The Courage to Listen

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…and they will listen to my voice.” -John 10:14,16

On Tuesday of this week, I had the opportunity to join over 200 other Lutherans in Des Moines for Lutheran Day on the Hill, an annual event sponsored by LSI. At this event, participants learn about state laws and policies impacting the work LSI does in our communities and have the opportunity to speak with legislators on behalf of LSI.

In the opening session, the speaker shared some stories and then prayed for us and our work. In her prayer, she prayed for “the courage to listen.” I had never really thought of listening as courageous work before. Sure I’ve thought of the courage needed when speaking, saying something hard but necessary, but courage to listen? That’s a new one.

Then I started to think of all the times I’ve had to hear something I didn’t much want to hear, whether it was bad news that affected people I love, or that I had hurt someone, or that what I was thinking, saying, or doing was incompatible with what God expected of me. I realized that in those situations, I would have very happily run away from the conversation. It’s much easier to avoid unpleasant truths, at least in the short run. I’ve thought of the feeling of taking a deep breath or preparing myself for a hard conversation.

Was that courage? Is it brave when I open my ears to something I don’t want to hear? Is it strength that lets me listen to someone with whom I disagree? Is it bravery to hear what might hurt me or convict me of sin?

As I ask those questions, the answer seems to be a resounding YES. Of course we know it takes courage to listen because we know we ourselves have been afraid to listen. We have been afraid of what we might hear if we go to the doctor, if we listen to our accusers, if we really pay attention to Jesus. I can certainly identify with being afraid to listen.

But then I also thought of these words of Jesus from John 10. He says a lot of things about his sheep (that’s us, by the way!). Specifically, I thought of Jesus saying that his sheep listen to his voice. It is a defining characteristic of the followers of Jesus that we listen.

Listening is not easy. It’s not always fun. It takes practice. It can be scary. Is it worth it? For me, and I hope for you, the answer is once again a resounding YES. It’s worth listening because someone cares enough to share their story with me. It’s worth listening because it might be Jesus speaking. I sure wouldn’t want to miss what he has to say! Would you?

Dear Jesus, give me the courage to listen. Open my ears to hear you speak through the people around me, through the words of scripture, and through my conscience. Help me be brave. I ask this in your name. Amen.

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