There is a power in listening. Listening is how the healing of broken souls commences. There can be more power in silence than in words.
But if you’re like me, you’re usually desperate to say something. That’s not because saying something will make the other person feel better, but just because you know it will make you yourself feel better. In this way we miss the opportunity to share in the work of helping to mend broken lives.
Jesus’ greatest miracles in the gospels didn’t involve dramatic external events like calling down fire from heaven. Jesus’ greatest miracles of healing were always done on the inside.
I think that one of God’s most wounded servants in the Bible was Elijah. Quite frankly, between you and I, from the description we get of him in the Bible, he sounds suspiciously as if he might have been manic-depressive in a serious clinical sense. It is helpful to see how God dealt with Elijah.
Elijah had a tremendous “high” on Mt Carmel. He had called fire down from heaven. He had won a striking victory for God. However, as so typically happens, immediately after, Elijah sank into one of the lowest points in his life.
So, we find Elijah running for his life from Queen Jezebel, who is out to kill him. After an extremely long journey, he finally arrives at Beersheba, and he goes into the wilderness. He sits under a bush and prays to die. He says,
“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep (1 Kings 19:4–5.)
God doesn’t send a message to rebuke Elijah for his cowardice. Instead, God sends an angel to provide some bread and water for Elijah to eat and drink. Two times, the angel tells Elijah to “Get up and eat.” After the second time, Elijah is sufficiently restored to continue his journey (vv.5–7.)
Elijah travels on for another forty days and nights until he reaches Mt Sinai, where he goes into a cave to spend the night. Now God himself speaks to Elijah, and asks him a very pertinent question: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
God is giving us a master class in how to help and support those who are going through deep sorrow or depression.
The Lord was patient. He gave Elijah time until he was in a more receptive frame of mind. He cared for Elijah’s physical needs, making sure that he ate and drank. He didn’t judge him or condemn him. He doesn’t tell him what to do.
Eventually, when Elijah is ready, the Lord asks him an open-ended question, so that Elijah can share his feelings: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah replied:
“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kings 19:10.)
Gone is the mighty man of power, who had called fire down from heaven before the nation. Gone is the prophet who had stood before King Ahab and boldly declared,
As the Lord God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, except at my word (1 Kings 17:1).
When Elijah responds to God’s question, his answer is not one of faith, nor is it logical. Elijah answers from his bleakly depressed emotional state. He can see no future. Everything is lost. His life’s mission has been all for nothing. The Lord has asked him this question, “What are you doing here?” to give Elijah an opportunity to express his feelings and to open the path for communication; to draw Elijah out of himself and into contact with reality.
So, the Lord now responds to Elijah’s despondent statement.
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by” (1 Kings 19:11).
There comes a point when we are down when we need to leave our cave. It’s good to go outside and be reminded that there are bigger elements in the world than just ourselves. It is good to remember that God is still at work.
The Lord still doesn’t give Elijah a lecture. He simply tells him to watch and listen.
Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave (vv.11–13.)
Now, the Lord asked him again:
“What are you doing here, Elijah?” (v.13).
Elijah’s answer was the same as before, but something had changed. Something had shifted within him. He was now ready to take the next step.
We can learn from how God dealt with poor, fragile Elijah when he was at his lowest. We are bound to come into contact with people who need our help. We will be tempted to jump in and tell them objective facts and give them solutions. But if, as we have seen, God doesn’t necessarily do that to us when we are struggling, we should think twice about doing that to others.
Lectures and Bible studies are not what changes the lives of the hurting. What changes lives is love. We should do more of what God did. Perhaps we should just sit with the wounded. We should care for their needs and listen to their hurts. We should give them our time and open hearts.
Listening is a skill that many of us are not very good at. Yet it is one of the most important. There is incredible power in just listening.
Article supplied with thanks to Dr Eliezer Gonzalez.
About the Author: Dr Eli Gonzalez is the Senior Pastor of Good News Unlimited and the presenter of the Unlimited radio spots, and The Big Question. Sign up to his free online course called Becoming a Follower of Jesus to learn about Jesus and His message.