A SERVANT WHO LISTENPrint This Page.
The personal life of a worker of the Lord is intimately related to his work. Therefore, we have to consider matters of character, habit, and conduct when considering the qualifications necessary to be in God's employment. This relates to the constitution of character and the formation of habits. A man must have not only a certain amount of spiritual experience, but a certain constitution in his disposition; the Lord must constitute a certain kind of disposition within him. Many things need to be built up, cultivated, and developed into habits within a worker. These things relate more to our outward man than to our inner man. As these things mold the outward man into a proper shape, we will become suitable for the Lord's use. It takes grace and mercy from God for this to occur; character is not built up in a day. But if the Lord gives a person enough light and if He speaks to him often enough, his natural and undesirable elements will be burned away; they will not be allowed to remain or grow. In His mercy, God will reconstruct a new character in him through resurrection. Let us now speak of a few things that all seasoned servants of the Lord have realized and apprehended. The lack of any of these will result in a breakdown in service.ONEThe first thing we want to speak of is an ability to listen to others. A worker of the Lord must build up the habit in his daily life of listening to others. I do not mean that he should listen to others in the sense of obeying them. I mean that he should listen to others in the sense of being able to hear what they are saying and to understand what he has heard. There is a great need for this trait to be built up in a worker's personal life. No worker of the Lord can do a good job if he can only speak to others but cannot listen to them. A worker is of little use to God if he can only speak to others, if he can only blast incessantly at others like a firecracker. No worker of the Lord can be an incessant talker. If he can only speak to others, but cannot listen to them and realize their problems through conversation, his usefulness is very limited. If a Christian turns to a servant of the Lord for help, the worker should be able to discern three aspects of his brother's words while he is listening: the words that are being uttered, the words that are being held back, and the words that are lying in the depth of the brother's spirit.First, you must fully understand what the person is actually saying. This means that you need to be a quiet person before the Lord. Your mind must be clear and your spirit must be calm. Your inner being should be like a blank piece of paper before the Lord. You should not have any prejudice, preconception, or inclination. You should not make any determination in your mind or pass any judgment on anything. You should remain perfectly calm before the Lord. When the other person opens his mouth and relates a story, you should learn to listen. As you listen quietly, you will know what he or she is talking about.Listening is not an easy matter. When a brother is trying to explain his problem, how much do you understand of what he is saying? Sometimes when many people listen to the same person at the same time, there are as many impressions of that person's problem as there are listeners. You may have one impression, and another may have another impression. Many impressions are formed. It would be disastrous if there were the same diversity of impressions in relation to matters of the truth. Listening to others is a very basic training, and one of the basic qualifications for a worker is to be able to understand what others are saying. Others come to you with a burden on their shoulders; they try to unload their problems to you and expect some help from you. What would happen if you misunderstood their words or if you missed their problem altogether and gave them an answer based on what was in your mind the previous two days? Some have their mind on a certain theme for a couple of days. When a sick brother comes to them, they speak on the matter that they have been meditating on because their mind is full of thoughts on that subject. When a healthy brother comes to them, they bring forth the same thoughts. When another brother in distress or in joy comes along, they tell him the same thing. They cannot sit down quietly to listen to what others have to say. If a worker of the Lord cannot listen to what others have to say, how can he expect to render help to others? When others are speaking, we have to listen carefully. We have to understand what they are talking about. Our work is more difficult than that of a doctor diagnosing his patient. At least he has a laboratory where he can make tests to aid him in his diagnosis of various cases, whereas we have to make our diagnosis without any such aid. Suppose a brother comes and talks to us for half an hour, relating all of his problems to us. We may have no idea how he has been living, what his family background is, or what his condition before the Lord is. