The Training Table: As the Beloved of Christ’s Compassion—Be and Listen Compassionately.

01Welcome to the Training Table where you can depend on some spiritually-nourishing sustenance, carefully prepared, to help you run the Godly and good race! For what good is a good race, unless it’s a Godly race? (2 Timothy 4:7; 1 Corinthians 9:24; Galatians 5:7)

As I came across a couple of favorite quotes [below] from Henri Nouwen this week, I was reminded of the many blessings of being a Stephen Minister. And I was reminded of the massively under-estimated and under-utilized gift of simply being present and listening to other people. Are you a present and listening force in this largely absent and distracted world?

Nouwen’s quote is remarkably poignant and a [very] much-needed principle and practice in ANY day—but especially [especially, especially, especially] in OUR day—as people are more isolated, lonely, anonymous, unheard, and drowned-out by the cacophony of self-centered absent-mindedness unlike any era in history.

God-glorifying, Christ-centered, self-sacrificial, other-loving reflective listening is a cure for the hurting heart!

The Secure Listener…

“To listen is very hard, because it asks of us so much interior stability that we no longer need to prove ourselves by speeches, arguments, statements, or declarations. True listeners no longer have an inner need to make their presence known. They are free to receive, to welcome, to accept, to love.

Listening is much more than allowing another to talk while waiting for a chance to respond. Listening is paying full attention to others and welcoming them into our very beings. The beauty of listening is that, those who are listened to start feeling accepted, start taking their words more seriously, and begin discovering their own true selves. Listening is a form of spiritual hospitality by which you invite strangers to become friends, to get to know their inner selves more fully, and even to dare to be silent with you.” (Henri Nouwen, Listening as Spiritual Hospitality)

Courageous Caring…

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” (Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life)

Are You an Other-Centered Listener? Or an “Autobiographic Listener”?

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
Habit 5: Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood

“Communication is the most important skill in life. You spend years learning how to read and write, and years learning how to speak. But what about listening? What training have you had that enables you to listen so you really, deeply understand another human being? Probably none, right?

If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. [say that sentence to yourself again…] You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating. Do any of the following sound familiar?

“Oh, I know just how you feel. I felt the same way.” “I had that same thing happen to me.” “Let me tell you what I did in a similar situation.”

Because you so often listen autobiographically, you tend to respond in one of four ways:

Evaluating: You judge and then either agree or disagree.
Probing: You ask questions from your own frame of reference.
Advising: You give counsel, advice, and solutions to problems.
Interpreting: You analyze others’ motives and behaviors based on your own experiences.”

(Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, emphasis added)

“Cross-Shaped” Being and Listening…

For those whose namesake is Jesus Christ, we are reborn, new creations so that we look to God first and neighbor second in all we are and do! “And Jesus said to them, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)

As I read a daily missive by Pastor Hayden Norris offered below (Are You Listening?), I was naturally drawn to make a comparison between the text below about LISTENING TO GOD and the call of the Stephen Minister—of ALL of humanity—of LISTENING TO OTHERS.

For the Christian, the crux of the matter… any matter… is always in the shape of the cross: 1) Vertical First: Love God; 2) Horizontal Second: Love Neighbor. When in doubt or when in adoration this is “the order of all life”! Whether in the present day or when nestled in the Everlasting Arms for eternity, loving God and loving neighbor is the key.

Makes sense, right? When the dials on my “Love God Dashboard” are reading “all systems are a go”, then the dials on my “Love Neighbor Dashboard” will reflect my first love, and be “all systems are a go” as well! (Or as good as “go” can be in a redeemed, still-fallen, yet to be glorified world…)

And yes, you know where it’s going next: When the dials on my “Love God Dashboard” are reading “WARNING, WARNING WILL ROGERS! ALL LOVE FOCUSED ON EGO AND IDOLS! PULL UP, PULL UP!”

Then the dials on my “Love Neighbor Dashboard” will reflect my sin, selfishness, idolatries, and many enmities against God and neighbor, and read, “WARNING! YOU’RE DEAF, YOU JUDGE, CONDEMN, IGNORE, USE, AND ABUSE YOUR NEIGHBOR!”” as well.

