WHEN MAN LISTENS
by Cecil Rose
Christ called men, not just to a life in which He met their need, but to one in which they joined Him in His task. In vivid and homely language which would stir the imagination of fishermen, He asked Simon and Andrew to join Him in an amazing fishing expedition. The catch was to be men.
It is very important that we should get this clear. The Christian life involves necessarily the fullest identification of ourselves with Christ in His supreme work of bringing men and women to God. To be a Christian is to be a friend of Christ; and to speak of being the friend of anyone when we do not care of the thing he cares for, or join him in the thing he is living for, is simply meaningless.
Christ lived and died to change men, by bringing them to a definite personal trust in and obedience to God. He knew that nothing less would meet their real needs, and nothing less would be sufficient to redeem and remake the world. To stop short of that would be to fail. Unless, then, we are prepared to let Him draw us into a share in the same passion and the same programme, we are no real friends of His, since there can be no unity of mind and heart between us.
Deep in our minds to-day is the idea that the Christian life is primarily a matter of being good oneself, and being ready to help others in what we call practical ways. To deal with their deepest needs and win them for God is the parson’s job–or at any rate the job of people with special gifts. That is to mistake the real nature of Christian life and service. No doubt Christ meets us first at the level of our own need. He stoops to us in he tangles of our problems–reaches to us while we are still centered in ourselves; but He cannot give us His full answer, even for our own needs, until we let Him lift us, self-forgotten, into partnership with Him in His redemptive love of men. Release from ourselves and with it new power, can only come fully in that active companionship.
Not only own life but our service of men will be stunted if we stop short of this work of life-changing with Christ. We may meet people’s material needs, we may aid them in sickness or misfortune, we may provide healthy interests and sound instruction for them–and yet fall short of the full Christian answer to their need. Christian ‘philanthropy’ is not enough. If we love men at all, we shall be prepared to do these lesser things for them when it seems right and wise. If we love men as Christ loved them, we shall not be content until they have been so brought into touch with God that they are themselves remade, and have, in their own lives, the full answer to their own needs. The world today proved ample evidence of the inadequacy of humanitarian service which stops short of changing the man himself.
For we must remember that the love of Christ, which we are called to share, is an active love. He was not content to live a life of ‘silent witness’ and hope for the best. He went out seeking men. When we are filled with the same kind of love we shall do as He did. Life-changing is not a matter of special commission nor of special gifts. It is a matter of how much real love for people we have, how much we want them to find the one complete answer to their need, and how much of God we have ourselves to share with them.
When we have this real love for people, the office and the factory, the home and the school, and every place where the daily business of life is carried on, will become the scene of life-changing. A hotel proprietor in the South of England meets every day with several of his staff to plan, under the guidance of God, how his hotel may become a place where the guests find not only comfort and rest, but God. A Dutch lawyer, who handled divorce cases in the courts, now settles many of them in his office by showing his clients how God can reconstruct their lives. Many doctors now know how to cure their patients more thoroughly, because they have learned the secret of healing the mind as well as the body.
Life-changing is simply normal Christian living. It is doing Christ’s work. If our aim falls below that level we are failing Him.
It is very tempting for us, confronted by this high call, to find excuses for our failure, and to reassure ourselves sin the fact that at least we are serving others in good ways, if not the highest.
Before we allow ourselves to venture up these sidetracks of excuse we should do well to ask ourselves some honest questions.
Have I every seriously faced this responsibility?
Am I actually willing for God to take me right into the centre of other people’s lives, or do I shrink from the cost of being involved?
Do I care enough whether they find God or not?
Have I enough conviction that the one thing people need most is a personal relationship with God?
Am I held back by the knowledge of things in my own life which have not been uncompromisingly faced?
Do I fear the opinion of others or the loss of their friendship?
And let us beware of pleading our unfitness for so wonderful and sacred a task as dealing with the inner life of men. That is not humility. It is distrust of the One who has called us, and with whom all things are possible-even the miracle of my being used to bring another person to God. Until these issues have been faced it is too soon to conclude that life-changing is not our calling.
We cannot change another person. Apart from the fact that God is already at work in the other person’s life, making him aware of need, awakening responses, and in the end convincing him of the truth of what he has heard and the rightness of the new steps he sees, any effort of ours will be quite useless. Anyone who has tried it knows that human argument and persuasion do not change people’s hearts. But, in the ceaseless work God is carrying on in the lives of men, He does fit us in when we fulfil the conditions.
