listening

Did God Really Say That?

Photo by  Eunice Lituañas  on  Unsplash

Opinions abound... everyone has one! Here's one I liked by a former American president, "I have opinions of my own—strong opinions—but I don't always agree with them."

This brings up a couple good questions. Can all opinions be right? Can any of them be right?

"If you convinced me—And I convinced you, Would there not still be—Two points of view?" [Richard Amour]

Many people claim God told them certain things. But is this their opinion, or was it really God? How can we know one way or the other?

Figure it out

A multitude of authors and speakers claim they can teach people to know the will of God. But I wonder, is it really that hard to know?

Preschool-age children already know how to figure out their parents. As they get older, they know who to go to for a favorable response to what they want.

We learn how to discern this at an early age, and likewise, learn how to use this discernment to manipulate others.

Is it really that hard to know the will of God?

You can't manipulate God, but you can know His will. It's really not that difficult. The hard part is giving up on trying to manipulate Him to agree with what we want (our self-will).

A tell-tale sign of not hearing God's voice is when we think we have it all figured out. Then we attempt to coerce others to believe it.

When we deceive ourselves that something is true because we are banking on it, we then work on others so they will accept it. This is either an effort to deceive or leads to deception.

You can't manipulate God, but you can know His will

The value of listening

Don't get me wrong. I'm as opinionated as the next person. Sometimes, more than most. When I begin to hear my own voice sound shrill and uncompromising, I know it's time to listen, not talk.

You've heard the old expression, "We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak." [Epictetus]

When my voice sounds shrill and uncompromising—I need to listen not talk

Over the centuries, or should I say, millennia, people have taken the truth, twisted it to their own design, and presented it as God's truth. This happens in all areas of philosophy and religion, among individuals and within churches.

Cultural swings can influence this. It could be the current flow of a culture or opposition to it. Think hundreds of years, not decades for perspective.

The earliest example of misrepresenting what God says is found in the encounter of the crafty serpent with the first woman and man (Gen 3:1-5)

People have long taken the truth, twisted it, and presented it as God's truth

Unadulterated truth

Jesus dealt with this in His time. Experts in the Law had tweaked and twisted God's truth into their own version of it. The foremost ones were called Pharisees.

It's no different today. We have our own Pharisees. Of course, we think it's the other guys, not ourselves. We brand them with libelous labels and separate ourselves as more righteous.

But when we do this, we hide behind the shadow of Jesus—our version of Him—as if He's on our side. When we do this are we any different than the Pharisees of the Lord's time?

Pharisees exist today but we think it's the other guys, not us

How Jesus made the truth clear

How did Jesus deal with this twisting and tweaking of truth? He often restated truth in its original form, its intended meaning.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘Never break your oath, but give to the Lord what you swore in an oath to give him.’

But I tell you don’t swear an oath at all. Don’t swear an oath by heaven, which is God’s throne, or by the earth, which is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, which is the city of the great King. And don’t swear an oath by your head. After all, you cannot make one hair black or white.

Simply say yes or no. Anything more than that comes from the evil one." (Matt 5:33-37 GW)

So, it's imperative that we know and understand the truth of God well. Not our view of the truth or the dogmatic views of spiritual leaders.

It's imperative that we know and understand the truth of God well

How to know the truth yourself?

Last week, I shared of the value and importance of reading and listening to God's Word. But the first priority is knowing God. Knowing Him, in a personal way.

The first priority is knowing God—knowing Him in a personal way

Reflecting Jesus

How? A simple path is looking at all the invitations Jesus gives in the gospels. Hear them. Take them to heart. Let them become life in you. 

Here are two important invitiations—

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest... learn from me, because I am gentle and humble." (Matt 11:28-29 GW)

“Those who want to come with me must say no to the things they want, pick up their crosses every day, and follow me." (Luke 9:23 GW)

But how will you know His will? How will you know if you're following Him in the right way?

Simple. When your life reflects the nature of Jesus, you're on the right path.

When your life reflects the nature of Jesus, you're on the right path

Talking Into the Air

unsplash.com_JRosewell

unsplash.com_JRosewell

Engaging someone in a conversation can be very satisfying, even when there's a difference of opinion. There's a sense of give-and-take, of listening and responding. This is true dialog.

On the other hand, you've probably experienced a more lop-sided conversation where you're doing all the listening, or perhaps you're doing all the talking. One-sided conversations aren't really conversations, they're monologs and aren't very productive.

What's even less productive than a monolog is when one person talks over another without listening. Even worse is when a person speaks in another language or uses terminology foreign to whoever is listening. This is like talking into the air.

