Posts Tagged ‘life together’

The Golden Rule of Blogging (and Most Other Things That Matter In Life)

March 20, 2012

Couple days ago, I read a blog called “The One Top Secret Blogging Tip You Can’t Live Without (Not Really).” It really is the best advice I’ve seen on how to spread your blogging (not that I’ve really seen that much—as you will see by what I say regarding his advice). It’s by, a guy named Bryan Daniels, by his own description “a budding husband, father, teacher, student, coach and friend.” His response was at least partly in response to a request by me (one he frequently gets) for help in figuring out how to make my blog better. His advice, in a single word, is this: Listen!

Listen to what other bloggers who are saying things similar to what you’re saying. Listen to bloggers who interest you. Listen, and network, and connect. Offer them honest praise.

And really, when you think about it, isn’t that what the “Golden Rule” says? “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Duh. I want people to read my blog, so how do I translate that into the Golden Rule? Simple: Read their blogs. Connect with them. Make them feel the way I want to feel.

Honestly, I haven’t done that. Somehow I justified it with, “I don’t have time,” or some other blather I told myself. But I’ve started. Thank you, Chief of Least!

 In two short months it’s worked for Bryan—he’s gone from 16 subscribers (including his mom, wife, and good friends) for the entire fifteen months, to over 1,150 followers, according to his counter. Pretty good investment, I’d say—a 7200% return in two months, which translates into a 43,000% return in a year! (Man, if we could do that with money, we could wipe out the entire world’s debt in a few short years, and our own would only take the couple of months!)

Call it networking, call it connecting—at the heart of it, what makes it really work is listening. It’s about making the other person feel important. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Christian who stood against Hitler—at the wise young age of 33, six short years before he was martyred for that stand—wrote a little book titled Life Together, based on lessons he had learned as the leader of a small band of seminarians in pre-WW2 Germany. He identifies what he calls “Ministry” (chapter 4 in the translation by John W. Doberstein published by Harper & Row in 1974), and lists a number of little-thought-about “ministries,” the first being “The Ministry of Holding One’s Tongue.” The section on “The Ministry of Listening,” less than two short pages, has these gems (and this is about half the content that is there!):

The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them…

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words. One who cannot listen long and patiently will presently be talking beside the point and be never really speaking to others, albeit he may not be conscious of it. Anyone who thinks that his time is too valuable to spend keeping quiet will eventually have no time for God and his brother, but only for himself and for his own follies.

…There is a kind of listening with half an ear that presumes already to know what the other person has to say. It is an impatient, inattentive listening, that despises the brother and is only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of the other person…It is little wonder that we are no longer capable of the greatest service of listening that God has committed to us, that of hearing our brother’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to our brother on lesser subjects. Secular education today [keep in mind, this was 1939] is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone who will listen to him seriously…But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.

So, I want to offer myself to listen to you. I need to learn this. My email address is on my blog here if you want to write to me personally, or just comment below.

I’ll probably get overwhelmed, so if I don’t answer right away, please be patient with me. And while you’re waiting, maybe you could think about giving someone else the gift of listening…

Living in Like-mindedness

March 8, 2012

What does it mean to be “like-minded” as Christians? We tend to think it means no disagreements, no real differences, a homogeneity in thought and action that actually becomes repulsive. We value variety, creativity, differences that enhance and spice up life.

Bonhoeffer’s small book Life Together probably spurred my thinking on this idea. One of his key concepts is that, in order to live in community the way God intended, we can’t really primarily relate to each other through natural human affections and understanding. Our first line of commitment must—each individually—be to God himself. We then relate to each other via that primary commitment to God. (I remember an analogy used in a marriage seminar of how that works for in the husband-wife relationship, using as the object lesson a set of steel balls hung from strings touching each other. The balls move in relation to the strings they are strung from—a picture of being “hung” from God—and only interact with each other as they swing on that string.)

That concept became clearer to me today meditating on the book of Philippians. As I did a word and concept count, in just over 100 verses and over 2200 words, there are at least 15 words and 13 concepts that relate to living in like-mindedness—concepts such as considering others better than self and looking out for the welfare of others; sharing in sufferings, in giving and receiving, and in pressing into goals; and following patterns of Paul and others like him.