The first condition is our own simple honesty. If we try to hand on to other people something we have not got ourselves, it will be no wonder if they are unimpressed. People are drawn and captured by something they can see has really happened to us. It is not that we are consciously dishonest; but we present to others the belief and the experience we feel we ought to have, rather than those we actually have. Pride creeps in, and we pass quickly over the gaps in our knowledge of God. Or perhaps we are afraid that, if the other person sees the meagreness of our Christian life, he will not be attracted; and consequently we pitch the note of our witness higher than is justified by fact, or resort to giving good advice instead of honestly telling the other person the things which are real to us. In either case the note rings false.
God does not reach other people so much through our opinions, and our advice as through the rock bottom facts of our life, honestly presented. It is reality which is redemptive.
I have known a man, only an hour old in the Christian life, bring another man to God simply because he was honest about the facts of his own surrender. The first price of life-changing is this kind of honesty.
The second condition is that we should be really interested in people. When our interest ceases to be centred in ourselves or the small circle of our particular friends, and we begin to take a real interest in the varied folk we meet, we see a whole new range of opportunities for entering other people’s lives, and every encounter becomes a responsibility given us by God.
God cannot use many of us deeply in the lives of other people because we do not see. And we do not see because we are not interested. Christ was intensely interested in people. In other words, He loved them. We shall not share in His redemptive work with men and women unless we too love them. Life-changing can never be performed as a duty. It is something which happens when we are deeply and sincerely interested in people.
The other condition of God’s using us in changing lives is that we should be guided. As we saw, a changed life is the result of what God has been doing in a man’s mind and heart. We are only of use if we fit in at the time and in the way which dovetails into what God is already doing for the man. If we try to gate-crash a man’s soul before the door is ajar, or try to hurry him ahead of the convictions God is bringing home to him, we merely spoil God’s work. We need to know when to speak and when to be silent, what to say and what to leave unsaid, when to step aside and give the other man time to think, and when to press him relentlessly towards decision. These things pass the wit of the wisest of us. They are only made clear to us through a sensitiveness to people and their needs which is born in prayer. God cannot guide us rightly in individual work unless we pray for people and listen for His directions about them.
We must be guided too in the choice of those in whose lives God wishes to use us. God cares for everyone, and His ultimate purpose is to bring all who are willing, into a full life, but, in carrying out that purpose, He does choose the men and women whom He needs next as leaders. It may, therefore, be much more important for me to spend hours with some man or woman on whom the lot of hundreds of others depends, than to run about after a dozen people who are not God’s next work for me. God has His strategy, and it may be vital for a whole community that the ‘salient’ of a single life should be captured before any wide advance is possible. It may be a business man (or a workman), who, when changed, will be able to carry out God’s plan in a whole industry, a teacher who will open the way to a God-controlled school, a local `tough’ who will win all his `tough’ friends, a politician who will set a new level of national policy. And God can tell me, if I listen, who is my responsibility.
These are not conditions which can only be fulfilled by the few and the specially gifted. They are the simple and spiritual conditions which can be fulfilled by anyone who is willing to learn in the school of Christ.
The vital element in this work of life-changing is, of course, an infectious experience of God-an experience real enough for other people to catch from us. The conditions we have to fulfil are, the simple and spiritual conditions just outlined. If, however, we are to be used by God to the fullest extent in other people’s lives, there is much to be learned in the art of dealing with men and women. Our own practical experience is the best teacher, but it may be some help if we summarize a few lessons learned by those who have attempted the work themselves.
One thing must be grasped at the beginning. If we are to help men and women deeply, we must make friends with them. People only begin to show themselves to us when they feel they can trust us. They only trust us if they feel we care for them, and understand them as real persons, and are not merely interested in them as ‘cases’ or as ‘possible converts.’ To establish such a personal relationship needs patience and makes big demands. We shall have to find time, put ourselves out of our way to cultivate acquaintance, get to know what other persons are interested in, what books they read, what are their ambitions. We may have to join them in their play. Sometimes the entry on the other life is swift and the response to us instinctive. Sometimes the process is long. But whether the process is long or short, if we try to break in without friendship, attempt to put the other persons right and tell them what they should believe or do, we shall find the door of their inner life slammed in our face. If we are to work at this deep level, then we must reckon with the fact of sex. There are confidences which can only rightly be shared between man and man, and woman and woman. To ignore this condition would mean either a superficial job, or a wrong relationship.
