by Jeremy Writebol
One practical way that love expresses itself is by our presence with others when we are actually with them. It seems to be the case more and more that whenever my wife and I go out on a date, we notice other couples in the room sitting at the same table staring intently into the World Wide Web on their cell phone. The glow of the smart-device covers their face and the concentration and devotion they exhibit towards whatever they are looking at is obvious. However, it looks rather odd to see two people at the same table staring into two devices and spending a significant amount of time not talking to one another. I often wonder if they are unable to talk and send one another text messages to communicate. It seems that this sort of ailment is occurring more and more these days. And myself am not innocent.
In reflecting on the implications of the gospel, we would do well to love one another and give to one another our full and constant attention. As Kingdom citizens we display the patient, listening ear of the King as we listen and patiently involve ourselves in the lives of those sitting across the table from us. Some might call this “active listening,” I call it actually being where you are. Just as our heavenly Father listens to us and answers to help us (2 Cor. 6:2) so we reflect his presence with us as we listen and answer well those we are in conversation with.
The Discipline of Presence
This takes a bit of work and discipline on our part. It means putting aside any and all distractions, paying careful attention to the words, intentions, and thoughts behind what our friends are saying. It actually means being quiet and stopping our speech. It is sad to me that one of the problems that plagues so many ministries and leaders today isn’t the content that they put out; it’s the fact that they aren’t quiet enough to stop speaking and to listen. Whenever there is a event within our culture that raises questions, the evangelical blogosphere and social media machine explodes. Everyone is quick to post a response, an opinion, or a critique within milliseconds of the event occurring. Yet the wisdom that James calls for in being “quick to listen, slow to speak” is nowhere to be found (Jam. 1:19).
I wonder how many of our non-Christian friends won’t engage serious matters with us because we won’t hear them out before formulating our responses and speaking judgment down upon them. If we are serious about being present with them and displaying the nature of the King and his Kingdom, we must give serious effort to the work of listening. Do we pay attention to their words, ask good questions of their thinking, listen to what they are actually saying, and take the time and effort to learn them?
This is what being present fully feels like. It’s putting others first to the extent that we can hear, know, and feel with them what they are struggling and wrestling with. It’s not merely listening for fallacies in their thinking to plug with ethical mandates, seeking to make them look and think and behave like us. It’s showing the care of a shepherd who loves his flock and gives himself for them.
There are a myriad of other practical ways that this demonstrates itself in everyday life. This kind of kingdom life is evidenced by a life of grace, showing unearned kindness toward others. How do you show unearned kindness toward others? You give of yourself for the blessing of others. You serve and give and show grace. You live and speak and act in such a way to show the value and glory of the King and his Kingdom. The ethic for Kingdom citizens in this place is grace. “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8).