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, or half an hour is a long time. If we cannot listen to what he is saying, how can we expect to render him the proper help? Every worker of the Lord has to build up a proper habit; we must have the capacity and the ability to sit down to listen and understand what others are saying. This is very important, and we have to pay much attention to this exercise. We have to learn to understand what others are saying as soon as they open their mouth. We have to be very clear about their condition, and we have to have a clear diagnosis of their case. We must have clear discernment and assurance. Only then will we know whether we are qualified to handle the need. Sometimes we know that the condition of our brother is beyond our ability to help, and we should tell him honestly that we are not the right one to help him. But we should know where he stands and where we stand as soon as he speaks. This is the first thing we have to do; we have to hear and understand what others are saying.Second, we have to hear and understand what others are not saying. We have to discern before the Lord what others have refrained from saying. We have to know what a person has not said, that is, the things he should tell us but which have been kept back. Naturally, it is more difficult to get a clear perception of unspoken words than of spoken ones. After the first kind of words are spoken, we still have to listen to the second kind, the kind that are not spoken. When people come to talk with a worker about their affairs, it is not unusual for them to tell half of a story and to refrain from divulging the other half. This tests the worker's competence. An incompetent worker will not be able to discern what is not spoken. He may even project thoughts which were never in the heart of the speaker. This problem arises in his own mind, not in the mind of the speaker. Some preexisting concepts may be in his mind, and he may project these concepts into others, even though they have never spoken of such a thing, either from their heart or from their mouth. We have to exercise clear discernment before the Lord to know what a person has said and not said. Often a man utters things that are off the subject while omitting things that are crucial to the subject. How is it possible to know whether crucial words are being left out? We will only know if we have passed through sufficient dealings with the Lord. When a brother comes and says something to us, we must not only be clear about what he is saying, but also about what he is not saying. We must know what is roughly being referred to when he keeps something back in his words. Then we will have confidence before God, and we will know how to help, exhort, or rebuke the brother. If we are not sure of anything within ourselves and cannot hear what others are saying, always waiting instead for a chance to speak, we will only be burdened to say what we have to say. We will not know what others are talking about and have no way to render proper help to them. It is a fact that poor listeners are often less useful workers. This is a serious problem among many people; they simply cannot listen to others. They cannot discern what others have kept within themselves because they are too insensitive. It is impossible to expect such ones to "give...food at the proper time" (Matt. 24:45).Third, we must be able to detect what others are saying in their spirit. Beyond hearing the words a person may utter and the words he may deliberately refrain from uttering, we have to hear what we have referred to as the words that his spirit is speaking. When a person opens his mouth and speaks, his spirit also speaks. The fact that he is willing to talk gives us an opportunity to touch his spirit. If his lips are sealed, his spirit is bound, and it is difficult to know what his spirit is speaking. But his spirit will find some measure of release in the opening of his mouth, however much he may try to contain himself. Our ability to discern what his spirit is saying depends on the measure of our exercise in the Lord. If we are exercised, we will be able to discern the words he has uttered, the words he has refrained from uttering, and even the words in his spirit. As he speaks, we will know which words are from his spirit. We will be able to discern the intellectual difficulty as well as the spiritual difficulty he is facing. We also will have the assurance to offer a specific remedy for his case. If we are not that exercised, we may listen to a brother's problems for half an hour without realizing his real ailment and the remedy for it.This is indeed a desperate need of those who are engaged in the Lord's work. It is unfortunate that very few Christians are good listeners. Some can spend a full hour talking to a believer. However, at the end the believer may still be quite hazy about what has been said. Our hearing ability is too poor. If we cannot hear what people are saying, how can we hear what God is saying? When a man sits in front of us, his words should be clear to us. But if we cannot understand what is being said, I seriously question our ability to understand God's speaking within us. If we cannot understand the audible words from man, how can we understand the words that God speaks to us in our spirit?If we are unable to diagnose the ailment, condition, or problem of a brother who is in trouble, what word can we give to him? Brothers and sisters, let us not consider this as a trifling matter. If we do not deal with this matter and learn to listen, we will be unable to help a brother in need even if we become great Bible readers, great Bible teachers, or powerful workers. We must not only be preachers who talk; we also should be those who can solve others' problems. But how can this ever happen if we cannot hear what others are saying? We have to realize the seriousness of this matter. Brothers and sisters, how much time have you spent learning to listen to others? Have you spent enough time to learn this lesson? We have to spend time to learn to listen to others, to hear what they have said, what they have not said, and what is in their spirit. The words out of a man's mouth may not match his spirit. Many people say something with their mouth, but their spirit testifies to something else. Eventually, the mouth cannot cover up the spirit. Sooner or later the spirit will be revealed, and when it is revealed, you will know a person's real condition. Without such discernment, it will be difficult to render proper help to others. A joke is told of an elderly doctor whose entire stock of medicine