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In my first year of doing campus ministry in the US, I met a college freshman (we’ll call her Mara) who wanted to meet with me weekly. She was a skeptic about the existence of God and the truth of the Bible and she wanted to ask me, a 23 year old with a BA in Journalism, all of her questions. My training in apologetics fell a bit short. I often felt like a deer caught in headlights. Sometimes I had no answers. Sometimes I could only share my own experience. Many of her questions were ones that were my own- ones I had wrestled through with God in an all out tearful, angry matches- and ones I was still wrestling.
I didn’t know what to do, so I listened and I prayed. I felt inadequate. I feared I was wasting my time-and hers. But then Mara said something one day that struck me. “You’re the only person I’ve talked to who hasn’t tried to give me all the answers,” she said. “When people do that, it doesn’t help me. I don’t know why I keep asking. I don’t know why I wanted to meet with you. But, you listen. It helps. Sometimes I just need to get my questions out and then I can think through them.”
I thought I was failing, but it turns out, all Mara needed was someone to listen.
What she said has stuck with me these 14 years in college ministry. I’ve learned that there is great value in listening, learning, and being a friend first, before rushing to get all my words out about Jesus.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be bold. But, boldness doesn’t look like rushed conversations or putting agendas over people. Boldness means trusting God and acting as His ambassador when it is not easy.
The dictionary.com definition of boldness is not hesitating in the face of rebuff; courageous or daring. There will be a time when boldness comes in the form of sharing the gospel with words. But, the first act of boldness is to really listen, learn, and be a friend in a culture that values individualism and information overload.
Photo by Clarisse Meyer on Unsplash
Be a Listener
The first step to being a listener is to practice listening. It sounds ridiculously obvious, but it’s actually really hard. How often do we really listen and seek understanding of the speaker without thinking about how we’re going to respond? How often do our minds wander or use our silence as anticipation to say the next thing?
I find that we as people find listening difficult because we are so consumed in wanting to appear adequate. We want to plan out what we’re going to say next so we do not appear uneducated or unknowledgeable-or worse, unimportant.
This is why we must approach listening with intentionality and trust in the Lord for focus and ability.
There are some practices we can use to become better listeners: use gestures to indicate we’re listening, don’t interrupt, picture what the person is saying to help our minds from wandering, seek understanding and not just information, and ask clarifying questions.
Be a Learner
Everyone is unique with their own unique story. Each person has a hurt and pain that needs Jesus as the Healer. As ambassadors for Christ, our job is to learn the need of an individual and communicate how Jesus is the ultimate answer for their need.
In Acts 17, Paul does just this in Athens. He walks around and notices all of the idols they worship. He listens to those who debate him in the marketplace and he learns their culture. He doesn’t berate them for their idolatry, but acknowledges to the Greeks that they are very religious-he recognizes that they feel a deep need for God and are trying to earn his approval through work. He uses an object in their culture that they understand-a statue to an unknown god-to lead into the gospel. He shares Jesus with them in a way that meets their deepest need, explaining that the Almighty God does not live in temples or idols nor does he need the service of human needs. Instead, he is a God who redeems people based on his grace.
In order to be missionaries and messengers, we must first be learners.
Be a Friend
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People were created for community, but there is an epidemic of loneliness striking our world. Simply being a friend goes a long way in sharing Jesus with others. When people trust the messenger, they are more likely to listen and consider their words.
Being a friend means listening and learning. It means sticking with people even if they don’t put their faith in Christ right away. It means seeing them as humans and not projects. It means walking with them through the joy and sadness of life. It means sitting with them in their pain. It means loving them, not for what they can give you, but for how you can serve them. It means excepting them as they are, but loving them enough to not want them to stay there.
Friends do not preach at each other. Friends love, listen, and speak truth from a place of genuine care and concern.
Let us consider today how we can be better listeners, learners, and friends and allow God to lead us to sharing Jesus.
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