Another language

One day while walking across a small island in the Philippines, I engaged a young man in conversation as we both carried a cooler full of drinks and food. He listened and nodded as I went on and on.

Years later, he told me how little he understood of our conversation at that time because he didn't understand much English. I spoke little of his dialect but thought he understood me. In reality, I was just talking into the air while he listened.

Since then, we've known each other for over 20 years and developed a fruitful relationship of mutual respect. I've learned to listen more and he's become more confident in communicating what's in his heart and mind. In the beginning, I was the teacher and he was my student. Now we are friends and partners in ministry.

4 Insights for more effective communication

This story illustrates and provides a few insights for me that I'll share here. These are some basic things to help make communication more effective so we're not just talking into the air.

  • @@Language and wording are important, that is how we convey what we say to someone@@
  • @@We need to know and understand our listeners to whom we're trying to communicate@@
  • @@We need to find a common point of reference or interest with whoever we speak to@@
  • @@Find the most effective means or way to express and convey what you want to say@@

As pointed out last week, effective communication needs to be a dialog, not a monolog, and listening well is essential.

Language

@@Words and phrases are like containers for our thoughts@@. Even with sign language, each gesture expresses some meaning or idea. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make it easy to open these containers that convey our thoughts.

Two simple ways to make them easy to open are—use simple words and translate terms and expressions or idioms into our own words.

Working overseas with students who are non-English speakers I ask them to put answers to my questions in their own words (IYOW–in your own words). This requires them to process what they are learning so they understand it better.

Putting things in simple wording also requires us to process what we're trying to communicate, and helps us to hear things more from the point of view of those who hear us. When we bring things it a simple level, we make it easier for others to understand what we're trying to say.

Understanding

As a pastor or teacher, or with any public speaking opportunity, I observe who I'll be speaking to before I get up to speak. I consider the demographics of the audience. Who are they? Where do they live? What to they do in life?

Basically, I'm looking for the most common factor among those gathered. When working with the division of fractions in arithmetic, we look for the lowest common denominator. That's the idea I have in mind.

I look beyond the better-educated people and those who seem like they'll grasp what I say more easily. I aim for those who might have a harder time understanding what I want to say to the whole group. If it's a church, I look for the younger believers and whoever might be non-believers and aim my message at them. They're my most important listeners.

Common point

@@Part of understanding who I'm speaking to involves finding a common point of reference@@ with them as a group, or maybe a couple different points of interest. If the people are older or younger, I try to relate things so they will receive it best. I tailor illustrations, examples, and stories to fit them. I even try to use idioms and words that are most familiar to them.

Jesus is our prime example for this. It never seemed to matter who was in front of Him, He knew how to communicate so they understood Him. What Jesus said to the woman at the well (John 4:7-26), is different than how He spoke to Nicodemus (John 3:1-12), or how Jesus spoke to Zacchaeus who climbed up in a tree to see Him (Luke 19:1-10). 

I don't speak to young IT students the same away I do to farmers in the mountains of the Philippines. I need to adjust what I'm saying and how I convey it in a way that relates to them best. Believers can quote Paul who said, "I have become all things to all people" (1 Cor 9:22), but do we really do this?

Ways of communicating

All of this leads up to how we communicate to others or the way we convey what we have to say. @@Different situations or circumstances also impact how we communicate@@. I'm not going to preach a sermon to a small, informal gathering. I'd rather engage people in discussions rather than talk at them.

Some of the ways I'll speak and communicate with people is to use stories, questions, or find some way of listening and responding to them. Basically, whether preaching, teaching, or just talking with someone, I want to engage them in dialog in a way that interests them.

Jesus used questions and provocative statements many times with His disciples and even in public gatherings (Matt 16:5-12; John 7:37-39). He used stories (parables) that connected with the people who gathered to hear Him (3 parables in Luke 15). As noted above, sometimes Jesus simply engaged people in conversation.

@@I've found people much more open to hearing God's redemptive story after I engage them in genuine dialog@@ rather than to immediately launch into a presentation of the gospel. I've also used each of these ways to engage people while traveling and while teaching and training leaders.

Final thoughts

These four ways of developing effective communication are useful in whatever role you have in life or in various life situations. They work for pastors, teachers, cross-cultural missionaries, writers, supervisors or staff, coaches or teammates, leaders at any level, or those who listen.

Again, @@listening well is critical to good communication. It shows people we're interested in them@@ rather than our self or our own agenda.

Practical application

@@Discipleship is a long-term investment, not just a training course to equip believers@@. Pastoral care involves understanding, patience, listening, along with a practical application of mercy and grace.

