Listen, Learn, Love. When you see those three words together, what do you think of? A sign hanging in your mom’s living room? Something that’s easy to do? A mentor who really influenced you by doing exactly that? As you enter the mission field, these words should become a mantra that runs on a constant loop through your head. Listening to, learning from, and loving those around you should become even more of a way of life for you, but at times, it may be harder than it sounds. Thankfully, we have the perfect example in Jesus of how to do each of them. His Word commands us to do it, and His Spirit gives us the grace to put it into practice.
What does it mean to be a listener? Listening is not just hearing what people say. Stephen Covey, author of The Leader In Me: How Schools Around the World Are Inspiring Greatness, One Child At a Time, models teaching students to listen with their ears, eyes, and heart. As you go to a new place, it may be tempting to share your ideas right away. You probably have lots of great plans for how to help the team you’re working with and the people you’re serving. But especially at first, take time to LISTEN. Ask lots of questions and truly listen to the answers without thinking about your next steps. Some Scriptures that remind us of the importance of listening are:
- James 1:19- Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger;
- Proverbs 18:13- If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.
- Proverbs 19:20- Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.
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There are far more verses about the importance of listening than we have room for here, but just those three point us to the fact that listening is a crucial part of understanding the world around you. As you enter a new culture, take time to listen to the people you are ministering to and to those you are working with. In both, you will find helpful resources to make your ministry more effective.
What does it mean to be a learner? Before you go to the field, you will [hopefully] do some research to find out more about where you’ll be living. You might look up cultural sensitivities, what the food and grocery shopping are like, or how people travel from place to place. But no matter how much research you do beforehand, there are some things you cannot learn until you get there. Instead of acting like you know it all, take the opportunity to ask questions of your teammates and the locals. Not only will this help you assimilate faster, but it will also help you build relationships that can lead to deeper friendships and chances to share Christ. Go in willing to learn, even if that learning makes you uncomfortable. Scripture says this:
- Proverbs 1:5- Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,
- Proverbs 18:15- An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
- James 1:5- If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
Admitting you don’t know everything and having a humble heart will help you learn quickly. From learning the best place to get groceries to learning how people perceive Christians, having a learner mindset will serve you well on the mission field.
What does it mean to love? John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Not only are we commanded to love, love also shows the world that we belong to Jesus! Our love is our number one witness to those around us. Love means different things in different cultures, so we have to hold to the Bible’s standard of love to truly model Christ-like love. We find this standard in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8a.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogantor rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.Love never ends.”
Some parts of love are easy. For most of us, it’s easy to be kind, or at least not overtly rude. But love comes with more difficult parts as well. Love does not just tell people what they want to hear- it “rejoices with the truth.” Some of the truths that you will need to share are hard truths for people to accept. But giving an incomplete picture of God- saying He is loving without being holy, merciful without being just- is not love. The full message of the Gospel, as Tim Keller says, is that “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”
We must love the people we serve enough to tell them the full truth of the Gospel.
Love must also be paramount as you work on a team. When you live and work closely with the same group of people for long periods of time, the temptation to get irritable or impatient is strong. Oftentimes, we expect the people on our team to “do better” because they already know Christ. Our pride can easily get in the way as we want things to be done our way. But, as we see in the 1 Corinthians 13 passage, love “does not insist on its own way.” It “bears all things.” Ephesians 5:2 tells us to “…walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” Love often means giving up our own way or preferences in order to encourage others or to help them grow. As you continue to abide in Christ, remembering the depth of His love for YOU, let that love overflow onto the people around you. His love is a well that does not run dry- you can return again and again to fill yourself up so you can share that love with others.
Listen, learn, and love. Simple instructions that can create a massive and lasting impact. Praise God for His perfect example and for the grace He gives us to live this out!