Words and often the absence thereof can be a powerful ministry to those we welcome into our homes and lives. Scripture has much to say about the power of words in our practice of hospitality. They can wield pain or bring healing. Proverbs 16:24 tells us, "Kind words are like honey—sweet to the soul and healthy for the body." While Proverbs 18:21 profoundly states, "The tongue can bring death or life." We all know this to be true—we've spoken, or been on the receiving end of painful, damaging words. We've also been profoundly ministered to by words of hope, truth, encouragement, or kindness.
The absence of words can also minister; listening itself can be a profound act of hospitality. Scripture implores us to be people who are "quick to listen, slow to speak" (James 1:19). This not only paves the way for wisdom and prudence in our speech, but it also creates space in which others can open up, verbally lay down burdens, and experience the joy of telling their own story.
Listening goes much deeper than nodding our heads in ascent of what we're hearing. We need to listen for the movement of the Holy Spirit. We need to focus in such a way that our own agenda gets put on the back burner and all distractions are set aside. We need to follow Jesus' model of asking engaging and meaningful questions. If we could see Jesus speaking to the woman at the well, for example, I believe we'd see him sitting and leaning forward as he listened to her story (John 4). I imagine Jesus listened with his whole being.1