Franklin Roosevelt often endured long receiving lines at the White House. He complained that no one really paid any attention to what was said. One day, during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured, “I murdered my grandmother this morning.” The guests responded with phrases like, “Marvellous! Keep up the good work. We are proud of you. God bless you, sir.” It was not till the end of the line, while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered, “I’m sure she had it coming.”
How do you feel when some really listens to you? Feels good, right? How does it feel when no one listens? Awful, right? For years we treated witnessing and evangelism a bit like a one-sided sales pitch. We would have our compelling message prepared and then we would go for the big commitment at the end. There wasn’t much difference between selling refrigerators and sharing the Gospel. We were conditioned to do all the talking and very little listening.
We don’t have a one sided Gospel. My story isn’t the only story in the room, even if people haven’t trusted Jesus yet. Jesus is at work in the lives and stories of other people all the time. We might realize that half the work has already been done in a person if we would only listen to see where God has been at work!
One of the traits of a good listener is asking questions. God is a good listener. All through scripture God asks questions. Now God already knows the answers, so why would he ask people questions? God asks us questions to reveal our hearts, and to draw us closer in relationship. God asks “Where are you?” (Genesis 3), pursing Adam after he sinned. “Who has made man’s mouth?” (Exodus 4), addressing Moses’ fear to speak on God’s behalf. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?” (Job 38), reminding Job about his limitations and God’s greatness. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks his disciples their thoughts about his true identity.
The good news is, listening is a skill that you can learn to do well. Good listening is like tuning into a radio station. For good results you can listen to only one station at a time. Good listening requires a choice of where you place your attention. Trying to do too many things at once leads to distortion and frustration. To tune into another person, you must first choose to put away all that will divide your attention.
A good listener doesn’t listen just to respond. They listen to learn.
A good listener focuses on learning about the other person’s experience.
A good listener wants to understand, not just be understood.
Gospel listening is real time partnering with the Holy Spirit. Ask Him to give you insight and wisdom into what is really going on in a person’s heart. Sometimes we can only guess what is going on under the surface, but the Holy Spirit knows the hearts of everyone perfectly.
Listen when people talk – what are their reasons for not being willing or able to obey God’s commands? Fear, insecurities, selfishness, pride, need for approval, and the worship of children, family or work. All of these reflect trust in something else other that God. As you become aware of the things that have become idols or little Gods in the lives of people, take time to compare them to Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you reveal Jesus as the best resolution to what people are seeking elsewhere.
**Gospel Listening for the Big Four
Creation: Everyone has a fundamental belief about their origin. LISTEN: Who or what do they credit or blame for who they are today? Or the situation they find themselves in?
Fall: Everyone has a central belief about the cause of brokenness and a deep desire for justice. LISTEN: Why are things and people not the way they are supposed to be? Who is to blame?
Redemption: Everyone has a solution they believe in, a remedy they look to or a savior they trust to redeem the brokenness in their world. LISTEN: Who or what will rescue them and redeem what is broken in their life?
Restoration: Everyone has a picture of the future when everything is as it should be, or how they hope it will go. LISTEN: What will the world or their circumstance look like when all is as it should be (according to them). Who or what will be the focus of this world?
**Go and… Listen!