A few years ago, I read David Mathis' new book, Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines. I wholeheartedly recommend it to you. Within his section on Christian fellowship, he has a word to us on the much underrated ministry of listening. Borrowing extensively from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Life Together, Mathis has these important reminders for us as we head into the holidays:
1. Good listening requires patience
How often do you find yourself thinking about your next comment while the other person is still talking? James' words need frequent repetition: "...be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry" (James 1:19). Talking too quickly may cause your comments to be insensitive and simplistic. Drawing out the other person and allowing them to put expression to what they're thinking, puts you in a better position to say something helpful because you more thoroughly understand what life is like for that person.
2. Good listening is an act of love
Bonhoeffer notes that one way we express love to God is by listening attentively to his Word. Ditto with human beings. Listening demonstrates our interest in another's interests (Philippians 2:3-4). Being slow to listen and quick to speak is the antithesis of love.
3. Good listening asks perceptive questions
Asking perceptive questions isn't about being smart. It's about being a good listener. I would say 90% of perceptive question asking comes from attentive listening.
4. Good listening is ministry
Again Bonhoeffer makes a good point: many times "...listening can be a greater service than speaking." This, of course, is the proverbial problem men have as portrayed in this hilarious video. While there's some truth to this, seeing listening as a greater service than speaking isn't just a male problem. It's a human problem.
5. Good listening prepares us to speak well
Proverbs 18:13 says this, "To answer before listening, that is folly and shame." Abraham Lincoln is credited with this witty quip: "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I'll spend the first four sharpening the axe." Good listening contributes to good speaking.
6. Good listening reflects our relationship with God
If you're quick to speak and slow to listen with other people, what are you like with God? Both Mathis and Bonhoeffer make the case that how well we listen to other people mirrors how well we listen to God. The one who is quick to listen to people will likely be quick to listen to God.
This is a fun time of year when it comes to books. I follow around a dozen "top books" lists that shape my reading for the year to come. Perhaps this will do the same for you. Additionally, Christmas is coming.
1) Contentment: Seeing God’s Goodness - Megan Hill
It’s not the fact that this book is just 87 pages in length with each “chapter” containing just 2-3 pages. It’s the fact that Megan packed rich biblical reflection into each sentence. My book is marked up like none other I own. She’s deep, but inordinately readable and applicational. So many quotes could be inserted here, but I’ll mention just one: “Most of us would tell our neighbors that God is good. But our dissatisfied grumblings are a jarring contradiction of what we say we believe.” Zing!
2) Living Life Backward: How Ecclesiastes Teaches Us to Live in Light of the End - David Gibson
It’s a commentary on one of the most practical books of the Bible: Ecclesiastes. Simultaneously, it’s so much more than that. Gibson clearly has his finger on the pulse of life in the 21st century because his ability take the passages of philosophical thought and wrap them around modern-day life is wonderfully perceptive. If you want to grow in wisdom, grab your Bible, pick up Gibson’s book, and begin ruminating. You won’t be disappointed.
3) Remember Death: The Surprising Path to Living Hope - Matthew McCullough
I had a colleague in seminary from Sierra Leone, West Africa. He was in his 30’s at the time. After completing seminary, he went back to Sierra Leone to serve as a minister of the gospel. In one of our conversations, he mentioned in passing that his stint in ministry would likely be 10-15 years. I asked “why”? "Because those are the life expectancy rates,” was his reply. That was 17 years ago. In the United States, we don’t want to hear about death, talk about death, or think about death. But that posture towards it only makes us foolish (Ps. 90:12; cf. 39:4). We have never been more insulated from death than we are today and we’re worse off because of it.
4) God Made Me AND You: Celebrating God’s Design for Ethnic Diversity - Shai Linne
I had the privilege of sitting under Shai’s teaching at a conference I attended this year. My prayer is to bring him to Alliance Bible Church in the near future to teach on the important topic of “ethnic pride.” Shai’s book is a children’s book which is where the seeds of a biblical theology of ethnicity need to be sown. He’s a gifted writer and poet! Get this book, read it with your kids, and do what he tells parents to do - talk about it with them!
5) Sing! How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church - Keith & Kristyn Getty
Did you know God created you to sing? Did you our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ sang? (Matthew 26:30). The Getty’s put words to thoughts I’ve had for years as a worship leader in the church. They do a marvelous job of spurring the church on to sing with gratitude in our hearts without making us feel guilty over our lackadaisical approach that may have hampered us in the past. This is the best book to encourage Christians to sing!
