EHR 5: Incarnational Listening
11/6/2017 3:32:31 AM
November 5, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Leprosy is a terrible disease. It eats away at a person’s body and destroys them, piece by piece. Thank God, leprosy today is treatable and almost cured. In the ancient world, the term leprosy referred to any sort of skin condition, especially involving white symptoms. So psoriasis, among other skin conditions, would fall under the category of leprosy.
Leprosy, in the Bible, was not only an unsightly condition, but it also had a social and spiritual effect. Under OT Law, a person with a skin condition, labelled leprosy, was cast out of the camp. They were religiously “unclean” which meant they were not allowed to take part in worship, nor were people allowed to come in contact with them or else they, too, would become unclean. Lepers were forced to live outside towns and cities. They were cut off from their families, living in isolation. Typically, the only people who could live near lepers were other lepers!
By Jesus’ day, lepers were forced to carry bells with them, ringing them and calling out, “Unclean! Unclean!” to give people a chance to get out of their way. They spent their lives being avoided by everybody to make sure the disease didn’t spread. Unlike today, as patients, they were cut off from society, left to fend for themselves, but also their physical condition affected their spiritual condition. Lepers were unclean, unholy, unrighteous people. They were cut off from people and from God! I remember reading about at least one Pharisee who would literally throw rocks at lepers to make sure they didn’t come too close! The Pharisee was that concerned about becoming unclean himself!
[pic] So imagine the situation when a leper came running up to Jesus! Most people would run away from a leper. Jesus welcomed the leper, who fell at his feet and declared, “If you choose, you can heal me!” Which is interesting because it was believed only God could heal leprosy! (2 Ki 5:1-14)
The fascinating thing is that Jesus didn’t shrink back from the leper. He didn’t avoid the leper, being careful lest he, too, become unclean. He healed the leper, which is amazing. But he also touched the leper! Which was amazingly loving. Nobody could touch a leper or else they would become unclean too. So nobody had touched this leper for a long, long time. The leper, in faith, came to Jesus to be healed. Imagine how he felt at Jesus’ touch! Jesus was fearless in the face of leprosy. He reached out and touched the man, healing him on many levels at the same time.
Jesus addressed the man’s physical need- healing. He addresses the man’s spiritual need because being unclean with leprosy was a spiritual condition. He also addressed the man’s emotional need to be touched with affection.
We are all spiritual and emotional lepers, longing to be touched. We may not have leprosy, we may not be outcasts. But today, especially in our digital world of texting, FB and email, our connection technologically has left a void for physical and emotional connection.
I don’t know, maybe you don’t long for emotional and spiritual connections. Maybe you are spiritually and emotionally completely satisfied. But societally, we are hungry for emotional and spiritual connection. We are hungry for an emotional or spiritual touch of affection.
How do we do that? Whether we are personally longing for the touch, or if we want to touch another spiritually or emotionally? How can we do that?
This is where our EHR skill comes in today- Incarnational Listening. Pete Scazzero rightly says in the video, “Being heard is close to feeling loved.” We may not be able to heal leprosy. We may not have opportunity to heal someone physically, but we can listen to someone well. We can listen to someone deeply, “incarnationally,” and touch them spiritually and emotionally.
And remember, loving others is what Christianity is all about. As followers of Jesus, we are called to learn how to love others. Agape love, Christian love, is a divine, self-giving love primarily concerned with the well-being of others, in particular their spiritual well-being. We are called to take every opportunity to put the needs of others above our own, to make their needs our top priority. Incarnational listening is one way for us to do that.
Let’s turn to our text for the day. The NT doesn’t really talk about listening to one another in great depth, but it does talk a lot about how to love others, how to relate to others as Christians. Our passage in Philippians is one such passage. Paul is talking about living in Christian unity. Philippians 2:1 has a “therefore” which is always important. What follows, in our text and beyond, is all about how to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.
What It Says
What does this text say? Paul uses some terms that we probably need explained today. Paul is talking about our Christian unity based on our experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. If we have experienced Christ, then we should do nothing out of selfish ambition. This makes sense. Jesus was all about self-giving. Christians, like little Christs, like little Jesuses, are also to be all about self-giving. Selfish ambition goes against self-giving. Selfish ambition is at the heart of human fallenness, the heart of sin. Selfish ambition is the root of sin. Sin is rooted in self-interest at the expense of others. [Gordon Fee, Philippians, p. 186]
Remember, in the Garden, the serpent tempted Adam and Eve by promising them that they would become like gods! Their sin was motivated by selfish ambition- the ambition to be like God! Earlier in Philippians, Paul talked about his rivals in Philippi preaching Christ out of rivalry, or literally selfish ambition.
