Listening to Hear the Image of God: Shifting from PROJECT to RELATIONAL evangelism
Have you ever been in a room that is so noisy that you can’t hear the other person talking, or you feeling like you have to shout to hear yourself. With four young children at home, this is a regular occurrence for my wife and I!
Sometimes this noise isn’t external to us, but rather in our own hearts. What do I mean? How often do you find yourself cooking up a response to what someone is saying to you while you are “listening” to them? How often do we respond to a story someone is telling us, or a difficulty someone is expressing by saying something like “oh yeah me too” or “that happens to me all the time.” What is happening in our hearts when we do this? Could it be that the gravitational pull within is towards self? But why is that pull there?
We often are asking ourselves certain questions whether we know it or not. Questions like, “Do I have value?” “Am I okay?” “Does my life have meaning?” “What is going to happen to me?” These questions are constantly rolling around inside, and they can make an awful lot of noise! This noise often prevents us from truly being able to engage with another human being who needs to hear the gospel. When our internal noise is the primary thing we hear we often can be filled with fear and anxiety that influences even how we do evangelism. If I am more worried about my self worth, or what someone is thinking about me, then it probably means I am forgetting what God HAS said about me. We look for ways to quiet the noise in our hearts, or answer the questions that are banging around inside. Let’s look at a real life example to illustrate the idea…
John chapter 4 (take a moment to read verses 1-42)…Jesus meets a lady at a well in the middle of the day. Jesus begins, not by telling this woman something, but by asking her for something…a drink of water. She is surprised that a Jewish man is speaking to an outcast Samaritan woman, and that she could actually do something for him! He shows her dignity as an image bearer of God. He then leads into a conversation about thirst that begins to connect with her longings to never thirst again. Jesus then asks her to go and get her husband. Being God, Jesus knew that she has had 5 husbands. He was leading her to see that she has been trying to quench her soul’s thirst in man, after man, after man, only to be let down again, and again, and again. He is helping her see that restored relationship with God is the only thing that meets her deepest longings.
We see here that Jesus was pursing her heart, and listening for her longings and where she was trying to fulfill those longings. He listened and engaged long enough to really hear her. Now, we quickly realize that Jesus is God…and we are not! Jesus is not only being her savior, but also modeling what it means to share the gospel with someone by listening for the image of God and the longings that come out of that reality. He helps her see that she has noise in her heart that asks those same nagging questions that we ask about ourselves…”Will I be okay?” “Does my life have meaning?” “Who decides what is right?” “Who will take care of me?”
We are not the Christ. We are the woman at the well. Christ came to us, listened to our noisy hearts and our deepest longings. He connected with the image of God in us and gave us new hearts so that image can be restored. The woman at the well became one of the greatest evangelists in her town of Sychar in Samaria. Jesus comes to be with sinners, calls sinners to follow him, and then asks his followers to go be with other sinners so that they might come to know him also! We are co-missioned into what Christ is doing in this world…seeking and saving the lost (Mark 10:45). He prayed for us in John 17:18 that we would be sent into the world just as He was sent into the world. So perhaps we can, by the work of the Spirit of Christ who dwells within us, pursue the hearts of other lost fellow image bearers of God. Perhaps we can listen to hear the image of God, and to identify the person’s deeper longings. Perhaps we can have our noisy hearts quieted by listening to what the Holy Spirit says to the nagging questions of our hearts…that we are His!
When our heart’s noise gets a little quieter, we are freed up from seeing the lost image bearer of God as a project that helps me to quiet my own noise. A quiet heart that is resting in Christ is a heart that is able to hear the noise that is in another person’s heart. A quiet heart is able to listen to the promptings of the Spirit of Christ within us who guides our every conversation with that lost image bearer in front of us. A quiet heart is the heart of an evangelist.
Will you join me in listening to the Holy Spirit more? Will you join me in allowing His voice to quiet our noisy hearts? Will you join me in pursing the hearts of the lost image bearers of God that Christ has sent us to? Take an opportunity to follow the Spirit’s promptings and have a conversation with someone long enough to listen to their longings. Think of 1 or 2 people who are already in your sphere of influence. Begin by praying for them. As we pray for a person, the Holy Spirit enables us more and more to want to know that person, to listen to that person, and to share to most amazing news that has ever entered this world…that our deepest longings don’t have to go on unfulfilled forever. That Christ has come to restore us to God.