consisted of two things: castor oil and quinine. No matter what his patients complained of, he invariably prescribed one medicine or the other. He applied these two medicines to every kind of ailment. Many brothers treat their "patients" the same way. They only have one or two pet prescriptions, and however varied the ailment of those who seek them out, they talk according to these one or two special lines. Such workers cannot be of any real help to others. Everyone who bears God's trust and commission possesses one common ability—he knows what others are saying as soon as they open their mouth. Without such an ability, a person cannot deal with others' illnesses.TWOHow can we acquire the ability to listen and understand?First, we must not be subjective. Please remember that subjectivity is one of the main reasons that people are poor listeners. Everyone who is subjective finds it difficult to understand what others are saying. If we have our own subjective concepts and ideas about people, it will be difficult for us to hear what others are saying because our mind is already full. We can be so set in our opinions that others' opinions cannot penetrate our mind. This is the situation with many people who are subjective. They are firmly persuaded of their own ideas, opinions, and views. Nothing can shake their ideas, opinions, and views. They have decided to give their "castor oil" to everyone, no matter how varied the needs may be. Their only panacea is their "castor oil." How can they hear what others are saying? When weak saints come to them, they have no heart to find out their problem. Instead, they are set in their mind as to what they want to say, and they have nothing to say other than their own premeditated admonitions. They are very confident of themselves, yet they are completely ignorant of others' problems. How can these ones work for the Lord? We must ask the Lord to save us from this kind of subjectivity. We should pray to the Lord, "Lord, may I not be prejudiced when I talk with others. May I not force my diagnosis upon others. I should not be the one to determine their illness. Lord, You have to show me their illness." We have to learn to give up our subjectivity, to listen carefully, to hear what others are saying, and to find out their problem.Second, our mind must not wander. Many believers have never learned the proper lessons in their mind. Their thoughts flow on uninterruptedly both day and night. Their thoughts are never in focus. They just let their thoughts roam hither and thither. They accumulate so many things in their mind that there is no room for anything more when others try to convey their thoughts to them. Many people are too active in their mind. They have a capacity only for their own thoughts and no capacity to take up other people's thoughts. As a result, they can never understand how others think. They cannot take up others' thoughts because they have never learned to be quiet in their own mind. In order for us to hear what others are saying, our mind first must be disciplined. If our mind is always turning like a flywheel, nothing will lodge in it. In learning to listen to others, a worker of the Lord has to steady his own mind. Not only must he reject all subjectivity; he must learn to be calm in his mind. We must learn to think as others are thinking and to understand what others are saying. We must also learn to comprehend the hidden meaning behind their words. If we are unable to do this, we will not be of much use to the Lord.Third, we must learn to enter into the feelings of others. A fundamental qualification for understanding others' words is to be able to empathize with their feelings. We cannot understand what others are saying merely by understanding their words; we have to be able to feel what they feel. If someone comes to us in deep distress and trouble and we maintain a breezy manner, being untouched by his grief, we will never be able to help him, no matter how long we listen to his words. If our feeling cannot match his, we will not understand what he is facing. Those who have never been dealt with in their emotions can never feel what others feel. A person with hardened feelings cannot enter into the feelings of others, and he cannot understand what others say. If we have not been dealt with by God, we will not be able to sing "hallelujah" when others express their joy, and we will not be able to share their grief when they express their sorrow. We will be unable to identify with their feelings, and their feelings will never touch us. This is why we have to understand their words.How can we feel what others feel? In order to do this, we must be very objective in regard to our own feelings. We may feel something, but we must be objective in regard to our own feelings before we can have the capacity to feel what he feels. But if we are too busy with our own feelings, we will not be sensitive enough to consider his feelings. We must remember that we are the servants of the saints for Christ's sake. Not only should we give our time and strength to them; we should make our affections available to them as well. This is a crucial matter. Not only should we help them solve their problems; we should accommodate their feelings with our feelings as well. Our feelings should be available to share in others' feelings. This is what the Scripture means when it says that the Lord Jesus, who was tempted in all respects like us, is touched with the feeling of our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15).Brothers and sisters, our emotions have to be dealt with by the Lord so that they can become available. If our emotions are overactive and we are preoccupied with our own feelings, we will never be able to enter into others' feelings. Hence, we must make not only our time available to others but our emotions as