The numero uno, top priority, “Summum Bonum” (Latin, “highest good”), most excellent, and purest desire of the cross-shaped life is to encourage all involved to keep this priority straight—it serves to, 1) co-sanctify, grow-up, make holy the awesome community of Saints, while 2) blessing any and all whom we might minister to as Christ-lovers, Christ-followers, and Christ-servers: Jesus being the first word; and all else being “secondary”… Blessed by the One Who is Primary, the Alpha and the Omega!

Please consider the message below—along with the added content [JD] offered to encourage “horizontal listening” commensurate with “vertical listening”.

Message: “Are You Listening?”

As Jehudi read three or four columns of the scroll, the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them into the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire that was in the pot. Yet neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments. Even when Elnathan and Delaiah and Gemariah urged the king not to burn the scroll, he would not listen to them” (Jeremiah 36:23-25).

“Have you ever been talking to someone and come to the realization that they are not listening to you? What do you do? Do you pause, get louder, or clap your hands? We usually try to do something to regain their attention. You want them to hear what you are saying, especially if it’s really important.

That is exactly what God is doing here in Jeremiah. You have to go back to Jeremiah 25 and the first part of chapter 26 to see what is happening. In a nutshell, Jeremiah has enlisted the services of Baruch the scribe to write down the words that he says and to go and speak these words to the powers in charge. These are not any old words though; these are words from Almighty God. These are words that demand attention.

What was their response? When you read Jeremiah 36:10-18 it looks pretty good. The men tremble when they hear the words and they even give Baruch and Jeremiah a bit of helpful advice, telling them to hide because the king isn’t going to like it (Jeremiah 36:19). Then the men bring the scroll to the king. And what does he do? He totally disregards it. Not only does he disregard it, he destroys it. He is unchanged by what he hears!

The brashness of the king is shocking! God speaks and the king says I’m not listening. But the sad fact is we do this all the time. God speaks, not in an audible voice, but through his Word. And we don’t always listen.

Want to hear better? Here are some ways to listen while you read God’s word so that you will be present and listen to other people as well:

Read for quality not quantity. More is not always better. Slow down and read carefully.
[JD] Pray before you listen to God and others so that the Holy Spirit will help you be discerning about quality over quantity. When well-listened to, when we “listen between the lines”, everyone’s story reveals said and unsaid threads of their life tapestry. Listen so well that the one listened to feels like they are the only person on the planet: For in God’s intimate love for them, that’s exactly who they are!

Write down what you are learning. Journal what God is teaching you.
[JD] Consider a similar habit of being intentional (yet “anonymous”—RE: confidentiality) about journaling the key things you hear about in the ones you’re caring for in your life. This habit will not only impart the level of care you have for him or her (“Wow, you remembered that about me?!”), but will provide a record of what to pray for in your quiet time AND how God blesses in ways that will align with the things you have written, prayed for, and stewarded so well!

Pray. Pray that the Lord will enlighten you as to the meaning of the passage. And pray that you take His instructions to heart.
[JD] Pray. Pray in the way that best prepares your heart for any specific requests for those under your care: Begin with God, and then move to neighbor in: a) adoration, b) confession, c) thanksgiving, AND THEN, d) supplications (requests of God for His intervention). Selfishly, I usually begin with requests and leave the rest out…

Expect God to teach you. Every time you read the Word of God, expect that it will impact your mind and lead to a change in your life.
[JD] Expect those in your life, and under your care, to teach you. Every time you encounter another human being—but especially those whom we have a relationship with in The Family of God (all Believers)—we need to expect to learn, and intentionally seek to learn, something about God, ourselves, and others. Every encounter with another Image Bearer of God is ordained to do what? Make us more like Jesus Who could discern much about those He was present and listening to.

Claim the promises of Scripture. Listen to the warnings against living in sin. Marvel at the wonder of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Do not harden your hearts to what God is saying to you through His Word. Listen carefully; the Master is speaking!” (Hayden Norris, Senior Pastor, Harvest Church, Gainsville, Florida, emphasis added)

[JD] So that we can be present, listen, and speak when BEST: Like Jesus did!

Please take this content to heart. Please deeply consider how your being present and being a loving listener can change the world “Today…” (Psalm 95:7-8). Because that’s what we’re here for… and exactly what it does!

If you’re like most folks on the planet today and wondering, “Geez Louise! This world is going to hell in a hand-basket. But what can little ‘ol me do?!”

You’re wondering is over…


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