“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”- James 1:19
What I have been personally learning, especially in reflection on James 1:19, is that listening is the key to being effective in any form of discipleship or evangelism. However, before we jump in to the topic, here are some questions I’d like you to ask yourself:
Do you take time to really listen to people or do we just angle our way in to talk and give insight?
Do we feel the only way to be effective in spiritual conversations is to make sure the gospel message is always being proclaimed?
I have found, over many conversations, that people generally want to talk and have someone listen – it’s our basic human desire. However, something I am sure to teach my children at home is there is a big difference between “hearing” someone and listening” to someone. People want a listening ear and the reality is, listening is full of great discipling opportunities. In fact, over the past five months I can’t count the number of times where people have opened themselves up in conversations – people who used to be closed to the idea of spiritual discussion. For instance, two weeks ago I met with a person who spoke for over an hour about what was going on in their life. In my heart, I felt they just needed to talk and I needed to listen. When they finished I simply thanked him for sharing and asked if we could grab a coffee the next week. Now the conversation has shifted, we are actively discussing who Jesus is and suddenly he is open to praying together and sharing life together. That started with valuing what he was sharing, not planning how I was going to respond.
Ok, so now some of you are thinking “this makes sense, and sure, I listen” – but here is my question: do you listen to people or do you simply hear them? And, yes, there is a difference.
Dictionary – Listening: “to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing”
Dictionary – Hearing: “to perceive by the ear”
I teach my kids not to just listen with their ears, but also with their eyes. When someone is speaking give them the attention they deserve. As a Christian you need to be a good listener in order to reach people and listening to their story is the most important element of the conversation. If people matter, than prove it.
Sadly, I often witness “Verbal Ping Pong” – thinking about what you want to say as the other person is talking. Then, as they stop to take a breath, you jump in with your comment and they look for a way to respond. If you want to make a relational investment in someone and see them come to faith, we need to prioritize relationship first.
On a flight home the other day I sat down beside a girl in her twenties who had a lot of tattoos. I was extremely tired after waiting in the terminal for four hours, but I decided to simply say “I like your tattoos”. For the next hour and a half she filled me in on what each tattoo means to her and the story behind it. Later that night I made a joke to my wife that this was the weirdest ice breaking conversation ever. But not only did she open up about her tattoos, but about her life, being divorced, having an on-going custody battle, her work, and her passions. I sat there and just listened. We landed and she thanked me for listening to her, I said I would pray for her as she had a rough season ahead. She broke down a little and said she felt no one really listened to her.
Note: She didn’t come to faith and she didn’t get involved in my church. She knows what I do, and she knew that I was going to be praying for her. I have no way of checking up on her. I have to trust God with this.
Again I’ll ask – Is listening hard? What can God accomplish if we use this skill? What I am saying is this – literally sit quietly and let people talk, listen to them, and remember what they are saying. Value them when they want to share. The more people talk and you listen, the greater the trust you establish.
Where to start? I encourage you to pray this simple prayer: “God give me wisdom as I listen, help me to find an opportunity to listen to people and share you with them.”