• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Listening is just hard

Talking is fairly easy, even if one is shy or introverted.  It’s ‘easy’ because we work to convey what is on our mind, what is our opinion about a topic.  Listening, on the other hand, is just plain hard.  It’s hard because listening is not about us, but about othlistening bisers and understanding what is on their mind.

Listening calls for double duty.

For one, we must shut off our ‘answer’ default mode, that is, we must stop thinking about our every response to another’s comments.  The point of listening is to understand the process whereby the other arrived at his/her thoughts.

For another, we must focus on clarifying questions.  In order to understand what another is ‘working to convey’ to you, questions (thoughtful questions) will allow you to sound out another’s thought process.  The fruit of this kind of listening is that it helps the listener know better how to ‘intervene’ in the life of the other.  It will allow the one speaking to actually assess the import and soundness of his/her thoughts.

Listening is a skill. It is a competency that many of us must work on.

I had the benefit of a personal example of skill-full listening the other day.  Two close friends were over for a time of sharing and prayer together.  At one point, I ‘vented’ about some the frustrations I was experiencing.  I made some strong statements, some exaggerated statements.

Our friends did not immediately push back on me, trying to prove me wrong.  They asked numerous questions; at times rephrasing what I said to be sure they had heard what I was saying.  The questions were in no way contentious either.  They were carefully worded, and their impact was felt much later.  Yes, there were some responses on their part.  However, their questions caused me to re-examine what I had been saying and the ‘steps’ I had been considering to take.

I think our close friends had the harder work that night.  It was easy for me to talk.  I know it was hard for them to listen.  The result, however, was that their work of listening turned me back to the ‘everlasting way’ (Psalm 139:24).

Community can happen in a weekend

I just spent the past weekend with a dozen other cross cultural workers and leaders.  They came from all over the globe and are engaged in a variety of ministries.  We ‘thought’ the common denominator was that we all have the same executive coach.community Very quickly, we realized that the same common denominator was (and is) the Lord Jesus Christ.

Sounds obvious, you might say.   However, that common denominator allowed us to rather quickly build community between us.

Author Scott Peck in his book, A Different Drum, argues that community is built in a variety of ways, but that it is not always a function of time. This weekend brought that insight home.

There was nothing ‘fancy’ or complex about how we spent our time together. The first night, we shared with one another our background and family.  The next two days, we each presented our ministries, beginning with a Bible verse that has been meaningful to us.  No big Bible exposition.  The next person presenting prayed for the person who had just presented.  The last night, we shared what are ways to thrive (not survive) in ministry.  There was plenty of discussion around the meal tables as well as when we walked through the city.

The last night, one of the youngest among us said that she was amazed at how quickly she felt ‘at home’ to be able to share her heart; there was ‘safety’ in this community.  People understood the world she lived in and could spoke honestly to her.

We all need community.  One of the elements of our WT Ministry Framework is growing in community.  That community can take many forms and happen in different ‘time frames’.

Let us not shy away from community because it takes time, because it makes us vulnerable to others.  It took ‘time’ to participate in this retreat; not in terms of quantity, but in terms of choosing to spend my time differently than I might have this past weekend. Let us grow continually in community because the fruit will be evident in how we thrive in ministry, how we grow in resiliency.

Pride is insidious

Our struggle with pride often happens in the ‘small’ moments of life.  We don’t even see it coming, and then it surfaces to work to convince us how ‘good’ it feels to detour-sign-k-6718be right.

A ‘small’ moment like this one. I arrived in Melbourne last Saturday night around 23h00. I made my way quickly to the rental car place and in a matter of minutes was on my way.  “I’m doing really well.  I’ll get to Mitcham quickly,” I thought.  I got out on the freeway heading into the City and not more than two kilometers down the road, there were signs indicating that the freeway was closed.  “Now what I am going to do?” was my first thought. I decided to follow the detour signs placed ahead.

After more than twenty minutes of following those detour signs, I arrived back at the very place where I started following the signs!  That’s when I said to myself, “I’m never going to make it to Mitcham (where I was staying)!

So, here it was, 0h30 in the morning, most shops closed, and I wasn’t really sure in what direction was the City. I saw a 7-11 store open.  I pulled in and asked the young man at the counter how to get to the City.  He simply replied, “Just keep following that road.”  Now, I’m convinced this is the first response of many people in many countries at that time of the morning. “Just keep following that road.”

On the way out of the store, I saw an older couple getting out of their car, and I apporached them asked if they could help me.  The man looked right at me and said, “Where are you from?”  No words of help or advice, just ‘where are you from?’  When I told him that was a ‘hard’ question to answer, he laughed and said, “No problem, how can I help you?”  He proceeded to give me very explicit instructions to get the City and thanks to him I was able to get to where I needed to go.

I count at least three strikes of pride in that little event.  There was the ‘timing’ issue.  My efforts had led me to get out of baggage and customs and on my way in good time. I was happy with what I had done.  There was the ‘I’m going to figure this problem out myself’ issue.  Once the detour came up, I figured my sense of direction would get me where I needed to go.  I was confidant in myself.  There was the ‘accent’ issue.  The question of the man at the 7-11 store took me by surprise.  Why couldn’t he just accept me, instead of commenting on my American accent?

All little things you might say, but they all quickly add up to a focus on ME.  Pride is insidious.  Reflecting back on an event, even one seemingly ‘small’ in our minds, can help us to ferret out the work of pride which seeks to damage our heart and soul on a daily basis; and which seeks to keep us from our God.

Wrestling with pride

When you ‘wrestle’ with the flesh, you are taking on an adversary that never stops his or her attack.  At the same time, you can seemingly never get your hands on or around this opponent.  It’s like trying to grab one of the many dishes at a Hong Kong Dim Sum restaurant with chopsticks.  You are a debutant at this and you just can’t get those two chopsticks around that dumpling without it slipping out.   chopsticks3

The ‘flesh’ is another way of talking about pride.  Pride is full out independence.  It is being convinced that you need to do something, and that only you can do it.