It is when we have made friends that we begin to see the other man more clearly. That is essential. The first step in life-changing is to introduce a man to himself. We have to help him to look behind his actions and his feelings and see their roots, or perhaps face things in his life he has been hiding so long that now he cannot see them. That is a task which requires the insight of real love. The difficulty he brings to us first may be (and very often is) a mere blind. Again and again people will put forward their intellectual difficulties when their real trouble is moral; or they will tell you a lot of things of which they are afraid, while keeping back the deepest fear of their lives. Sin deceives a man about himself, and our first work is to help in breaking through that self-deception. It is here that we can so easily fail those we are trying to help. We can fail through carelessness because we simply have not taken the trouble to watch and learn the other man as far as we possibly can.
We can fail through sentimentality. Either our human affection for the other person, or our dislike of going too deep into our own life, leads us to idealize, to soften down harsh facts, or to stay the probe. We call it being charitable. Actually it is sheer betrayal, and the other person may have cause one day to curse us for our lack of the kind of love which loves enough to hurt. We can fail through haste. We seize on the symptoms of the trouble and haven’t the patience to get down to causes. A good deal depends on the thoroughness with which we have faced ourselves. It is not only that honest self-knowledge helps us in the diagnosis of others, but our own deepest discoveries about ourselves, shared with him, may be what is needed to help the other man to see himself.
The outcome of this work of helping a man to become acquainted with himself should be his own willing confession of all he has so far seen.
The next stage will test our restraint. Our human impulse is to give advice, to point out the steps that other persons ought to take, to rearrange their life ourselves. Actually the only thing we can rightly do is to help them to listen, not to us, but to God. Somewhere at the base of their life God is speaking to them, convicting them about the past and insistently pointing the new way. It is tremendously important that they should discover this themselves. If they listen to us instead of to God, they will depend on us instead of Him. That is fatal. We must do no more at this stage than help them to listen for the deepest voices in their own souls, until they know that God is speaking and make their first response in trust and obedience to Him alone.
When the other person has arrived at this point and is face to face with steps to be taken, and a call to be answered, we must be ready lovingly and firmly to hold them up to the decision that must be made. Most people try to run away when they reach this stage. They try to postpone the decision, though they know it must be made. They try to make it by installments, or offer to face any other steps except the one which really matters. A friend who will not let them run away is invaluable. It is wise also to remember how much it helps if the decision is put into words perhaps the words of a prayer as we kneel with our friend. We should see, too, that the one who has surrendered makes the fact known as soon as possible to other people. Anything vague and indefinite about the act of surrender is a source of later weakness.
There follows a very demanding part of our work for men and women. Surrender to God has begun the new life, but the one we have helped so far, needs the most patient aid in working out the implications of that surrender, establishing a new discipline of life, making necessary restitutions for the past, and getting into action for God.
It is a crime to expose new-born babies. It is an even worse crime to leave our spiritual children without careful individual attention. We are too easily content to push them into a job in the Church or urge them to attend meetings–mistaking attendance at meetings for real Christian fellowship. Fellowship is always between two individuals. It can only exist in a company of people when it already exists between the individuals composing the company. We shall, then, need to keep in close touch with these spiritual children of ours, helping them to see the fuller implications of their surrender, and particularly planning with them daring action; for fellowship is found most of all when we step into God-guided action together. An employer and one of his workmen plan how to put the whole factory under the guidance of God. Men, who were previously trade rivals, seek God’s plan for the industry in which they are engaged. A number of people, seeing their responsibility for their city, plan its capture for God. In such action fellowship becomes real, and our spiritual muscles are stretched in healthy growth.
This, then, is the quality of redemptive living to which Christ calls all who are willing to share in His work for men. It is a partnership which will drain us to the bottom, taking far more than we have. But it is in this work, which is utterly impossible to us, that we make the greatest discoveries of the sufficiency of God.
This work of life-changing is in the end the only contribution which we Christians have to make towards a new world. Anything less than loving men and women into personal relationship with God will fail.