Vain conceit literally means empty glory. It is also a word about ambition, excessive ambition. It’s ok to be ambitious, to desire great things, if they are great things for God. But when our ambition becomes excessive, or is for things other than what God wants for us or calls us to, then ambition becomes sinful.
Our text, at the beginning of Philippians 2, sets the stage for what comes next, Paul’s magnificent description of Jesus’ attitude. Jesus had no selfish ambition. Rather, he emptied himself to come to earth. He had no vain conceit. Rather, he was obedient even to death on the cross! [Fee, p. 187] Our attitude is to be like Christ’s. We are not to seek our own comfort or ease, we are not to be ambitious for ourselves, but instead are to humbly rank others as more important than ourselves. We are to look to the needs of others as well as our own! We are good at looking out for our own needs. We need help to learn how to look out for the needs of others.
I want to expand, too, for a moment on humility. We have warped this word today. When we hear the word “humility” we think of “humiliating.” Nobody wants to be humiliated. Humiliating others is sinful. Humiliation is terrible.
But that’s not what humility means! Humility means having an accurate view of oneself. It means seeing yourself as a creature, created by a magnificent Creator. In the Greco-Roman world, humility was not seen as a virtue. It was seen as a weakness. [Fee, p. 388] I think today we see humility as a weakness again! Too often we equate humility with having an inferiority complex. But that’s not what humility means either! [Halford E. Lucock, More Preaching Values from the Epistles of Paul, p. 182] When you have an inferiority complex, you don’t have an accurate view of yourself. You think of yourself as having lesser worth or value. That’s not humility either!
Humility means seeing yourself as God’s sees you. How does God see you? God sees you as a beloved man or woman created in his image. But you are a sinful man or woman, who has rebelled against him. God sees you as a broken creature, but one he loves so much he was willing to redeem you, even though it cost him deeply! And now that you have been redeemed, if you follow Jesus, you are an adopted child of God, an heir to the kingdom of God! But you did not gain that place through your own merit. Rather you gained it by God’s grace, and therefore should be a grateful child of God, aware of both your own fallen nature and the tremendous love God has for you that he chose to redeem you, adopt you, change you and renew you!
When we have this appropriate, accurate view of ourselves, we don’t get puffed up. We avoid vanity. We are too grateful to God to become selfish. In light of our sin, we are obedient to the one who has saved us from our sin! And do, as his ambassadors, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, emptying ourselves for the sake of others so that their needs are met.
What It Means
This doesn’t mean other people are more important than you. Nor does it mean that your own needs are unimportant. Rather, it means as you look after your own needs, look after other people’s needs in the same way. Other people are of equal value to you, so, in Christ, put their needs ahead of your own.
This is to be the attitude for the entire Christian community. And when we learn this lesson as the New Family of Jesus (NFJ), it works really well. Not to make it just a numbers game, consider what happens when 100 people decide the needs of the people around them take priority over their own needs. IF you are part of that community, how many people will you have looking out for your needs? 100! (We still look to our own needs.) If we are all being selfish, like our sinful nature urges us to, how many people do you have looking out of your needs? 1. When the NFJ starts living out humility, looking to the needs of others, people’s needs get met much faster, with a broader range of gifts, skills and experience, than if people just look out for themselves.
Then, when we turn our gaze to people outside the community, our ability and experience looking out for one another’s needs, spills over onto other people too. This becomes a powerful witness to the truth of the gospel and the character of our master, Jesus Christ!
