth full! I see five people equipping and I see five players on the court. Each player has a unique talent as well as a specific role. If one is missing or not fulfilling their role and responsibility then the whole team suffers. My ten year old imagination sees:

The point guard as an evangelist, the best ball handler, bringing the ball down court, accessing the defense and calling the plays.
The shooting guard– the prophet, the most skilled shooter, he often draws a lot of attention from the defense. He struggles to get open but when he does, he is either the hero or the goat.
The center– the apostle, the leader and solid foundation of the team. He stands taller than most and is able to see from a higher perspective. He is in the middle of the court and is involved in every aspect of the game. He is usually beat up a little more by the opposition but his ability to push and rally the team as well as make the clutch plays is the driving force that unifies the team.
The Forward and the strong forward -pastor and teacher, these are the most uncelebrated. They are in the trenches where the fiercest battle takes place. Discretely, they set picks, block out, rebound and sometimes make incredible passes. They are usually the best defensive players, they watch, they cover, they protect. They sacrifice for the good of the team, often without acknowledgement or gratitude. It seems the best ones like it that way.

And the coach, that’s the Holy Spirit! If a player doesn’t know and respond to the coach’s voice, then how is he going to know what to do? A player without a coach is lost and feels alone on the court with no sense of direction. What about the backups? Well they are not really backups, they are future champions. The starters responsibility is to set the bar higher, leading by example and to give the bench players a higher starting place.

Now that the whole team is in place, you have a shot at the championship. Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to have any less than five on the floor? Even if you had the skills of Jordan, one man could never expect to thrive or even survive alone. I admit, I love to watch superstars. They are ridiculously talented and completely entertaining but even the best of the best can’t sustain a winning season without playing as a team. Looking at the team as a whole, every player has to know how to dribble, to pass, to score, to play defense, and so forth but the key is to acknowledge each other’s strengths and to play to those strengths. The next step is to teach and reproduce those same strengths in the ones waiting in the wings. Recognizing and acknowledging their own unique gifts and talents and blending them with those already established makes for a vibrant dynamic and a winning combination.

The goal now is to have everyone involved. There is a disproportionate number of spectators and not enough players. Leaders -empowered by Holy Spirit- now have the responsibility and joy to reveal the hidden treasure in others and to facilitate their place on the wall. Each one is a “Living Stone,” and we must never feel threatened by someone soaring on the wings of an eagle right past us. We must remind our self no one can ever take our place on the wall. It is uniquely and eternally reserved for us alone.

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!”

Recently I posted this thought, “Unless the whole body is active, you end up with a mouth blabbing away while the hand and foot atrophy, not being allowed to participate!” The mark of a secure leader is to create opportunities for those around us to experience and excel at the gift God has made them. The secret to team play, “Esteem others as greater than yourself.”

So I just heard the whistle blow, it’s time for the ten year old boy to run onto the court and dream again. Besides, we’ve got a game to win! And as I pause to pray for you, I see Jesus. He is smiling at you as he laces up your shoes. He believes in you and He is so proud of you. He pats you on the back and says, “Go get um tiger!”