6) The Art of Rest: Faith to Hit Pause in a World that Never Stops- Adam Mabry
Why can’t we ever stop? Mabry points to two reasons at the outset of the book. First, we don’t want to believe we need rest. Second, we wish to outdo the other doers. But God has wired us to require rest. I am learning to preach to myself two major truths Mabry points to that encourage rest. First, God is ruler of the world. I can rest because he’s going to do a much better job of ruling the world than I will. Second, I can rest because Jesus is the true rescuer of people, not me. If you need rest, read this book!
7) No is a Beautiful Word: Hope and Help for the Overcommitted and [Occasionally] Exhausted - Kevin G. Harney
OK, this book will incite courage in you to say “no” more often. Harney is a brilliant, pithy, and sometimes hilarious writer. Let me give you three quotes to get the juices flowing.
“The only way to get good at saying ’no’ is to practice, so get started.”
“Every ‘yes’ is a ’no’ and every ’no’ is a ‘yes.”
“The power of ’no’ is about learning to say ’no’ with strategic focus so you can say ‘yes’ to the things that are the most important and that hold the greatest value.”
8) The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure - Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt
The authors identify the “trigger” for this book was the seemingly contagious uproar on college campuses over this or that visiting speaker and the censorship card that was played so quickly in response to the impending visit from those guests. This isn’t a Christian book, neither do the authors profess faith in the book, but there’s wisdom here. Their concern is over a generation that is ill-equipped to handle the “real world” because they’ve been, you guessed it, coddled. (Think “helicopter parents”). For me, this book complements the many studies on the number one religion in America today: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Within this philosophy is the belief that suffering is bad and ought to be avoided at all costs. Therefore, we tend not to be able to handle opposing opinions with charity. Rather, we go on seek and destroy missions with those with whom we disagree. The authors of this book would say that particular mind has been captured by three “Great Untruths”: 1) The Untruth of Fragility: What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker. 2) The Untruth of Emotional Reasoning: Always trust your feelings. 3) The Untruth of Us vs. Them: Life is a battle between good people and evil people (there are no nuances). It’s a deep read, but well worth the effort.
9) Untangling Emotions: God’s Gift of Emotions - J. Alasdair Groves & Winston Smith
Emotions play a HUGE role in life and more specifically, they are major players on the scene of the Christian life. But in many corners of society and even the church, emotions have been secularized. God has been removed from them and he’s no longer permitted to speak into them. This study could be renamed “Emotions According to the Bible.” How much does the Bible say about them? Well, at 240 pages, these authors have discovered the Bible says plenty about them. Most significantly, emotions are pointers. They point to what we love. And identifying what we love and why is a mandatory step in making progress in our sanctification.
10) Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction - John Fea
“An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous universe suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea.”
If the objections articulated in this statement are true, Christianity is undone. No forgiveness of sins. No eternal life. Most people may be surprised to learn John Adams is the author of them. As one of America’s “Founding Fathers” and the 2nd President of the United States, Adams asserted numerous objections to biblical Christianity. After denying the deity of Christ in the above statement, he went on saying the notion of “a mere creature, or finite Being,” making “Satisfaction to infinite justice for the sins of the world” was a “convenient Cover for absurdity.” Not exactly a reverent statement on the cross-work of Christ.
In commenting on God’s Word through the apostle John in the book of Revelation, Thomas Jefferson concluded this book contains, "the ravings of a Maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.” He concluded that “there is not coherence enough in them to countenance any suite of rational ideas.” I don’t get the sense Jefferson believed God was speaking through John.
And, of course, many are familiar with the “Jeffersonian Bible” with the ethical teachings retained, but anything smacking of the supernatural or miraculous left on the cutting room floor including the resurrection of Jesus.
The strength of Fea’s book is his interaction with the primary sources. After scouring those, a bold conclusion stares you in the face: the likes of John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin were not Christians. Neither did they found a Christian nation. In fact, the following makes that point hard to argue…
"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” - Article 11, Treaty of Tripoli
The principal signer of this striking document was President John Adams and was unanimously ratified by the Senate.
“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” – Psalm 24:1
I realize what all the advertisements say. They say, “Spend this on yourself because you owe it to yourself; you’ve earned it.” Have you ever noticed this about marketing? “You’ve earned it; you owe it to yourself to spend this on yourself.”
What God says is, “You’ve earned it with what? Look at all you have. You’ve earned it with what? You’ve earned it breathing the air I created and gave you free. You’ve earned it with the mind that I created and gave you free. You’ve earned it with the connections I gave you free. All these things are from me. The fact that you were born at this time in this country instead of 1200 years ago in the mountains of Tibet is from me. Everything you’ve got is a result of my goodness to you. Every single bit of it. I ask you now to share it.”
The mark of a true Christian is they have a completely different attitude towards money and possessions because they know it’s all completely from God.