To Serve Well is to Listen Well

Back in 2008, the USA Today newspaper carried an intriguing article. A Harris Interactive survey found that 10 percent of the 2,041 U.S. adults polled were driving a car whose ”Check Engine” light was on. An alarming 50 percent of those whose cars were showing signs of an impending breakdown indicated the light had been on for over 3 months. This light was part of the on-board diagnostic system to alert drivers when their vehicle had a problem. It was there to warn them of a potential danger that could threaten them and perhaps others on the road.

What is interesting is that the survey found drivers had a whole litany of excuses for ignoring the light. Some turned a blind eye toward the indicator because the severity of the problem seemed questionable due to the car ”running fine.” Others pointed to a lack of sufficient funds. Still others simply procrastinated because they were too busy and just didn’t have time to worry about diagnostics and subsequent repairs. Whatever the excuse was, they were choosing not to listen to the warning light. They did not service their car because they did not listen to the car.

Just as vehicles have warning lights that indicate a potential problem in the engine of a car, we too often display a warning light that reveals a potential problem in the engine of our lives, our heart. When we see this “warning light” in those around us, it is often an invitation for us to listen and serve. The first step in serving others well is to listen well and then respond accordingly. Here are a few warning signals of a potential breakdown in a person’s life we may spot while listening to them:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Insomnia
  • Changes in appetite
  • Irritability
  • Worrying
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in your favourite activities
  • Uncontrollable crying

We will notice these indicators when we take the time to listen. Once we have listened, we then know how to serve and care for others. Here are four simple keys to listening well:

  1. Don’t think only about your own affairs. Often we miss the warning lights because we are too busy trying to make a good impression on others. No one modeled caring better than Jesus when He set the precedent for serving others. Paul refers to His example in Philippians chapter 2 where he writes, “Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they are doing. Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form.”

  2. Listen before you give your opinion. As hard as it is, we need to listen before we speak in order to see the needs in others. When we listen first, we know how to offer intentional help. The book of James tells us, “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” If we don’t take time to listen, we later can regret it. Seldom do we regret that we took too much time to listen, but we can regret words that we spoke in haste before hearing the other person out. Proverbs 18:13 puts it this way. “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”

  3. Ask understanding questions. Often people are waiting for someone that cares and who will slow down enough to draw out what is happening in their heart. Proverbs 20:5 reads, “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” The Hebrew word for counsel means to advice or to guide. In order to serve others and help them we need their guidance. For example a mother will lovingly take a child’s hands and ask the child, “Where does it hurt, what does it feel like?” She is asking an understanding question so the child can advise the mother on how she can help. It is not the just the wording of the question that will draw out the response but the inflection of our voice. Someone who is irritated could ask, “What’s wrong with you or are you doing okay?” The message behind the question is not “I am listening”, but rather by the tone of the voice the message coming through is “shape up and quit being so hard to be around”. Here is a sample of understanding questions:

    Is this a good time to talk?

    Is there anything you need from me or something I can do to help you?

    Can you help me understand what it’s like being in your situation?

    I notice you haven’t been going for your walks lately. Is everything OK?

    How are you? You don’t seem like yourself, and I want to know how you’re really feeling because I care about you.

  4. Take responsibility. After we have listened, we need to act and do what we can. In Matthew 27:24 we read how Pilate washed his hands in a basin to say, “I am not responsible”. Earlier Jesus had used a basin to take responsibility and wash His disciples feet. (John 13:4,5) Pilate uses his basin to avoid his rightful responsibility. Jesus used His basin to take on responsibility, which most would say was not His in the first place. Chuck Swindoll writes in his book Improving Your Serve, “The room was filled with proud hearts and dirty feet. The disciples were willing to fight for a throne, but not a towel.” If we call ourselves Christ followers, we need to lay aside our pride, be alert to the needs of others, and do our best to serve them with the resources that we have. It may be saying a prayer for them, providing them a meal or some other kind of assistant or simply arranging for another time for them to talk.

In Mark 9:35 we read, “He (Jesus) sat down, called the twelve disciples over to Him, and said, ‘Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.’” Today, in our busy 2022 world, Jesus is calling us over to Himself and giving us the same message. Let’s be willing to serve as He taught us and this all begins with listening.