Over the last two weeks I’ve been writing about “How to BLESS Your Neighbor” which is all about our purpose of “leading people to love and live for Jesus right where they are”. The aim is to equip you with five missional practices that are central to living out the Jesus mission. I’m challenging you to identify the people and the places we’ve been called to BLESS. Last week I challenged you to Begin with Prayer.
Today’s focus in on the second BLESS practice: Listen. This practice can be a game-changer in the lives of those we are called to bless!
Sometimes the only way to know how we can bless the people around us is if we, slow down, quiet all the activity and noise, get within ear-shot, and truly LISTEN.
I recently watched a video segment where Dr. Henry Cloud, psychologist and best-selling author, interviewed a successful CEO in NY City. The CEO, Marten Hoekstra talked about the importance of listening as a leader. He said:
" What you have to say isn’t going to be that important to the person you are talking to
if they don’t think you understand how thy think and feel."
What an important insight. The human heart wants to be known and understood. Don’t you?Compare and contrast times when you walked away from a conversation when you were heard and when you were not. When you were heard, you likely felt valued and loved? Are people experiencing the same thing after they walk away from a conversation with you? Do they feel valued and loved?
Author Dallas Willard put it this way:
“The first act of love is always the giving of attention.” -Dallas Willard
If we want people who are far from Jesus to give attention to Jesus, we first should give them our attention. And a great way to give them our attention is to give them our ears.
Here’s why: When we lead with our ears, we can learn where God is at work in the lives of people and places.
How often do we get caught up in the swirl and activity of all the noise and commotion that surrounds us, and fail to listen to the hearts of the people around us?
•When was the last time I asked the single mom who lives next to me how she’s doing?
•When was the last time I stopped what I was doing to give my undivided attention to the person in the cubicle next to me?
•When was the last time I slowed down enough to listen to the cashier who casually mentioned that her husband has cancer?
We should listen to the hopes, pains, challenges, and dreams of the people around us. So, lead with your ear. But know this. Leading with your ear doesn’t mean we never open our mouth. Remember, we want to join where God is working in the lives of people. It might also be that we might discover that God isn’t working in someone’s life. Either way, we can only learn by asking good questions. By asking good questions, we can learn where people are on their spiritual journey. If you wait for someone to ask you about Isaiah 53, or waiting to see or hear someone reading the Bible, you might be waiting a long, long time. Don’t wait; initiate. Get them talking about their lives—where they live, and work. Ask about their families and interests. Then ask about their spiritual journey. It could sound something like this:
"Do you attend church anywhere? Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious?"
Steer the conversation gently. Leave the door open for further conversation. I had a conversation with someone and once they started talking they told me where they were on their spiritual journey without any prompt! I simply got them talking and I listened. I didn’t scold or correct views with which I disagreed. Instead, I left the door open. I said, “hey the next time we get together, I want to hear what you mean by ‘spiritual, but not religious.’ I hear that a lot, and I’d like to know what that means.” Be realistic. You likely won’t wrap all of this up in one conversation. Can that happen? Absolutely! But don’t be surprised if you need to have a series of conversations.
The places we live and work are constantly speaking…we will hear them, if we listen. Whether it’s a neighborhood association, the school board, chamber of commerce, city council…show up to a meeting and just listen for what God would have you hear. When we listen up, discover where God wants us to work.
Think about the people and places you have been called to BLESS. What if, as we begin with prayer, part of that prayer each morning is simply: “Jesus, help me to listen today.”
And then we listen. Every day. Maybe we’ll hear of a practical need that we can easily meet. Maybe we’ll hear an emotional need that our presence and friendship will help soothe. Maybe we’ll hear a spiritual need and have the opportunity to point someone to Jesus.
This is how we live out the Jesus mission. This is how we move beyond merely “hoping” people find their way back to God to “helping” people find their way back to God. Every day, each of us comes into contact with people who nobody cares about and nobody listens to. May we be people that have the heart of Jesus through whom God will change lives and changes the world. People who are always praying, “Jesus, help me to listen today.”
And here’s the secret of all of this. When we live out these missional practices, when we begin with prayer and listen, not only will we bless the people and communities around us, we’ll be transformed ourselves. We will see and hear more clearly. We will grow in compassion and empathy for others. We will get glimpses of how God is at work.