The trouble with pride is that it has blinded most of us to its systemic presence and power in our lives.  Sure, we all know we are prideful from time to time. However, we would never admit that the overwhelming majority of our actions are tainted by pride; by our wanting to be noticed, accepted or appreciated.

When you try to ‘address’ pride in your life, it’s like that dumpling slipping between those chopsticks. It gets away from you and pops up somewhere else.

So, is wrestling with pride a lost cause?  You would start to think so after the numerous ‘defeats’ we each have had at the mercy of this adversary.  However, the simple act of calling out for help can be a first step in grabbing hold of that pride and addressing it with the help of another.

Calling out to God (Psalm 139:23-24) provides us with the grace and ability we need to go after pride.  Calling out to a brother or sister in our community of believers gives us the hand that we need to prayerfully engage and overpower our pride (James 5:16).

Why is it so hard (again)?

A friend and former prof, Jack, used to say that the evil one rubs your nose in your sin and drives you to discouragement and despair.  The Holy Spirit shows you your sin and drives you back to the cross for forgiveness.

When I wrote yesterday about how hard it is (or seems to be) to do partnership development, I trust you knew that was only a small tip of the iceberg.Tip of the Iceberg --- Image by © Ralph A. Clevenger/CORBIS

Why is life so hard?  Primarily because we struggle against sin, the flesh and the evil one.  The struggle is compounded by the fact that we can’t always distinguish which ‘one’ is working on us.

When our skirmish is against sin, we find ourselves face to face with that ‘law’ which works within us (Romans 7:23); that temptation when ‘fully grown brings forth death’ (James 1:15).  It is like running through a darkened hallway where you keep bumping into things, not knowing what they are, or what they might contain.

Those who went before us talked about ‘mortifying sin’ (see John Owens’ famous treatise, “The Mortification of Sin”).  Mortifying sin was the way people in those days talked about the need to deal with our heart (or our heart sins) in serious ways.

That sounds kind of rough, I know.  However, an Australian mate, Simon, made the comment over coffee today that he doesn’t often hear much talk about sin.  It’s more about the ‘help’ that Jesus can be to us.  Sin, in our lives, needs to be dealt with in serious ways in order for us to know more of the depth of the impact of the cross.

A Scottish pastor shared the following ideas as a way to practice ‘mortification’ of sin.  First, see sin for what it really is.  Self-deception keeps us from seeing a ‘struggle’ as idolatry.  Next, see sin for what it is in God’s presence.  “The masters of the spiritual life spoke of dragging our lusts to the cross (kick and scream, though they will), to a wrath-bearing Christ.”  Next, remember who you are.  You are no longer the ‘old’ man or ‘old’ woman, you are a new creation in Christ.   Finally, put sin to death.   “Refuse it, starve it, and reject it’.

None of this work can happen outside of the ‘great exchange’; outside of the Spirit of Christ at work in our hearts and giving us the grace to do the ‘hard work’.

Why is it so hard?

Call it what you want: support raising, partnership development, or cross cultural worker funds.  For most of us, the task of ‘raising our own support’ was not, and is not, something that we looked forward to doing.  Yet, the Lord was faithful and here we are serving Him cross culturally.fund raising

Jehovah Jireth, the God who provides, met our need through those whose hearts He touched to engage in God’s mission.

However, in recent days, I have heard ‘older’ and ‘younger’ workers state how hard it is to do and continue to do partnership development.  I won’t use the word ‘complain’; maybe more like ‘tiresome-ness’.  Many are looking at other ways to self-fund or to reduce the amount of support they need to raise. Many are asking the question as to the viability of the partnership development process.

It’s not my intent to argue one way or the other.  However, let’s not deprive people around us of ‘the God ask’; that is, giving them an opportunity to get involved in what God is doing in His mission around the world through sharing their resources (see Philippians 4:15-17).

Let’s not deprive ourselves, either, of the opportunity to learn, and learn again that God does provide for our needs. He will provide through the partnership of others, through a work opportunity, or through a multitude of other ways. Yet, this is His work, not our work.

When we worry, complain, or grow just plain tired of raising up and developing partners in the ministry, we are in a sense conveying that cross cultural missions is about us.  We know that God called us into this work.  We know that we must raise up partners and funding.  However, we can trust He will meet our needs and teach us through this process.

Had any good conversations today?

A large portion of our work as cross cultural workers aconversationnd leaders consists in engaging people in conversation.  As I thought through my day today, I easily had over five significant conversations.

The question I am asking myself in light of all those conversations is: did I have any good conversations today?

When I say ‘good’, I’m asking myself if any of those ‘significant’ conversations built up another, brought hope back to someone, caused us as a ‘conversation’ group to move a project further along, allowed another ‘into’ my life  to hear my heart, or influenced a young believer in their walk with Christ.  That’s what I, we, should aspire to when ‘talking’ or conversing with others.

If we were honest, a number of our conversations are not ‘good’; not ‘good’ in the sense that there is no purpose or fruit from the time spent talking together. Sure, there are  times when our conversations are moments of jovial fun and laughter.  However, if the majority of our conversations consist of nothing more than lighthearted humor, we should probably ask more regularly: did I have any good conversations today?

Here are a few ideas to assess ourselves when we have a conversation in the next few days. Perhaps these might help us better see the import, the ‘good’ of our conversations:

  • If you were to summarize the conversation you just had in one sentence, what would you say?
  • How many questions did you ask, and how many questions did you answer?
  • If you were the other person in the conversation, how would you have felt when the conversation was over?

“… but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”