Watch and Listen

In my last post, I mentioned a skill a pastor needs that I’m calling “The ability to watch and listen.”  I’m thinking of the ability to observe life around you, listen to what people are saying with their words and their lives and then the ability to process what you have seen and heard and try to make sense of it in the light of our relationship with God.

To watch and listen allows me to make my sermons more timely and pertinent to more people. To watch and listen allows me to address the real need not just the stated need.  If you think about it, this was one of Jesus’ greatest strengths. To watch and listen to people and then to address the real issues, not just the things on the surface. To watch and listen means to take time to think and pray about things, to mull them over, to let them simmer in your imagination for a while.  This skill is not about “microwave” instant decisions, it is more about “crockpot” slow developing, cooked all the way through decisions and understanding.

To watch and listen is to see the complexity of today’s world and know that simplistic answers will not help.  To watch and listen means that in one day I can be surprised by a moment of unexpected grace and holiness and later on be saddened by the pain that sin can cause. To watch and listen is to sit in a restaurant studying and hear one group of men behind you having Bible Study and prayer and then a few minutes later hear a group of young people complaining about their f***ing lives. To watch and listen and consider causes me to think about how their prayers might affect those men as they go to work and to wonder about the pain in her life that causes a teenage girl to cuss like that.

To watch and listen is to consider my own anxieties and worries and how their irrationalities can consume me at times, and then to consider the idea that other people might just be anxious and irrational at times, in spite of their best efforts to be faithful. Could that be why grace is so important to our journey as disciples of Jesus Christ? Because without it we would be bogged down with the weight of our own self created messes?

To watch and listen and consider my own reaction to what I encounter.  What does it mean when 30 people come week after week to the Huddle House to play bingo?  Is it sad that they have no other place to go? or is it a wakeup call to the church that people are lonely and they will go anywhere where they are treated with respect.

To watch and listen and consider how the God we worship cares deeply about me in my hurry and worry and he cares just as much about the man praying and the girl cussing. The expanse of such grace is a wonderful thing to behold.

I invite you to watch, to listen and to consider today and see what God will show you.

Praying for strangers

My annual evaluation is coming up soon and that got me thinking about the job and tasks of a pastor. You’ve got your obvious items like preaching, teaching, visiting, weddings and funerals. There are some not so obvious items like administration, organization, studying and counseling.  Some of these tasks I learned in Seminary. I took a few classes on preaching, several classes on the Bible and theology. One or two classes on ethics and counseling as well as classes on Methodism.

There are some skills that a Pastor needs that are not taught in seminary.  There are some skills that are learned through experience and are taught by God as you serve His church.  One such skill is what I am going to call “the ability to watch and listen.”  What I am talking about is the ability to observe culture, society and the life of people around you in such a way that you hear and see the hand of God as well as the influence of Satan. A good pastor (for that matter a good Christian) needs to be able to watch for what is happening beyond the surface.  To watch and listen is not only to record all the events of your day, but to see the pain of sin as well as the movement of God and then to attempt to make sense of it all in such a way that one can find a lesson to share. Discernment is a part of this, but only after seeing and hearing what is going on around you.

Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.

1) Prayer concerns that are shared with the congregation.  A lot of the people that are mentioned are unknown to me.  I’ve only been here three years and don’t know a lot of the people like many of you do.  Because I don’t “know” these people, it is harder for me to pray for them. (Yes, I know the Holy Spirit helps us pray when we don’t know how, but this is the human side of me I’m talking about) However, the moment a person close to me needs prayer, I send out a request to everyone I know asking for prayer. I’m deeply committed at that point in time. To watch and listen means to take the reality of how we seek prayer, but often have a hard time praying for someone else.  It often comes down to what kind of relationship we have the other person.

I read an article this week from Malcolm Glidewell  Here where he talks about strong ties vs. weak ties in an article about social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook and the kind of influence they have in peoples lives.  On Facebook you can have 1,000 friends while in your real life you can’t handle that many relationships.  Why?  on Facebook, you have weak ties with a lot of people but only strong ties with a few.  An friend on Facebook can ask you to like something which really doesn’t require a whole lot from you, but it is only someone you have a strong tie with that can ask you to do something or to give something. Do you see the point I’m making about prayer.  It’s easy to say I’ll pray for you, it takes more effort to actually get on your knees and pray for someone. It’s easy to shoot an e-mail, send a text or tell someone you’ll pray if the ties are weak.  However, if the ties are strong, we find that it is more difficult to not follow up on our word. In fact, we want to do what we say because we have invested in that relationship.

So what does this mean for us?  It means that relying upon our normal human inclinations, we will pray only for those people we have a deep relationship with. However, as Christians we are asked to go deeper, to make sacrifices on behalf of someone we may not know well. Why? Because “the neighbor is the one who shows mercy.” The good samaritan had no idea who the man was lying in that ditch, but he helped him anyway. We are called to be “neighbor” as well.  One way to be neighbor is to pray for someone we don’t know.  It is little easier because there is a good chance that we know the person who shared the concern. If for no other reason, pray for the situation because a friend is concerned.