Good teachers build a strong foundation and framework for learning before delving into a deeper understanding of the truth. Cross-cultural missionaries need to find bridges and points of connection between their culture of origin and the culture of the people they want to reach.

Effective leaders need to understand the goals, passions, and struggles of their staff or team members. People in the trenches of life and work need to understand what's expected of them.

All of these life roles and situations work better when communication is done well. Those of us in roles of leadership at any level need to model these ways of making communication more effective.

For example, as a teacher, when my students aren't understanding what I'm trying to teach them, then it's my responsibility to find a way to help them understand. I need to model for them what I want them to learn to do.

When we can connect with people in these ways, we'll communicate better and make the world better around us.

How about you? How can you put these insights into action in your life?


Resources–

  • Here's a simple Glossary for some Christianese terms from the addenda of my book
  • If you'd like to know more about developing questions for an interactive Bible study, check out the Bible studies under Inductive Bible Study on the Resources page.
  • If you'd like to know more about how to tell stories in your own words (IYOW), contact me via email through the Contact form at the bottom of the Resources page.

A Failure to Communicate

unsplash.com-3gens_LAnderson

unsplash.com-3gens_LAnderson

Communication is vital for many reasons. This isn't just well known, it's obvious. As vital as it is, it's difficult to do well. Language is often a hindrance, but not nearly as much as other common culprits.

Things like pride, arrogance, and stubbornness are major factors in poor communication. This is illustrated well by a short dialog from the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke. The chain-gang boss Captain says, "What we've got here is... failure to communicate."

The number one most helpful and critical need for good communication is listening well. Marriages fall apart when spouses stop listening to each other. Negotiations break down when either or both sides are only concerned with their own agendas.

Listening well is a skill that requires time and willingness to develop. It's not a means to an end but a way to begin genuine communication.

The number one most helpful and critical need for good communication is listening well

Communication gaps

As new generations emerge a disconnect is common between younger and older generations. It was true when my generation (boomers) came of age, and it's true today.

Typically, each generation blames the other for various and perceived wrongs. The result is the inevitable generation gap. But is a generation gap inevitable or just typical? Either way, it's a gap that can be bridged, but it's a bridge that needs to be built from both sides of the divide.

I've read several articles and posts addressing the departure of millennials from the church. Depending on whose point of view, it's often a list of perceived complaints or criticisms. A lack of listening is a common complaint.

Listening well is a skill that requires time and willingness to develop

Of course, one generation blames the other. And, well, both are right because neither wants to listen to the other. It's like two young boys fighting over the same toy. When an adult intervenes and encourages them to apologize and shake each other's hand, each boy says, "I will if he will."

Part of the solution

No doubt you've heard the cliche, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." When it comes to pursuing the common ground of understanding, listening well is key. It's a gateway to being part of the solution.

Years ago I heard a veteran missionary friend of mine speak on personal evangelism. He used the term hot communication and spoke of the importance of listening. The concept isn't new and it's an acronym with a few different meanings. One explanation I like best is—Honest, Open, Two-way.

Much of the time, communication is one-way or unidirectional. That's called a monolog.

When communication is a two-way street it's called dialog. But the listening part needs to be honest and open to facilitate hot communication, or else it remains cold and likely won't lead to true understanding.

Much of the time, communication is one-way or unidirectional—monolog

Humble enough to listen

My friend Danny also gave the example of Jesus as a twelve-year-old in the Jewish Temple listening to and asking questions of the teachers. Those in the temple were astonished at what He understood and how He answered (Luke 2:46-47). What's astonishing to me is the humility of the Lord.

Paul, in his plea to Philippian believers, also uses the example of Jesus. He reminds these brothers and sisters to have the same mind or attitude as Jesus—

Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phil 2:6-8)

Understanding one another, the intended goal of true communication, requires both humility and mutual respect and consideration.

If one generation wants the respect of another, then respect needs to be extended, and it needs to be mutual, not unilateral. This is what people saw in the twelve-year-old Jesus and the one who ate with sinners and healed the poor and hurting.

Understanding one another requires humility, mutual respect, and consideration

Communication failure

I see a communication failure when it comes to reaching the millennials and the next generation with the gospel.

Those of us in older generations can find fault with self-focused younger generations, but this only shows our own lack of humility. We (boomers) were once that self-focused younger generation.

If we refuse to listen and respect those younger than we, we remain just as self-focused but older. Those of us from the Jesus Movement ought to know better. We need to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Too often it's the opposite. 

In my own involvement mentoring people of younger generations, including millennials, listening and observing are essential when working with them.

