Listening Well

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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. 

It isn't Just about Talking

It’s not for me either—at least, not what I saw in that conversation. We can do better. We must do better. We’re talking about people’s souls! And we’re representing Jesus. Gospel fluency isn’t just about talking. It’s about listening as well. This requires love, patience, and wisdom. I’ve found that starting with a posture of humility, standing in a place of need, and having a heart that is willing not just to give answers but to receive insight creates a welcoming place for people to open their hearts. The more open we are to listen and learn, the more likely people are to be open as well.

[Jesus is] a master at drawing out the heart. You notice this if you read the Gospels. Jesus regularly said just enough to invite further probing or create intrigue. He also loved to ask questions so that the overflow of the heart (belief) would spill out of a person’s mouth (words). 

Missed Opportunities

I’m amazed at how often well-intentioned Christians overwhelm people with a barrage of words. We go on and on about what we believe and what they should believe, assuming we know what others think, believe, or need. I often find that we are giving answers to questions people are not even asking or cramming information into hearts that are longing for love, not just facts. We fail to listen. We fail to draw out the heart. And we miss opportunities to really love people and share the love of God with them. They also miss out on getting to hear what’s going on in their own hearts. I have found that when people, including myself, are invited to say out loud what they believe, they come to realize something is wrong.

As we are changed by the gospel, we want to share how the gospel has changed us. It’s a great thing to do so. In fact, one of the keys to growing in gospel fluency is to regularly share what Jesus has done or is doing in our lives with others. Our stories are powerful demonstrations of the gospel’s power to save.

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It's Good News

However, if we don’t also listen, we tend to share the good news of Jesus in a way that applies primarily to our lives, the way it was good news to us, but fails to address the situations others are facing. We can become proclaimers of good news while being ignorant of the ways in which others need to hear it. This doesn’t negate how good the news of Jesus is at all. 

Our job is to testify to Jesus’ work in our lives while also listening closely to others so we know how to bring the truths of Jesus to bear on the longings of their hearts. We need to bring them to Jesus so he can meet their unique needs—fulfill their personal longings. In order to do this, we have to slow down, quiet our souls, ask good questions to draw out the hearts of others, and listen. Francis Schaeffer was known to say, “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 something of the truth.”

Soul-quenching Water

My regular counsel to Christians these days is to spend more time listening than talking if they want to be able to share the gospel of Jesus in a way that meaningfully speaks to the hearts of others. We all long for Jesus Christ. Everyone is seeking him, even if they don’t know it. They are looking for something to fulfill their longings and satisfy their thirst. However, they are likely looking in the wrong places. They are going to the wrong wells to try to draw soul water. They need to look to Jesus. But they will not come to see how he can quench their thirst if we don’t take the time to listen.

And as we listen, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can discern the longings of their hearts, the brokenness of their souls, the emptiness of their spirits. And then, we must be prepared to show how Jesus can meet them at the well with soul-quenching water—himself. 

(Taken from Gospel Fluency Handbook by Jeff Vanderstelt, ©2017)

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Jeff Vanderstelt

Jeff Vanderstelt is the visionary leader of Saturate, the Soma Family of Churches, and the lead teaching pastor of Doxa Church in Bellevue, WA. He also travels around the US and the world equipping the Church in the gospel and missional living. He is the author of "Saturate: Being Disciples of Jesus in the Everyday Stuff of Life." He and Jayne, his wife of 22 years, have three children; Haylee, Caleb, and Maggie.