Among the many adjuncts to good preaching none is perhaps more carelessly treated and more grossly neglected than that of listening to what others have to say. However, few of us can lay great claim to outstanding originality, and it behooves many of us to kindle our fires from another's flame.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, the sage of Concord, said, "Every man I meet is in some way my superior." In no field is this more true than in the ministry of the gospel and gospel preaching. To listen is to grow. To grow is expansion. And expansion means power. Dwight L. Moody, when visiting Charles Spurgeon, in London, used to climb to the second gallery of Spurgeon's great Metropolitan Tabernacle to hear him preach. He would lean his elbows over the railing where he sat, listening spellbound, with tears streaming down his cheeks. Daily, for weeks on end, he did this. Then on returning to America he would launch out upon one of his great soul-saving campaigns with a fire, fervor, and freshness that is still an astonishment in the annals of evangelism. He had mastered the fine art of listening, and as a result his tremendous powers were greatly augmented.
There is not a man who preaches, no matter how poorly, who cannot in some way teach us, if we will only faithfully follow his presentation and line of thought. There are those in the gospel ministry who feel that to listen to an inferior is a waste of time, that only by listening to a superior can one's technique, information, and ability be improved and enriched. But this is a sad and lamentable mistake, which, if continued in, will most certainly result in a stifling of capabilities. The late Dr. David Paulson, so celebrated for his versatility and brilliance as a public speaker, said, "I gather berries from all bushes."- Happy the preacher who enriches his gift by avidly listening to others —superior, mediocre, or lowly!
Charles Wesley spent hours listening to common men preach, in this way gaining many fine arrows for his spiritual quiver. Daniel Webster used to slip into a weather-beaten little country church near his summer home and listen to the plain, homespun preacher. When asked why he spent his valuable time in so simple and primitive a church, he replied, "I am replenishing my fires." Here was a great man who never wearied of learning from humble teachers.
Great ideas often spring from humble sources. One of our denominational preachers who preached with unusual success was asked about the origin of his most striking and singular sermon. He replied that he had received the central idea for it while sitting in an old farmer's Sabbath school class.
As preachers we absorb through three agencies, generally speaking. They are seeing, reading, and hearing. And the last is as important as the other two. Happy the man who makes full use of the fine art of listening in his ministry and preaching.
Let us listen to others, not merely by chance or as an unavoidable circumstance, but by deliberate plan, for profit and enlargement!