Paul talks about this attitude of looking out for the needs of others a lot. (1 Cor 10:24; 10:33; 13:5; Rom 15:2) One of the famous passages is Galatians 6. After talking about the Fruit of the Spirit, Paul goes on to say that we are to bear one another’s burdens. The word for burdens there refers to something one person cannot reasonably be expected to carry on their own. A few lines later, Paul says we are each to carry our own load. That word refers to a soldier’s backpack. We are each to carry our own reasonable load, or our own pack, but we are often faced with burdens we cannot carry alone. In those cases we are to help one another carry those bigger burdens. The people of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit and keeping in step with the Spirit, are a people who are responsible for their own stuff, but also actively help one another with the stuff that comes along in life that one person cannot deal with alone. We are a responsible people who help each other out all the time, bearing burdens together out of humble, selfless love. [Fee, p. 190]
God looked out for us. Jesus carried our burden of sin that we could never even budge on our own. Because we are thankful for what God has done, because we are thankful that God has redeemed us, adopted us, changed us and is continuing to renew us, we live humbly, looking to meet the needs of others, seeking ways to bear their burdens with them, just as Jesus came and took our burden of sin for us.
In the NFJ of we intentionally look to the needs of others. This is actually part of our mission statement here at Priory! Our vision is to see broken people becoming whole through the love of Christ. But how we go about doing that is our mission statement, which reads in part “To love our neighbours by helping them overcome spiritual and physical needs!” As the NFJ, we carry out the mission of Jesus by helping others in their need. We help people overcome spiritual and physical needs because that points to the truth of Jesus’ message, ministry and resurrection.
I came across an interesting quotation while researching Philippians 2. One commentator put it very well, “Care for another person is at the heart of a right relationship to God.” [James Montgomery Boice, Philippians, p. 119] Care for another person has to do with agape love. Remember, agape love is being primarily concerned with the well-being of others. What is a right relationship with God? There is a theological term we use for that: righteousness! So one way you can put it is “Agape love is at the heart of righteousness!” It is filled out better “care for another person” and “a right relationship with God,” because that is easier to wrap our heads around, but it’s interesting that all this talk of agape love around here is actually pretty darn important! Agape love is at the heart of righteousness!
So how do we do that? The needs are so many! We have limited resources. How do we meet physical needs? How do we meet spiritual needs? These are all big questions that take years to answer in different ways as we build ministries as a church.
But we can bring it down to a more accessible level. Remember, the goal is to be like Jesus. Remember, Jesus was humble and self-giving. So our goal is to be humble and self-giving. But to be like Jesus is not within our power on our own.
First, we must acknowledge that on our own we cannot and will not live for others. [Boice, p. 123] So we have to begin by humbling ourselves in terms of our capability and our fallen will. We must come to God and ask the Spirit to change our will and then empower us to live like Jesus. This is beyond our capacity as fallen human beings. It is an act of the Spirit in us to grow agape love in our character so that we even want to live for others.
This requires humility before God. We have to have a realistic view of ourselves, our sin, our fallen will and limited abilities. This is a good first step to being humble like Jesus!
Second, we need to have daily fellowship with Jesus. [Boice, p. 123] If we want to be like Jesus, we need to spend time with Jesus. We need to learn about Jesus, but also spend time with him. This is where the daily office comes in as part of both EHR and EHS. We have to train ourselves to spend time silent before God, willing to block out the distractions of the world and listening to him, allowing ourselves to become grounded in the love Jesus has for us. It is only when we are rooted and established in love that we can then love others like Jesus does.
As we spend time with Jesus, we can also learn skills for showing love. One tangible way we can meet the needs of others is to hear them. We can listen well, listen “incarnationally” to them. Where does that term come from? Incarnationally refers to Jesus’ incarnation. Jesus, as described in the next section of Philippians 2, left his place of comfort and glory and came to earth to be with us. He entered into our place, he came to where we live, he came to walk among us to show us God. He is the image of the invisible God. He came to hear us, to touch us, to share with us and then die for us. The incarnation was a tremendous sacrifice motivated by love.
Incarnational listening is sacrificial. It is costly to the listener. It means entering into the “space” of the other person. It means putting down your own rights and demands in order to hear the heart of the other person. When we choose to listen incarnationally, we are attempting to touch the other person spiritually and emotionally. It is hard work!
So the first step in incarnational listening is to agree to a time and place to listen. True, sometimes we are in a crisis situation. Sometimes we need to listen well “now.” But in terms of the EHR skill, when it isn’t a crisis, when both people know what the skill is about, then the speaker needs to ask the listening to listen incarnationally and the listener needs to consider if now really is a time that they can give their undivided attention.
If you are listening to a person who does not know the EHR skill, you can still listen well. You can still listen to their heart and try to enter into their world. Both people don’t know how to listen well for one person to listen well. But, in the NFJ, where we are trying to model this kind of discipleship, then both the listener and the speaker can take responsibility for the conversation. This means the speaker will also need to do some preparation beforehand! But we will get to that in a minute.
