Connecting for Change: The Power of Active Listening

By Jerry Wiles - ASSIST News Service On January 3, 2017

Children learning in Africa

By Jerry Wiles, North America Regional Director, International Orality Network, President Emeritus, Living Water International, Special to ASSIST News Service


Group in AfricaHOUSTON, TX (ANS - January 2, 2017) -- Have you ever noticed how just one phone call, a brief conversation or a chance meeting can turn out to produce greater results or impact than an entire week of busy activities? In fact, those so-called chance meetings or conversations can result in life-changing encounters. In our modern Western cultural context, we hear a lot about metrics, measurable results, benchmarks or return on investments.

All of these are important, especially in the corporate world or marketplace. Even in the Church or Mission World, they are important. However, there is a saying that, "Not everything that counts, can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts."

When it comes to the work of the Kingdom of God, there are other ways of evaluating our effectiveness. For example, important lessons that are emphasized in our Orality Training and practices are principles of the Kingdom of God that Jesus talked about. He said that the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed; a very small seed can produce a large plant. He said that the Kingdom of God is like yeast; a small amount of yeast can affect a large lump of dough.

Listening is a way of showing honor and respect useFrom those short parables, we learn that little things can make a big difference. There is an African proverb that says, "If you don't believe that little things can't make a difference, you have never been in the dark with a mosquito." Most of us can think of seemingly insignificant decisions that have made major impact in our lives, and the lives of our families and others. The Scripture speaks of hearing the still, small voice. It is that inner witness of the Holy Spirit that says, "This is the way, walk in it."

God, of course, will not speak or lead us to do anything contrary to His Written Word. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice and follow me." We can't hear, unless we are listening. We must have ears to hear. The Psalmist makes a statement, "Today, if you hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts..." Obviously, if we have hard hearts, it is very likely that we may not hear His voice. Often it is that inner witness of the Spirit that the Lord uses to give us direction or instruction. However, if we are preoccupied, distracted or not listening, we may not hear.

One great lesson from one of the stories we use in our Orality Training is the story of the blind beggar, known as Bartimaeus. It says that when he heard that Jesus of Nazareth of passing by, he started crying out, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me." We see here a demonstration of faith, and point out that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. The blind beggar was obviously an Oral Learner. Someone must have told him stories about Jesus of Nazareth, and he had heard enough to act on what he heard.

Over the years, I've spent a considerable amount of time in airports and airplanes. So many times, when announcements were made over the intercom, I was preoccupied and didn't hear the announcement. Then I had to ask someone what was said.

Most parents have probably experienced calling their children and having to call several times before they responded. How often are we like that, God may call us, or seek to communicate with us, and we are not listening, distracted or preoccupied?

Years ago, one of my mentors shared how a key to effective witnessing and sharing our faith is listening. When we engage someone in conversation, we should listen to that person, and at the same time, listen to the Holy Spirit. He will often give us a word fitly spoken and we can fill in the gaps. When we have those encounters and conversations, we can trust that if we are responding to the leading of the Holy Spirit, God will honor our obedience to make known the acts of God and share the Gospel. We don't always have to know the impact.

Building Relationships and Community useWhen we consider the honor/shame cultures, which is most of the world, it is really a way of honoring others when we are good listeners. Listening shows respect and honor, and it builds relationships. Listening and asking clarifying questions is one of the most important ways of insuring effective communication. In my own experience, I can think of many occasions when I had conversations and listened to other people's stories. Eventually they may say to me something like, "Tell me your story, or your background." That is often an open door to significant and life-changing opportunities.

In the Global Orality Movement, there are so many lessons we can learn from the more relational, communal and Oral Cultures. In the Western World where print media and technology is so available, we are prone to miss the power of conversation, listening and heart level communication. There is much we can learn from those places, as well as what we learn from the Early Church and the life, the Spirit and the teachings of Jesus. Of course, He is our best example as a communicator, listener, instructor and disciple maker.

People who experience Orality Training for the first time often comment that they never realized the power and impact of participatory learning. People sometimes build lasting relationships with total strangers in just one day of training. In many cases, they communicate on a heart level that they have not even done with long time co-workers, friends and even family members.

One of the ways the Lord is using the Orality Movement in changing the face of the church and the mission world is by enabling people to overcome conflict and restore broken relationships. It seems to be a key to renewal and revival in the Body of Christ. It is also strategic in terms of equipping, inspiring, activating and mobilizing people and resources for a greater Kingdom impact, and ultimately completing the Great Commission. Key factors are understanding and responding to the Word of God, and experiencing greater unity in the Body of Christ.

Major Ian ThomasIn the context of our busy modern world, we can be so preoccupied that we don't hear or heed the Word of God. Sometimes we may just need to slow down, reflect and listen. One of my mentors, from a few years ago, was Major Ian Thomas, who used to say we should, "Beware of the barrenness of a busy life." He would sometimes turn that around and say, "Beware of the busyness of a barren life." It could be that we fill our lives with so many activities, that we become insensitive to the people around us, as well as not being in tune with the voice of God.

So, in order to be effective and fruitful in our relationship with the Lord and others, listening is an important discipline we can all improve on. It will enhance our ability to communicate the life-giving message of God, and be reproducing followers of the Lord Jesus.

For information on the Orality Movement and the International Orality Network, visit www.orality.net. To learn more about Living Water International's Orality Training opportunities, visit www.water.cc/orality.

Photo captions: 1) Small, simple, reproducing groups of followers or Jesus. 2) Listening is a way of Showing Honor and Respect. 3) Building Relationships and Community. 4) Major Ian Thomas. 5) Jerry Wiles.

Jerry Wiles portrait smallAbout the writer: Jerry Wiles is North America Regional Director of the International Orality Network, and President Emeritus, Living Water International. He can be reached by e-mail at: jerrywiles@water.cc.

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Connecting for Change: The Power of Active Listening