“Never Worry about Numbers”

The very last quote in the thought provoking book, The Listening Life:  Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, by Adam S. McHugh, was a profound admonition by the late Mother Teresa.  “Never worry about numbers.  Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”  McHugh’s book is an astounding explanation of how each of us can help just by listening.  By the end of this must read, he encourages each reader, saying “You don’t have to go to the ends of the earth to listen for the needs of others.  If you are unsure what to do and who to help, listen to the person nearest you.  Wherever you are.  And prepare to be changed by what you hear.”

This post is just a compilation of words from McHugh’s book that I want to refer back to as I learn to become better at listening.  The Listening Life is certainly worth a listen!

“A loud, overcrowded, hyperactive life is the antithesis of the listening life.  The hyperactive life is so often trying to prove its worth, make its mark and justify its existence.  The listening life waits, quietly and humbly, for God to make his mark on us.”


Listening to God is an everyday reality.  In the seventeenth century a monk named Brother Lawrence sought to practice the presence of God in the most ordinary situations.  Lawrence was as compelling as he was unimpressive.  For years his main monastic duty was to wash dishes in the monastery’s kitchen.  But what he understood that so many over the centuries have missed is that God is no less present in the pedestrian chore than he is in the dazzling performance.  This is why most of the best Christians are people we’ll never hear about.  Lawrence grasped that when God is with us, an old, dark kitchen is a ground as holy as a stained-glass-encased chapel.  The mystic Teresa of Avila said that ‘God walks among the pots and pans.’  We are invited to listen not as a teleport into some ethereal world but as a means of discovering God in the mundane.


The Bible has much to teach us, it is true, about the nature of the universe, but so much of the Scriptures seem intent on wooing us rather than simply communicating to us.  Our modern language fills how-to guides and instruction manuals for making life easier, but the Scriptures are saturated with stories, poetry, parables, songs and imagery that want to reveal a person, how he feels about us and how he is forming us in his image.  Biblical revelation is less about what is revealed and more about who is revealed.  Biblical revelation means that the temple curtain is torn, the glory is unleashed, and God is on the loose.


“A good ear is one that hears below the surface.”

…you are not the expert on another person’s life.”

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen.  They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking when they should be listening.”  -Dietrich Bonhoeffer


You can’t have a vocation unless you are a listener.  Vocation is from the Latin word for ‘calling,’ and requires both a caller and a listener.  To say that you have a vocation is to say that a voice has moved you, that something deeper than personal advancement or interest has summoned you.


I especially liked his concept of reverse listening….where pastors, elders, teachers, parents set particular times to listen to those who would normally be listening to their sermons, admonitions, lessons, or directives.

This sort of listening, where the normal direction of listening is reversed, is an indispensable element for our people and churches to grow into the image of Christ, the listening expression of Jesus’ upside-down kingdom, I think of Jesus putting a child in the midst of the crowd and saying, ‘Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it’ (Mark 10:15).  This is his summons for adults to listen to children, to not only call them up to the front to preach a children’s sermon to them but to let them preach their sermons to us.


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