Thursday, February 25, 2010
Holy Conversations: talking and not listening
Image from Natalie Dee.
Here is my week three response to the following questions from the online and face-to-face group called Holy Conversations. This weeks questions can bring up some tender spots for many of us, so I have tried to be especially fair in what I share here. I too have been the offender and insensitive. I pray that is not the case in the present case for this discussion...
Have you ever tried to share your faith story, conversion story or gospel message with anyone? If so, what did you say and how did the person respond. What was their reaction to your story and how did you feel when you shared it.
One of the first times I remember intentionally sharing my testimony was a part of a 'street-witnessing' effort of a Christian music/arts and drama group I was a part of the summer I was seventeen.
Prior to that summer, I'd attended a weekend retreat that fired up my faith and I spent that winter and spring devoting myself to setting my alarm early EVERY day to rise and spend and hour in Bible reading and prayer.
At that point in my life, I was excited - young - passionate about God - but not a very good listener. I was extremely interested in having the 'right' answers and making sure those around me had the same 'right' answers as well.
So in preparation of going out to fish for people, the leader of our group familiarized all of us with the tract, 'Steps to peace with God." We went through the tract with each other taking turns being to evangelist and the lost soul, and eventually it came time for our local town's festival where we were to go fishing.
We went out in pairs, I was anxious but excited, and went to the festival with my partner convinced that I would help to "save" every person I spoke with. The first few people we approached would not let us share the tract, but after a little while I met up with a girl a year ahead of me in school who agreed to listen to what I had to say.
I read through all the points of the tract, asked all the questions and to my great joy my friend said "Yes!" when asked if she would like to pray and commit her life to God. I was overwhelmed with emotion and tried my best to lead her in the prayer..."God come into my life. Please forgive me of my sin. I believe in Jesus and all that he did for me. From this day on help me to live for you."
Somewhere in the leading of prayer, I became so caught up in the moment that I started randomly praying anything that came into my mind. I forgot to listen to my friend, and took the joy of that moment for my own. It was her joy really and she was gracious about how I'd mishandled that moment. But even with my fumbling and non-listening; she seemed happy to have met up with me that day.
Years later, I still wonder what happened to that girl. Today when I think of the bravado I showed that day, I wonder how anyone ever would or could stand to listen to me about spiritual matters ever again. But youth is like that sometimes - and spiritual matters can be too. Sometimes you charge into the sensitive and fragile areas of peoples lives, toss some scripture and around, and rush out the door just as that person opens up and is in need of a sincere friend.
I've been on the giving and receiving end of witnessing efforts like this many times in my life.
Once while working at an outreach site where some good relationships had been established, a well meaning group of street witnesses came up to the group outside and started shoving papers in the people's faces demanding they come to a gathering they were having later that weekend. One man approached me and said, "You really need to come to this, I can tell." I tried to be polite and said, " I'm good thanks." Then he insisted, "Really, this is a life and death kind of thing, You need to come." I looked at him with great sincerity and said, "Excuse me, but I am a Christian. Thanks for the information, but I'm not interested." He tried a third time to place the flier in my hand and I called out to someone in the group that I knew and said, " Hey, will you let your friend here know that I really am a Christian?"
Only then would he back off and move on down the street.
The impression this "outreach" made was not a good one. Many of the people who saw the exchange and knew I was a Christian were shocked at how they had acted. Self righteous, non-listening, and impatient were some of the words they used. I tried to say that their intentions were good and that there were times in the past that I'd behaved in the same way, but it was hard to dissuade their criticism. How telling it is when we either fail or succeed in "doing unto others as you would have them do to you."
May we all be better listeners, because someday you may still wonder what happened to that person you should have talked less to and listened to more