13 He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him. (Pro 18:13)
I have had fellowship with many pastors. I also am a pastor. I have had lunch with pastors, talked with pastors, and have even at times tried to reason with pastors as pastors have also tried to reason with me.
There is one particular sin that I see in myself and continually fight against. I think it is probably endemic among pastors, to our shame.
We don’t listen.
We think we do. We nod and go Mmmhmmm a lot. But if the story goes on to long, we want to finish it. If the problem is clear in the first three words, we want to give the answer and get on with things. This is also my great shame, for which I continuously repent.
We thought we were validated by the early nouthetic counselors: The problem is sin; the solution is repentance. There. Don’t waste any more of my time. I already told you what to do.
But we never listened. It took me years of repentance to begin to understand that most people don’t actually get to the real problem the first time they meet with the pastor. They are simply testing the water to see if we listen.
We usually fail that test and the sheep scurry away. We then wonder why no one talks to us. They don’t talk because we don’t listen.
Reformed pastors, to which tribe I belong, seem to struggle with this to a greater extent. I don’t know why, but I think I might have a few clues. We are usually well-read, full of book-knowledge, and love to see the inner workings of the great truths of scripture. We are usually well-acquainted with original languages, and have a high regard for the authority and inspiration of scripture. All of these things are great and to be greatly desired. But the devil never rests and sin turns our strengths into folly.
We already know everything, so we don’t need to listen. We already know what the problem is, so we don’t need to hear.
But the Bible doesn’t call this “an area to work on.” Nor does it call this “a weakness”. It calls this folly and a shame to us.
Shame on us every time we fail to listen. Shame on us every time we don’t hear.
We fail to hear in so many ways: The language of a childhood victim of sexual abuse goes beyond words, but we usually don’t stick around long enough to hear.
We silence the voice of the victims of domestic abuse by repeating the mantra, “God hates divorce.”
The voice of the abuser is decidedly different, for it comes disguised as a sheep.
The voice of those who are hurting and poor and in trouble shout at us all around. We would far rather stand on the corner and shout gospel platitudes than actually listen to them.
If we would open our ears to hear, we would begin to make some sense to the cacophony around us. The voice of the proud, saying, “I am, and there is none like me.”
The voice of the hurt, building barriers around her heart to stop any more pain.
The voice of the oppressed, whispering in the corner.
We don’t hear the matter because we don’t want to. It rattles our windows and shakes our floors and makes our house unsteady. It is an unwanted visitor brought to us by sin and the power of the devil and we think that if we shut our eyes and stop our ears and ignore it perhaps it will politely go away and let us get back to our books.
13 Whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor, he also shall cry himself, but shall not be heard. (Pro 21:13)
That should stop us in our tracks. When we refuse to hear the cry of the ones without strength, God will eventually stop HIS ears when WE cry to Him!
Also implied is the great truth that we ourselves, we pastors who have “so much knowledge” (sarcasm alert), who have everything all together – are just as needy, just as poor, just as helpless as that poor and oppressed one – we ALSO will cry out, and we will be heard to the extent that we heard those who cried to us. This should strike fear into our hearts.
Fellow pastors, we don’t need to do better. We need to repent. We need to learn to hear the cry of the poor and repent of all the times we were too busy, too uncomfortable, too unsure, too occupied with “important things”, to hear.
When we have shut our mouths long enough to listen, then we must open our mouths to speak.
8 Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction.
9 Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy.
(Pro 31:8-9 KJV)
The phrase translated “such as are appointed to die” is literally “children of vanishing.” They are the ones who are so easily ignored, the ones who suffer quietly because they have been unheard for so long. They are the ones who don’t meet your eye, withdraw into the corner, whisper so low they are hard to hear.
They vanish and are forgotten – except that their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life and He entrusted them to your care and commanded you to hear them and then open your mouth to defend them, to plead their cause.
Yes, it will be uncomfortable. Yes, it will rattle the very foundation of the nice and neat theological house that you built. Yes, the Enemy won’t give up without a fight.
But it is God’s fight, and He commanded you to fight it. And the day will come when you will stand before God and give an account of every idle word. You will be called to account for your listening skills. You will be called to account for your willingness to open your mouth.
Don’t delay. Learn to hear. Learn to speak. Learn to listen.