Next week I want to begin exploring ways to reach younger generations with the gospel, especially those without a Christian frame of reference and those who've walked away from the church.

Listening and observing are essential when working with other generations

Until then...

Are you a good listener? Are you willing to hear more than being heard?

Remember, we were created with two ears and one mouth!

Getting Personal

James-Sawvee-EJ_Thai
James-Sawvee-EJ_Thai

A drastic difference exists between western and asian culture when it comes to personal interaction. Actually, this difference exists with most of the rest of the world (MOTROW) and western culture. Westerners like plenty of space, whereas much of the world will get right in your face, enough so that you can smell their breath, and they yours.

Time and tasks are the priority of westerners, while most other cultures value people and events. Events are important because people are involved, and events mark important milestones in people's lives. As westerners, we're more about getting the job done, making the most of our time, and putting off vacations and sleep to do so.

In the Philippines, a very social culture, people will sit outside in the evening to greet one another and visit. When's the last time you saw a front porch filled with people sitting, watching, and available for a visit?

Keep it personal

An important element in sharing your faith is to keep it personal. This is contrary to our tendency to not get too personal. But keep in mind, sharing your faith is always about relationship—relationship with God. When it gets focused on theology, the discussion easily turns into a debate rather than knowing the Lord.

Our theology needs to be sound, but this is rarely a good place to start sharing your faith. People who have no background in the Bible won't be able to relate, and those with some background often want to talk about their perception of the truth.

Narratives compose much of the Bible's writings. These stories reveal God's interaction with people, and people's life stories as they intersect with God. It's at this point, this intersection, that we gain insight on sharing our faith with others.

Everyone's got a story

When we engage people by asking them about themselves, we open a door of opportunity. This needs to be done with a genuine interest in people, not just a means to an end. We're not a salesperson hawking our wares.

I like getting to know people. Asking questions is an effective way to find who a person is, but be careful to not make it like an investigation. It's not about rattling off a bunch of questions to get some facts about a person. The goal is to hear their story, and everyone has a story to tell.

People will tell their story to someone interested in hearing it. Think of all the reality-based programs that fill television, YouTube, magazines, and blogs. It's obvious that people want to know the stories of other people. And so, this creates an opportunity to share our faith and our own life story.

Make connection

What interests you? My interests are varied and broad, but there's only a few things I'm passionate about. You'll know what those are when you engage me in them—I'll get animated in my talking.

I'm a fairly public person, but my wife is not. She doesn't feel the need to comment on everything like I do. But when the subject of children or grandchildren comes up, it touches a vital part of her heart. Her life and work has focused on her love of children, not just her own, but children in general. She still works in a preschool with babies and toddlers, and loves it.

So, we want to find a common point of interest or connection when talking with people. But again, it needs to be a genuine interest in them as a person, not just a way for us to talk.

A fitting story

When I engage people in conversation, I try to listen for a common thread in their story. Often I'll get some insight into a person's life, even when it's a light conversation. I make a point to listen carefully. Sometimes this provides a reference point for future conversations. I also look for similarities to my own experience in life.

The more familiar I become with the narratives in the Bible, the more I see how these stories mirror the lives of people around me. These narratives run the gamut of emotions and events people experience in every day life.

As you engage a person in conversation, pay attention to details in their life. If you're open and receptive, God will help you see how that person's life connects with someone in the Bible. When you realize a particular story fits a person, then you can share it with them. After all, it's a story, and we all love stories.

Ayele-story_OmoVillage
Ayele-story_OmoVillage

Keep it simple

On one of my travels in ministry overseas, I was teaching a small church in a remote village in Ethiopia. The fellow believer who was my guide and interpreter would take what I said and put it into their own dialect, which was different than the written materials we used.

As I taught, I realized that some of it was too western and unknown for them to understand, or even be interpreted in a clear way. So, I began to use stories in the Bible as a means of instruction. They engaged well with these stories, and conceptual truth became real to them.

Christians often speak in a foreign language when we share our faith. This is referred to as Christianese. When we use Bible wording and theological terms, people don't understand it. I make a point of saying things in non-Christianese. In other words, I use plain and simple words, and avoid quoting Bible verses to people.

More and more people have little to no knowledge of what the Bible says, and don't see it as more authoritative than any other book. This is the reality of our times and if we ignore it, people will ignore us and what we want to share with them. So, ditch the Bible-talk and use other words for Christian terms. Connect with people and share your faith in words and ways they will hear.

Next week I plan to complete this series of posts on sharing our faith. Until then, share your thoughts with me...

How have you connected with other people and their life stories?

How Did Jesus Teach?

