the weblog of Alan Knox

Listening, learning, serving…

Posted by on May 31, 2007 in discipleship, love, service | 5 comments

I’ve had an ongoing conversation over the last few days with my wife, Margaret, and a good friend of ours (Theron from “Sharing in the Life“). Actually, for me, the conversation started a couple of days before that when another friend of ours made a comment about some ladies that we have not seen lately, whom we have tried to serve, but for some reason, we have failed to serve them. This comment led to our continuing conversation about service – particularly about serving people who are different from us: people from different cultures, different ages (generations), different beliefs, etc.

Theron and I began talking about serving people from foreign cultures: specifically, how would we serve people if we lived in a foreign culture? I realize that many people who read this blog deal with this question (and similar questions) every day of their life. Theron suggested that before we could serve someone, we would have to know how to serve them. In other words, in different cultures service may be different (and probably is) than service in our own culture. Thus, it would be necessary to listen to people and to know them before we could truly serve them in ways that matter to them – in ways that impact their lives. Certainly, this does not mean that we should sit around doing nothing, but there is a learning process before serving becomes as effective as it could be. Also, I would never remove the important role of the Holy Spirit in this. The Spirit certainly leads us to serve people in ways that we may not understand, but in ways that may be extremely important to the ones being served.

The necessity of the process of learning to serve others is fairly obvious when serving people in foreign cultures. But, what about people in our own culture that may be from a different generation or have a different set of beliefs or even from a different background. Could it be that we miss opportunities to serve – and at others times offend people when we attempt to serve them – because we do not listen and learn about them before we begin to serve? We have attempted to serve some people who are older than us recently, without much success. Why? Because I don’t think we knew them enough to know how to serve them. Why didn’t we know them? We didn’t begin by listening to them.

Margaret reminded me that a few years ago, when we lived in another state, we were able to successfully serve some older ladies. We would spend time with them in their homes, listening to their stories, sharing tea and snacks. When she reminded me of this, I immediately thought, “That’s not serving! That’s just hanging out!” Of course, this is exactly the point of my post. To me, spending time talking with these ladies was just hanging out, but to them, it was serving them. We demonstrated our love for them by spending time with them. I viewed service differently than they did. They viewed service differently than me.

If I spent all of my time, energy, and resources serving them in the way that I wanted to be served, then I would have wasted much of that time, energy, and resources. Why? Because they were served by us being with them, not by us doing things for them.

I began to think about my son and daughter. In a few years, they will be living on their own. I wonder, what will they consider service? How will they serve others and how will others their age want to be served? What about the men and women who are several years younger than me today? What do they consider service?

Similarly, many times we try to serve people the way other Christians want to be served. But, what if our neighbors are not followers of Christ? What if our coworkers are not Christians? Do we serve them in the same way that we would serve Christians that we know? Or, should we actually spend time listening to them and getting to know them, so that we will know how to serve them?

I realize that this is obvious to many people. However, for those of us who are learning what it means to serve people who are different than us, then this may be something that we need to consider and contemplate. I know that my family is learning to serve others – especially those outside the body of Christ. We are thinking about what it means to serve and love those who are of a different ethnicity or cultural background, those from a different economic class, or even those with different beliefs. We want to provide a cup of cold water in a way that benefits them the most – not in ways that benefit us the most.

So, as we serve others, we must begin by listening to them and learning from them. We must get to know them. Then, we can serve them as God leads us and strengthens us – we can serve them in a way that brings God glory.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-1-2007

    What I love about this post is that it illustrates to me how much I am bound by my culture and “normal” way of thinking. It is hard to read this and not want to talk about “leadership.” You keep saying serve, and I want to hear about leading, telling, proclaiming… at least in my “normal” way of thinking. Even though I’ve been all rah-rah on hyour posts about leading by serving, I still find it difficult inside to manage through it and outside to do it. Conviction. Ugh. 🙂

    Great post. We all need to listem more. quick to listen, slow to talk, and slow to anger…

  2. 6-1-2007

    This got me thinking about Mary and Martha once again. Martha thought she was serving Jesus the way He wanted, but Mary, sitting at His feet, simply listening to Him, was the one who was actually doing what He wanted her to do.

    Martha was “distracted” with much serving, but Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet and was the only one who would have actually heard what Jesus said to her. We do often think that other people want or need what we think they want or need.

    Very often, it really is just a matter of “hanging out” and getting to know people, as you said in one example. I tend to lean towards that as the ultimate goal anyway… to sit at Jesus’ feet and “know” Him and to sit with others and “know” them. Just knowing each other, and not necessarily being distracted with serving. That said, serving indeed can then become not a duty, but a natural outflow of knowing God and people.

  3. 6-1-2007


    Yeah, I was not talking about leading, but serving. It is difficult to make this transition in thinking, and it has been a continuing process for me as well.


    Thank you for reminding us of Mary and Martha. There are certainly times to serve, but there are also times to listen.


  4. 6-1-2007

    There have been a few times (I wish there were more) when I met people outside my cultural comfort zone with the express intention of listening to them. When I was intentional about listening, the Holy Spirit guided my conversation with them, and I was able to pray at the end of our meeting with some insight and discernment that I’ve never really had cross-culturally. Both they and I were blessed.

    Thank you for the prompting to make this a matter of discipleship. I often confuse being Spirit-led with a lack of intentionality.

  5. 6-1-2007


    I also wish I could say that I was good at listening. I tend to act before I listen. But, God is working on me, and he’s changing me.