Earn the right to listen

Posted on March 29, 2012 by


I have been reading in the book of Job lately and have enjoyed the discussion between Job, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job is in the midst of severe suffering and pain. He has lost everything including his entire family and his body is covered with boils. Early in the book (chapter 2) we see that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar sat silently on the ground with Job for seven days and seven nights. They were with Job. They ministered to him through their presence though they were verbally silent. However, it is interesting to see the well intentioned but poor advice that Job’s friends give to him. They try to encourage Job but their reasoning often is based on faulty theology. At one point, Job sarcastically says, “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.”

The point

…there is incredible power in the ministry of presence and we need to be cautious about our words.  We may not always know what to say, but our presence can speak volumes.  Many people are in pain and are suffering in silence, but our presence can bring joy and light into their world.  People want to open up and share about their struggles and about what is going on in their hearts, but they need to feel safe and loved to do so.  Do you bring safety and love to those that you are around? Job, in the midst of his suffering, speaks about his struggle only after his friends have been with him for seven days.  Our presence in people’s lives earns the right to listen to their hearts.

…we need to speak truth when appropriate.  Well intentioned Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar gave Job poor advice that was theologically incorrect. They communicated to Job that God would show mercy based on Job’s piety and innocence. They encourage Job to confess his sin and stop thinking of God as unjust. If you know the story, Job’s suffering was not due to his sin (Jesus confronts the same faulty logic in John 9) and Job was not blaming God or accusing God of being unjust. In suffering, we often ask the question “why?” In the old testament, people asked the question “how long?” As we struggle to give the answer of “why” that people want, we need to be careful to not be like Job’s friends. In suffering, people need the comforting words and presence of Jesus. If we are not careful, we can, with good intentions, speak a false gospel and give poor advice to those who are suffering. We need to make sure that we speak tenderly and accurately to people in times of suffering.

Earn the right to listen to someone’s heart and then speak the truth tenderly and with wisdom.