MtTalinis_Dgte
MtTalinis_Dgte

Our family moved to the Visayan region of the Philippines, in the summer of 1990. I joined an existing ministry that trained pastors and leaders how to study the Bible inductively.

My wife had vision to care for abandoned babies and children, which became Rainbow Village Ministries. Although I planted and pastored a church in Southern California for twelve years prior to our move, I learned how to teach in the Philippines.

Learning to teach

I was challenged to reexamine how I taught after several months in the Philippines, while traveling and teaching seminars. How I learned to teach before wasn't wrong, but it seemed less effective than in my pastoral experience in the US.

I stumbled into a new way to teach without any strategy for learning it. This pretty well sums up my learning style for most everything I've done in life, including marriage and parenting.

All I know is, the more I became engaged in the learning process, the better I learned to engage others in teaching. At the same time, I developed a passion for simplicity. The challenge was finding a way to teach in a simple way without compromising the depth of truth in God's Word.

Little by little, I learned how to teach in a more simple, effective way. Studying and teaching through the gospels was critical to my learning process, as I saw how Jesus taught.

Little by little, I learned how to teach in a more simple, effective way

Jesus' style of teaching

How did Jesus teach the crowds, His followers, and even those who opposed Him?

Yes, of course, the Holy Spirit empowered His words and enlightened the people. But even when the people and His disciples didn't understand what Jesus taught, they marveled at it. Even those who opposed and challenged His authority had to marvel at Him (Matt 22:15-22).

So, what was it about Jesus' teaching that carried so much authority?

If we look at the greater context of Matt 7:28-29, we see Jesus taught on many subjects. It's called the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew Chaps. 5–7). Much of this teaching seems to be a reframing of the covenant law to its original intent. Jesus would say to the people, "You have heard... But I say to you..." (Matt 5:21, 22).

It's a great example of what's commonly called exposition.

Some basic observations

Two things stand out to me about Jesus' teaching—He told a lot of stories (parables) and taught in an interactive way with His disciples.

A friend shared an article with me that sums up what I learned in the Philippines, and what I see in Jesus' teaching.

Jesus provoked thought so that truth could be understood and internalized

I've come to value biblical storying for its simplicity and power. Two sources helped me gain this insight—a Filipino pastor whom I've mentored for many years, and ministries connected to the International Orality Network.

My Filipino brother is planting churches and training leaders using the training he received from Simply the Story. This pastor trains people who are well-educated and those without education.

One of his students, who is an oral learner (non-literate), pastors a church he planted in a remote mountain area. My friend trained two other leaders to be missionaries in Hong Kong. Their method of evangelism and discipleship is biblical storying. I could go on, but you get the picture (I hope).

Interactive discipleship

We gain insight into how Jesus trained His disciples within the narrative of the gospels. Sometimes He explained parables to them (Matt 13:10-17), other times He used situations and simple illustrations (Matt 18:1-6), and chided them when they lacked understanding (Mark 8:14-21).

Jesus interacted with people, He didn't just lecture them

This became a major change point for me. I began to be more interactive with students, whether in a seminar, classroom and in more informal settings. I probably learned more from my mistakes than my observations of Jesus' way of teaching.

Several years ago, a missionary friend shared another valuable piece of my learning process. He shared on several things, but one stuck with me—how Jesus learned as a young man.

The example of young Jesus

Let's go back to the time when Jesus was young. In Luke 2:41-52, we find Him in the temple with the Jewish teachers. They were all amazed at His understanding and answers. What does it say He was doing? He was "listening to them and asking them questions" (Luke 2:46).

Early on we see the foundation for Jesus' interactive style of teaching

A few weeks ago, I shared something similar with some alumni from the Bible college I founded nearly 20 years ago. How did I do it? Interactively, of course—I asked questions! They were familiar with that, but then I shared something else.

I asked them, "How do you think I develop my questions? How do I ask questions that engage people so they will answer?"

Then I told them that I need to listen to those whom I'm teaching. I need to see if I'm connecting with them and if they are understanding what I'm trying to explain.

It's my responsibility as a teacher to communicate the truth so those who hear it can understand it.

Are we listening?

I have a couple of questions for pastors, leaders, and teachers to consider. 

Are we listening to the people we are serving, or are we too busy speaking?

Are we asking questions only to answer them ourselves?

These are questions I had to ask myself and still do.

In last week's post, I expressed the concern that something was missing in spite of all the resources available for Christians. I don't know that it's just one thing, but I'm concerned that inner, personal transformation is one thing that's missing.

I believe that intentional, personal, and interactive discipleship is essential to meet this need. And, it's how Jesus taught and discipled people.