well. This means that our love, joy, and sorrow should not be occupied, but rather available, when others are speaking to us. If our whole being is occupied by a certain feeling, there will not be any space within us for others' feelings; we will not have the capacity to meet others' needs. If we do not have any joy or sorrow of our own, but are fully available before the Lord, we will be able to enter into others' feelings. If we are constantly busy with our own feelings, we will be too preoccupied to feel for others when they come to us.God has a very high standard for those who serve Him. A servant of the Lord has no time to feel happy or sorry for himself. If we indulge in our own laughter and tears and in our own likes and dislikes, we will have no room within for the needs of others. We must remember that a servant of the Lord must be empty within. If we cling to our own pleasures and griefs, begrudging the letting go of this and that, we will be too full to take care of others. We will be like a room that is full of furniture; it has no space to accommodate anything further. Many brothers and sisters cannot work for the Lord because they have expended all their love on themselves and have none to spare for others. We need to realize that there is a limit to our soul-strength just as there is a limit to our physical strength. Our emotional energy is not boundless. If we exhaust our soul in one direction, we will have nothing to give in another direction. For this reason, anyone who has an inordinate affection for another person cannot be the Lord's servant. The Lord Himself said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters,...he cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26). This is because when we love these things, our love is exhausted on them. We have to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind, and our whole strength (Mark 12:30). This means that we have to give all our love to God. It is a good thing for us to discover that we are limited in many ways. We must realize that our capacity is limited. Our vessel is limited. If we fill it with other things, we will not have any space for more. We are limited by our capacity. In order to enter into others' feelings, we have to make our own feelings available. Our mind and emotions have to be available before we can identify with others' feelings. If our hands are filled with assignments, we cannot take up any requests from others. If our hearts are weighted down by burdens of our own, others cannot share their burdens with us. Hence, whoever makes himself most available is capable of embracing the most. Those who love themselves or their families too much have little love for the brothers. A man's capacity for love is only so big; he has to drop all other loves before he can love the brothers and understand the meaning of brotherly love. Then he will be able to work for the Lord.The fundamental requirement of everyone who is engaged in the Lord's work is to know the cross. A man who does not know the cross is useless in the Lord's work. If you do not know the cross, you will always be subjective. Your thoughts will wander unceasingly, and you will live constantly in your own feelings. You have to come back to the knowledge of the cross. There is no cheap and easy way. You must receive fundamental dealings from the Lord. Without these dealings, you will be spiritually worthless. May the Lord be merciful to us and deal with us so that we will not remain complacent in our subjectivity. We do not want to have unchecked thoughts, nor do we want to be insensitive in our feelings. A worker has to open up himself to embrace others' problems. If we do this, we will know what others are saying as soon as they come to us. We will know the words that they have not said, as well as the words that are in their spirit.THREEThe first thing a worker of the Lord has to learn is to listen to others. When a brother or a sister is speaking or when an unbeliever is speaking, we have to learn to listen. We have to learn to think the way he thinks, and feel the way he feels. We have to know what he has not said and the condition of his spirit. If we practice this, our listening ability will greatly improve. Gradually, we will understand what others are saying. In the end, others will need to only open their mouth, and we will know immediately what they are saying. We must remember that our inner being must be like a spotless piece of blank paper before others can write on it. We must be in perfect stillness, void of our own thoughts, our own subjective opinions, and our own feelings, before we can listen quietly to others and understand what they are saying. The most important thing related to a worker is not his measure of knowledge but the person of the worker himself. Our person is our very instrument. God is using us to measure others. If our person is wrong, God cannot use us. We are not measuring others with something physical. It would be so much easier if we had something physical with which we could measure others. A thermometer can measure a person's temperature. But in the Lord's work, the only "thermometer" is our person. We have to find out the condition of others ourselves. It matters a great deal, therefore, as to the kind of person we are. If our person is wrong, nothing will work. We are the vessels of God. If a vessel does not function properly, God cannot use it to deal with others. Listening is a very crucial matter. If we can listen to others, know their condition, and get into their thoughts and feelings, we will have a way to help them.Suppose a man comes to you and pours out his grievances. If you have never been dealt with by the Lord, you will surely want to pass on many teachings to him. Typically, this is our habit. When others come to us, we open our mouth immediately