Listening

Preaching is the art of talking in some one else’s sleep

We start sharp at 9.30 and end dull at 11.30

In 1974, at the North Presbyterian Church in Minnesota, USA, one member of the congregation was Art Fry. Art Fry used to work as a scientist with 3M company. He was having difficulty in focusing on the sermons being preached. So he started to day dream. He was frustrated because he could not mark the Hymn books without messing them up. He devoted considerable thought to that and used the sermon time to figure out a solution. The Post-it notes was a result of that contemplation during the Sermon time. No one is sure, if Art told his pastor about what he really was doing during the sermons, but a lot of people sure are glad that he used his time wisely during the sermons. So if I see some body dozing off during today’s sermon, I will just assume that he or she is thinking of some great invention which will benefit mankind.

Those of you who have visited our home would have seen Leslie’s terrace garden. Among other plants, we have some fruit trees there. And we have some squirrels that frequent our garden due to the fruit trees. It is fascinating to watch the conversation that goes on between Leslie and the squirrels. Leslie wants to protect her fruits, while the squirrels want their food. Leslie covers up the plants with nets to protect them, but the squirrels find a way of reaching the fruits nevertheless. I admire the squirrels for one thing. You see God has created them with their special body parts of their teeth and their paws and they use these very effectively to gain what they need to sustain their lives.

Today I am going to speak about some body parts that God has given us, and challenge us to evaluate how effectively we use them in our lives.

Let us begin with a small exercise. I will read out a statement. Please listen to the statement carefully, and then I will ask a question regarding the statement. You need to answer the question.

Here is the statement: “ You are a bus driver. You drive 3Km to the south, and then 4 Kms to the east. You pick up 9 passengers. Then you drive 2 Km to the north and then 7 Kms to the west. Then you drop off 5 passengers.”

I will repeat the statement once again.

Now the question: “What is the age of the driver?”

How many of you have got the answer? How many of you think it is not possible to calculate?

Let us ask some one who got the answer. What is the secret here? How did we miss one word which is repeated five times in the statement?

Do you see how listening could be difficult? How many of you are married here. How many of the wives think that their husbands listen well?

My messages in this congregation have been about Servant Leadership, and Listening is a key Servant Leadership attribute, and I would like to explore together why

In my very last message here, I spoke about the fact that Servant Leadership is about others. Encouraging and helping others grow healthier, wiser, richer, more famous etc than ourselves. If we have to really help some one else, we should be able to understand that person’s needs and requirements. This cannot happen unless we are able to listen. We have also seen how Servant Leadership differs from the traditional Power and Authority model of leadership. In the Power and Authority model of leadership, the leader speaks and the “subordinates” listen, and obey. Not so with Servant Leadership. Servant Leadership is about knowing and meeting the legitimate needs of others. Last week, I attended (along with Ashish) a meeting of leaders who were concerned about corruption in Churches and Christian organisations. In the outcome of our deliberations, one thing was very clear, that the root cause of this could be that many leaders of today do not understand or practice Servant Leadership. When leaders begin to consider them selves as VIPs, and start to alienate themselves from the “others” problems begin. Even leaders who confess to being “accountable”, end up with “one way accountability”. They would like the congregation to be accountable to them, and them being accountable only to their superior in the organisation or to God himself. In my family, when some one invites me for some function, they generally say, being Leslie along, and I tell them Leslie takes orders directly from God and so I cannot promise that she will come along with me. Well, coming back to the leaders who consider themselves accountable to God only and not to human beings in the congregation, the problem is that those leaders become so detached and removed from knowing the needs of the congregation or their employees that they reach a point where they don’t care. This leads to all sorts of actions aimed at consolidating their positions, amassing wealth and other vices that we all know about. The sad thing is that this is as rampant in Churches and Christian organisations. The solution to this is a “two way accountability” that servant leadership promotes. The leaders need to be accountable to the people they are called to “serve”. This can become successful only when leaders are able to “listen” to their flock. If we are to become successful leaders, successful servant leaders, we need to be able to listen. When we do not listen, we convey very negative messages like I don’t care about you, I don’t understand you, You are wrong, you are stupid, you are wasting my time, etc., Traditionally, leaders have been valued for their communication and decision making skills. Servant-leaders must reinforce these important skills by making a deep commitment to listening intently to others. Servant-leaders seek to identify and clarify the will of a group. They seek to listen receptively, and respectfully to what is being and said (and not said). Listening also encompasses getting in touch with one’s inner voice, and seeking to understand what one’s body, spirit, and mind are communicating. It is estimated that 80% of our success in learning from other people is based upon how well we listen.

Let us see what happens when we listen. There is a great example of Listening to God in the book of Habakkuk. The prophet questions God as to why God is not doing anything about the wickedness in the society. Then, after questioning, he waits and listens. After the short question and answer that happens in Chapter 1, He says at the beginning of Chapter 2 : Habakkuk2:1 (Message bible says) “What’s God going to say to my questions? I’m braced for the worst. I’ll climb to the lookout tower and scan the horizon. I’ll wait to see what God says, how he’ll answer my complaint”. And that is exactly what he does, he waits and listens patiently to God’s speech. This listening leads him to the understanding that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into some thing Good. Habakkuk closes his book with this profound statement found in Habakkuk3:17-19 “Though the fig tree does not bud, and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.” See what happens when we listen? We are able to see the unending provisions of God, and we are able to stand in faith.

Let us see what happens when Leaders do not listen to their people. The story of Rehoboam is told in 1Kings12 and 2Chronicles10. When the people of Israel come and tell Rehoboam that the taxes are too much and he should reduce the burden on them, he does not listen to them and on the contrary, decides to increase the burden on the people. This divides the Kingdom forever. 1Kings12:16, 2Chronicles10:16 “When all Israel saw that the king refused to listen to them, they answered the king: “What share do we have in David, what part in Jesse’s son? To your tents, O Israel! Look after your own house, O David!” So the Israelites went home.”

On the contrary, we see that Jesus took time to listen to people before he ministered to them, and told them about the Kingdom. Even when he was as young as 12 years old, when the parents find him missing and then finds him in the temple, they find him listening to the teachers and asking them questions (Luke2:46) . James advises us to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James1:19) The book of Proverbs is all about the linkage between Wisdom and listening. (Proverbs 12:15, 18:13; 18:2, 12:18, 19:2, 4:1-4, 4:10-13, 4:20-22.). Our Lord repeats this instruction multiple times during his teachings “He who has an ear, let him hear” (Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22, 13:9; , Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; , Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35). He must have meant husbands, and that must be the reason why the Lord used the masculine gender here. The Lord knows that this was a difficult act for people to perform.

Let me close by reminding about what Jesus said while explaining the parable of the sower, or the parable of the Four Soils. (Luke8:9-15, Matthew13:10-23, Mark4:10-25). Jesus highlights t us that the only place where the word of God will bear fruit is in the heart of a person who listens, retains and preserves the Word.

Let us ask this morning, what kind of listener are we? In a world which is crazy after power and position, In a world which suffers due to the selfish and evil ways of the leaders, Jesus is asking us to follow a different path. And Jesus is telling us “Those who have ears, let them hear”. In the beginning of this message I told you about the squirrels who use the body parts given to them by God to sustain themselves. Are we willing to use the ears and the mind that God has given to us, and listen to Him this morning? Let us listen to His call. Matthew20:25-18 “”You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” 

Let us Pray

Benediction: Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen

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