Clearly, though, this does not result in a blandness in relationships together, nor in a mass-produced cloning of mindless robots. Paul encourages two women to agree with each other “in the Lord,” not necessarily in living their whole lives exactly alike. He plans to send one of his aides to the Philippians for the purpose of getting news back, but another to stay permanently, since that was where he had come from in the first place.

Jesus certainly did not intend his disciples to “follow” in the exact same steps of each other: He pointed out to Peter (at the end of John’s gospel) that, no matter how long John lived, even if it happened to be until he returned to the earth, Peter’s call was to follow Jesus directly, not looking at John’s calling with envy.  And a look at how the apostles and other early Christians ended their lives of following reveals different geographic directions, different peoples to take the gospel to, and different martyrdoms: none except John lives out a long life, and even he suffered exile and perhaps even, according to some, having been boiled in oil in a futile attempt to kill him.

Like-minded following means that my calling enhances yours, and yours mine. It means that we complement each other, fill up what’s lacking, and together bring the Kingdom closer. You may be direct the instrument of meeting someone’s needs that I could never be, simply because of your specific background—e.g., someone who has come out of heroin addiction can speak far more clearly to an addict’s need than I ever could, but there are other areas I can speak into that they never could.

I have to give you grace to live out who you are and what your calling is, and you have to give me that same grace. Our perception of each other’s need has to go through the lens of the Father’s eyes, with a confidence that He knows far better than we how to satisfy that need best. If I try to meet that need out of my own limited understanding, I may get in the way of what he really wants accomplished in your life. (That’s where some come up with the concepts such as “tough love” and avoiding “enabling.”)

And in the final analysis, I cannot be the judge of whether you’re at the “right” place in the Lord, because he is able to bring you or me around to where we each really need to be. One picture I like is of us as located somewhere on the spokes of a bicycle wheel, held together at the center, but together allowing the wheel to function.

THE ONLY WAY for us to be truly “like-minded” is for each of us to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16). Philippians 2:5 in most modern translations says tells us to have the same “attitude” that was in Christ Jesus when he humbled himself, became incarnated, and took it all the way to the Cross—but a few older or more conservative translations still retain the word “mind.” What mind was in Christ, that we should have a mind to be like him? He did only what he saw the Father doing, he said (John 5:19). That is the only reason he performed no recorded miracles from the age of 12, when he knew with a settled certainty that he had to be doing the Father’s work or business, until the age of 30, when he entered ministry and began to do the amazing miracles he was known for over the next 3 years.

Each of us must learn to hear the Father individually, and only then will we really be “like-minded.” But how each of us hears him will be as unique as our fingerprints, our eye-scans, the imprint of our lives in the world. (The number of possibilities expressed exponentially would without a doubt have at least 3 digits, i.e., the number 10 followed by at least 100 zeroes! Imagine that many ways of hearing the Lord!) And, tucked away in Scripture, is a promise that that will be the case: In Jeremiah 31:34, quoted in Hebrews 8:11, the promise is made that EACH of us WILL KNOW HIM, from the least to the greatest, and that NO ONE WILL NEED ANYONE TO TEACH HIM!

Jesus, referencing the passage from Jeremiah in John 6:45, takes it to its logical conclusion, pointing out that like-mindedness we have been aiming for: “It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me.” (NIV) Jesus heads up the enterprise; he is the Maestro, the CEO, the head of the body, the Chairman of the Board, the Commanding General of the army. So as we relate to him individually, we come into alignment for HIS purposes at HIS direction—and thus become “like-minded,” even though my job or instrument or assignment is different from yours. Our goal is unity and harmony, to be able to play symphonies together, to maximize the efficiency and profitability of the corporation (the “body”), or whatever analogy we choose to use.

Even though we find our place in him individually, ultimately we find it corporately as well. Learning how to do each is equally difficult in its own ways, and finding the balance between is a life-long process. When and how do we need solitude, private prayer, aloneness? When and how do we need fellowship, corporate worship, ministry together? Jesus directs us in these, but we have to learn how to hear, and often that means missing the mark, the trial-and-error of learning how to listen. Ultimately, like-mindedness starts with listening to Jesus, and ends with listening to each other as well as to Jesus.