WE ARE A SOCIETY BENT ON MAKING OUR voices be heard. From the politicians who boast their propaganda to entertainers who flamboyantly express their open-minded lifestyles to preachers who scream about a fiery hell, everyone seems to be saying an awful lot, but not listening—really listening—to what others are saying. Christians should be some of the best listeners, but sadly, in many cases, we’re the worst.
I’m half embarrassed to admit this, but I’m an American Idol fan. I’ve watched it religiously since the very first season. I’m such a sucker for a good pop song and contagious stage presence. Oh, the days of Kelly and Justin! I have one pet peeve with the show. No one listens to Simon. I love Simon. I know he’s somewhat mean and could be a little more tactful with his comments, but he’s usually the only one with any advice, but people refuse to listen to him. They make fun and call him names, but don’t listen.
I’ve always been told that one of the key ingredients to a great communicator is listening.
However, it seems to me that a foregone part of modern evangelism is the art of shutting up and listening. I don’t mean to be harsh, but Christians have a tendency to be good talkers and very poor listeners.
Sharing your story through everyday conversation involves lots of sincere listening. If we want people to respect and understand our Jesus point of view, we must be willing to listen to the needs and thoughts of non-Christians. That’s why it’s important to be a good listener when sharing your God story.
Now I must be honest and say that I struggle in the listening department. If I have something “relevant” to say, by golly, I have the tendency do whatever is necessary to make sure I get to speak my mind. I sometimes talk without listening, and I know it’s frustrating to others. In fact, it infuriates others. Many times, for me, it comes back to my own selfish nature rearing its ugly head.
Most of the time—and I have learned this lesson the hard way—it is much more important to listen than it is to talk, especially when you’re discussing your faith with others.
Have you ever had a teacher or an employer who seemed unable to hear you? It didn’t matter what you said or how well you articulated it, they didn’t hear you, because they didn’t want to hear you.
A few years back, I had a boss just like this.
As the head of a large division of a Christian media company, Dave would listen to no one. He had the heart and mind of an intelligent and successful entrepreneur, but the people skills of a llama—a really stupid spit-in–your-face llama. No matter the conversation, Dave was always right; he was always the last one to talk, and it did not matter whom he was conversing with, he always got the last word. His employees—me included—were often left with the feeling that our opinions and thoughts didn’t matter. Mostly we had these feelings because our opinions didn’t matter to Dave. We were to be “yes” people.
Not giving others a chance to communicate their feelings, their heart, and their opinion is certainly a communicative taboo, but even more, it’s an evangelical catastrophe.
Living in Nashville, I find it almost impossible to visit a Starbucks without seeing other Christians having Bible studies together. Nashville doesn’t have its nickname as the buckle of the Bible belt for nothing. Every time I walk into one of the many coffeehouses, there always seems to be someone witnessing or at least sharing his or her story. I love listening in on the way other people share the Gospel message. I know that’s wrong, but I’m writing a book about evangelism, and I’ve been looking for some good content. (For those of you who have seen me listening in on your conversations, please forgive me.)
THREE TIPS ON THE ART OF LISTENING
1) Keep an open ear to what you hear a non-Christian say—even if it’s a completely ridiculous statement. Remember, Nicodemus asked Jesus some really dumb questions.
2) Remember, hearing and listening are two very different objectives. You can often hear someone talking, yet still not be listening.
3) Jesus listened to the beggars and the prostitutes more often than He listened to the religious leaders. Come up with your own conclusion on this one.
One time in particular, I was sitting at a table, typing on my laptop, trying to listen in on a Christian man giving his spiritual spiel to one of the baristas who was on her lunch break. It was obviously the pair’s second or third conversation about God, and the poor little barista seemed frustrated with her inability to respond or get a word in edgewise.
“The Bible IS the word of God, Cassie; it’s your guidebook and your companion manual. Why can’t you see that?” said the Christian man. “Did you read the book of Mark like I asked you to? If you want to understand who Jesus is, you need to work at it; you need to invest your time into trying to learn more.” His was sounding more and more frustrating.
I could tell by her demeanor that Cassie was only half listening. Her face was blank. She seemed to be calculating in her head the remaining minutes until she needed to be back on the clock. The Christian man seemed to notice none of this. He wasn’t listening to her; he kept talking and never allowing her to speak anymore than a “yeah” or “uh huh.”
“You’re so quick to discount the Gospel message. You go to your yoga classes; you take your college courses on Buddha, yet you won’t take the time to try and understand Jesus. I’m going to pray that God gets a hold of your heart and mind, Cassie. I want you to believe. I don’t want you to go to hell.” (By this time, he was whispering his conversation for effect.)
“Well, I should probably be going,” Cassie said. “My boss will be on my case soon.”
And she left. The Christian man and I caught each others’ glances. I just smiled and continued to type.
If we want people to hear us, we must hear them!
Jesus listened. He listened to Nicodemus. He listened to Mary Magdalene. He listened to the disciples. He listened to the beggars, the possessed, and the downright annoying. Heck, he even let Satan have His word. Jesus was an intense listener; He still is. He didn’t pretend to be listening, only to be secretly thinking about how He was going to respond to those He spoke with; Jesus listened with the truth in mind.
We need to do the same.