DAY 1: Speaking Starts with Listening
Read: John 4:1-30
“I recently observed a conversation a few Christians were having with a man who has yet to come to faith in Jesus. It was amazing to me, and saddening, to watch the Christians missing the point of this man’s struggle and questions. It seemed those speaking to him were more concerned about convincing him they were right than about listening to his heart. As a result, he walked away without any good news about Jesus, becoming even more convinced that this “religion” wasn’t for him.” - Jeff Vanderstelt, “Gospel Fluency” ch. 13
“It is of vital importance that Christians share the gospel.”
“Evangelism is a job for every Christian.”
As you read these statements above, what comes to your mind? How do you imagine “evangelism” or “sharing the gospel with others”? What does that look like?
Here’s a statement I fully believe to be true: When it comes to sharing the gospel with others, speaking starts with listening.
If we are going to share the gospel effectively with others, it is essential that we listen first, and speak second. Why? Because the gospel, at its very core, is good news. If I never listen to anyone’s story, if I never discover where they’re at - what they’re longing for, and what kind of pain they’re dealing with, I can never discover how the gospel is good news for them specifically.
If we listen well, we can look at someone and say, “Let me tell you about Jesus who can step into your life, and change all that. Let me tell you how the story of Jesus is good news for you,” When we share the gospel this way, it will take on a whole new sort of power that the generic message of “we’re all sinners in need of a savior” can’t touch.*
So, if speaking the gospel effectively to someone else starts with listening, how can we do that better? In the course “Emotionally Healthy Relationships” we go through a skill called “Incarnational listening” which I think applies well here. Here are three small things you can do to listen more “incarnationally.”
Set aside your agenda and responses. When we listen incarnationally, that is all we are doing – listening. I know how easy it is for me to formulate a response in my mind as the other person is speaking, or to jump in when there’s something I want to say. That’s not listening, that’s conversation. Listening requires you to set aside responses and agendas, and simply listen. To shut off that “response” reaction in your head, it is helpful to periodically repeat back to the person what they just said. This will force you to pay close attention to what they are saying, so that you can accurately recount their words.
Enter into the person’s feelings. Listening incarnationally is more than being a good listener. It requires you to enter into that person’s world, and see it through their eyes. The easiest way to do that is to put yourself into their situation and imagine how you would feel. Then, check that out with the other person. “Wow, if that happened to me, I would be really sad. Is that how you’re feeling?” Allow the person to respond – whether they agree with your assessment or not! – and then take on their feelings about the situation for yourself. Maybe they don’t feel sad, maybe they feel angry or lost. Feel that with them.
Find the gospel touchpoint. Before, during, and after you are listening, ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you where in the person’s story they need the gospel. He might not reveal it right away. There is no pressure to share the gospel immediately after you listen! God’s pace is much slower than ours most of the time. You can always come back to the person later and bring up the conversation again. But be aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence as a third party, and constantly be looking to him to reveal to you what part of that person’s life the gospel needs to touch.
Listening well is not easy. It takes practice, patience, and time. Don’t give up! Perseverance in this practice will yield great results if we are willing to set aside our own agenda, and listen for where the gospel needs to be spoken.
“Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” - David Augsburger
“If I have only an hour with someone, I will spend the first fifty-five minutes asking them questions and finding out what is troubling their heart and mind, and then in the last five minutes I will share with them something of the truth.” - Francis Schaeffer
*I’m not saying this isn’t an important message. Sin is a problem that needs to be dealt with. Jesus died to break its power over us. What I am proposing is an approach that applies the good news in a more specific manner to each person’s unique life circumstances.
Questions for Reflection:
Can you think of a time when you really felt listened to? What was it? How did you feel at that moment?
Of the three listening skills mentioned today (set aside your agenda and responses, listen incarnationally, find the gospel touch point), which do you want to get better at? Why?
Who is one person you can practice listening with this week?