For the EHR skill to work best, it has been structured to help prevent defensiveness or attack in the conversation. Incarnational listening is an act of intimacy. The listener is trying to enter the spiritual and emotional world of the speaker. That is a tremendous gift to the speaker! It is also risky for both parties because intimacy requires vulnerability. And vulnerability involves risk by its very nature. So both the speaker and listener should treat this as a sacred and precious activity.
The listener must give the speaker their full attention. This is why you need to ask if it’s a good time. You cannot listen incarnationally if you are cooking, reading, texting, driving, or even just thinking about other things. You cannot do incarnational listening while one of you is driving, watching TV, or trying to parent kids.
The listener must try to feel what the speaker is feeling. You not only listen to the words, but for the thoughts and feelings behind the words. I’m not talking about mind reading. One of our earlier skills rules that out! Rather, ask yourself, “What might be the feelings behind what they are saying?” Avoid judging, interpreting or rebutting what the speaker is saying. Ask questions like, “Is there more?” and “What is the most important thing you want me to walk away with?” Reflect back to the person, as accurately as you can, what you heard them say. Ask, “Is that correct?” or “Did I hear you properly?”
The speaker, too, can help with incarnational listening if they know how. First, the speaker must speak in the “I.” This requires preparation and practice! It’s actually difficult to think through what you want to say and weed out the “you” and “we” statements. Don’t go saying, “You,” or even, “We,” while using this skill. One of the guidelines in the course is to speak in the “I” rather than, “We all…” or “All Christians…” or “You….”
Second, keep your statements brief. The listener is trying to keep up and reflect back to you what you have said. If you go too long, they cannot keep track and it will be too hard for them to reflect back to you what they have heard. It’s like drinking from a fire hose! [pic] This also requires a degree of preparation on the part of the speaker. Incarnational listening is not the time to “process out loud.” That is not fair to the listening. Figure out what you want to say before asking the listening to expend so much energy listening.
Keeping your statements brief doesn’t mean you don’t have a lot to say. It means stopping regularly to allow the listening to paraphrase. This keeps you both on track. If they misheard, misunderstood or just missed something early on, and the speaker keeps going and going, they will get further and further behind in the conversation! So stop regularly to let them paraphrase, or reflect back what they are hearing so that they can keep up!
The speaker needs to include their feelings. Often, in today’s culture, we say “I feel…” but the actually give what we think. We don’t say what we feel, we say what we think. I think we do this because people are trained not to contradict our feelings, so we slip thoughts in, disguised as feelings, so people won’t disagree with us. So the speaker needs to know what they are feeling and then express these things when they speak. Feelings include, “I feel scared, hurt, abandoned, angry, afraid, embarrassed, sad…” etc. Feelings do not include, “I feel you should….” Or “I feel you’re wrong about….” Actually, a good clue that you miss used the word feel is if it is followed by “that.” “I feel that…” usually means what is coming is a thought, not a feeling.
Remember, the incarnational listener is trying to get in touch with your emotional world. They are trying to hear the feelings behind your words. So tell them what you are feeling! Don’t make them read your mind. Don’t make them guess.
Finally, the speaker should be honest, clear and respectful. Incarnational listening is not your chance to win an argument! That’s coming up in “clean fighting.” Recognize that when a person agrees to listen incarnationally, it is a self-giving act on their part. Honour that by being respectful of them. This is not your chance to get your point across, get your digs in, etc. because they are in “listening mode.” The listener is giving you a gift. Show gratitude that they are trying to enter your world and provide a healing touch spiritually and emotionally.
This is very hard work for both people! It is costly to practice this skill. But it is loving to do so. It may feel like you’re being asked to touch a leper! But we are called to follow our master, Jesus, who did that sort of thing all the time. 1 Cor 13 speaks of how we can do amazing things, have amazing spiritual gifts, give sacrificially in so many ways, but without love they are all nothing. Incarnational listening is a way to practice agape love. It is practice as being patient and kind. Incarnational listening rejoices in the truth, even when the truth is hard to hear. Incarnational living is an act of self-giving love in which we make the well-being of another our top priority, in particular their spiritual well-being. And that’s what the NFJ is all about! Amen.
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