and give them some teaching, before even trying to realize their sickness or understand their ailment. Many people are too impatient to let others finish speaking. They cannot wait for others to finish speaking before they come up with their solutions. Others only have to say two or three words before they will offer their teachings and corrections. As a result, others do not receive any genuine help.This does not mean that we should let people talk for three to five hours while we sit in silence and listen. Some people expect others to listen to them for three to five hours. They want us to listen to them. We should stop these ones from their incessant talking. However, generally speaking, we should give others enough time to speak, and we should give ourselves enough time to listen. If one has many years of experience in this matter and is clear within, if he can discern the condition of others as soon as they speak, and if he knows what should be done, he can stop this incessant speaking. Otherwise, he should spend an adequate amount of time to listen to them. I am not saying that he has to spend three to five hours to listen to others, but I am saying that he should allow ample time to understand their condition. We have to realize the complexity of our work; we are dealing with living human beings, and we are tackling living problems. We are here to deal with a person's problem before the Lord. If we are not able to identify others' problems, we will not be able to say much. It is impossible to make judgments before fully understanding what is involved in others' problems. We are dealing with living human beings, so we are dealing with living problems. As we are dealing with a person's problem before God, we should be still and quiet to receive something from the Lord. Unless we can do this, we will encounter problems in rendering help to him. Many people cannot render help to others because they do not know how to listen to them in the first place. We need to ask for grace from the Lord so that we can sit down and listen to others when they speak. We need to listen quietly, intelligently, and attentively until we fully understand. Once we understand what they are saying, the job is done. We must learn to listen, and we must listen until we understand. It is not an easy thing to speak, and it is no less difficult to listen. Many preachers are accustomed to speaking, but they find it difficult to sit down and listen. However, we must learn this lesson well.We need to be enlightened within. We need to spend considerable time learning to listen and to touch others' feelings. If we do not learn this lesson well, we will encounter problems in our service. We have to try our best to listen. When a person is speaking, can we hear what he is saying? Do we understand his words? In order to understand others' words, it is not enough for us to be undisturbed outwardly. The Lord must deal with us in a fundamental way. Our subjectivity, thoughts, and feelings must be dealt with. We can skip many things, but we can never skip the basic dealings, without which no one can serve the Lord in a proper way. Without experiencing the basic dealings, we cannot even read the Bible properly. There are certain qualifications to reading the Bible. One cannot just exercise his mind. It takes more than a smart mind to read the Bible. Basic dealings are indispensable. Without such dealings, a man can outwardly listen to every word that others are saying, but he will be in total darkness within; he will not understand anything. A brother may talk to him for a whole hour, yet he will not know what is being talked about. How can he be expected to render any help? We are God's vessels. We should know when a man is hot or cold, well or sick. We are the measuring stick. But when we are off, we give the wrong diagnosis.There is a prevalent misconception among Christian workers that the most essential thing is to be able to speak. Far from it! The Lord's work has to do with our spirit, not just with our words. We have to identify the spiritual problems plaguing the brothers and sisters, and we have to know how to deal with them. If we are not clear within, we will not understand their inward condition. How can we render them any help at all? How do we know if a sinner is saved when we preach the gospel to him? Do we judge only by the words of his mouth? Are his words the only means of discerning his condition? No, we know his condition through our inner registration. How do we know if a person is of the Lord? Do we judge him merely by a few words, such as, "I believe in Jesus; I am saved"? Do we baptize a person simply because he has memorized a formula? No, we make judgments based on our inner registration. We are the measuring stick. We test an unbeliever according to this measuring stick, and we also test a child of God according to this measuring stick. How do we know whether or not the spiritual condition of a child of God is healthy? If we are walking in the light of the Lord, we will know. Brothers and sisters, we must be dealt with by the Lord to the point that we become His measuring stick. If we are off within, we will easily make a wrong judgment, and once we make a wrong judgment, we will spoil His work. This is the reason that we must walk in the light inwardly; we must have genuine light within us. What a tragedy it is that many brothers and sisters are not only dark within, but they are even incapable of sitting down and listening to others. Brothers and sisters, we have to learn to be calm. We have to learn to hear what others are actually saying. We have to open ourselves and allow the affairs of others to enter into our hearts. We must have a keen inner registration within ourselves before we can discern the real problems of others. Only then can we render them the proper help.