I was reminded in a recent conversation with a friend, who was going through a difficult situation, that sometimes I need to stop myself, shut up and simply listen at times. They were facing some difficult decisions, and internally they knew the right thing to do. While they had come seeking advice it was not advice they wanted. They wanted support, care, and someone to listen and help bear their need. Thankfully God gave me the wisdom to recognize what it was they really needed, and I could offer a supporting listening ear and a shoulder to lean on during their stress.
It may sound a bit cliche, but there really is an art to listening. The art may really be in learning to simply shut up and listen. We need to listen to know how and when to respond to those who are calling us for advice. As ministry leaders we get called upon to give advice for a variety of reasons. Many of the reasons people come is for spiritual guidance. People also come for advice about which job to take, family decisions, and even medical decisions that have to be made.We are obviously not qualified to answer in many questions, and we should know when to refer people on to other experts.
There are times when guiding others when we are being asked for advice, but there are many times when we simply need to shut up and listen. Much of a ministers time is spent advising, preaching, and teaching. That is good, when someone is really seeking our sincere advice or comment.
However, being a good listener means knowing when we simply need to let them share what is on their heart and mind. Often it is best to let someone talk out their situations, and give them minor guidance in seeking solutions. At other times it is far better to be quiet and listen, because while the person says they are wanting advice they are really not yet ready to listen to guidance. If we have been listening well, then we will be ready to give a better response when the time is right.