“How are you?”
The question unnerved him. No one had asked him that before – not in this way. Looking Jim in the eyes, listening intently, really meaning it. It both unnerved him and opened up his heart. It made him look inside – and he didn’t necessarily like what he saw.
Each time Stu would ask the question, Jim would laugh it off, look away, and change the topic. But it got him thinking, “How am I, really? What really is going on inside? Why does this person want to know anyway?”
It took some time before Jim began to answer the question honestly and talk about his life. Eventually, Stu offered to pray for Jim’s marriage, his finances, his worries. The persistent question and the prayer began to soften Jim’s heart. Finally, Jim opened his heart to the One really asking the question through Stu – Jesus.
“How are you?” can be seen as Jesus’ hallmark question. When Jesus saw the crowds, Matthew 9 tells us he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Why did Jesus care about these people? Because He saw how they were – harassed and helpless. It was people’s needs that motivated Jesus to see the Kingdom come. Jesus cared deeply how people were.
How do we know when we are walking in this kind of love? Jesus’ model actually answers that question. We find it in Matthew 11:19: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.”’” This kind of love has a word attached to it – friend.
Can we, as a church, overcome our blocks and become this type of friend? Absolutely! How do we do it? We do as Jesus did – we learn to live with the question in our hearts, “How are you?” We learn to mean it. And we do so by eating and drinking with them – we connect. By being with, hanging out, by listening. We allow people to get to the point where we become someone who knows their heart and in whom they trust
Here is a suggested step-by-step plan of action. You can do this at work, in your softball team, at the store, etc., but I am going to suggest beginning at your local coffee shop or even pool hall – any place people hang out.
Step One: Go to the same place, on the same night week after week (or even a few days a week if you can). Get to know some people. Listen to their stories. Don’t preach; listen. As you do, I can guarantee some of your own “heart blocks” will begin to surface. To move forward, these blocks need to be removed.
Step Two: Fear needs to go. At first, your ears may hear some things that you don’t like, and you will probably sense stuff you don’t like. Stick with it. Sit down with a coffee, read a book. Expect sinners to act like sinners and don’t judge them for it. The lost can discern judgment. You may experience it as a strong desire to get away from these people. But they experience your desire to get away from them as judgment. Until your love for these people is greater then your fear, you will feel dirty or unsafe. Ask Jesus to show you people through His eyes.
Step Three: Learn how to make small talk with people from a culture outside of your own. Say hello, make an effort to remember the names of the regulars and the people behind the counter. Start to pray for these people. In other words, break any sense of silence or fear you may encounter in this non-Christian culture you are stepping into. Learn to feel comfortable with the lost, like Jesus did.
The steps up to this point will probably have taken you a few months. Good for you.
Step Four: “How are you?” Learn to look into people’s eyes and mean it. Have compassion; think of what a friend is. Eventually, when people see you are serious and know you are going to be around week after week, they will be real with you – but allow them the time to trust.
Step Five: Eventually, offer to pray for them, add them to your prayer list, and pray! I don’t know if you have ever gone through something where you felt people praying for you, but people do feel the affects of prayer – even non-Christians – and that makes for great conversation.
Step Six: Jesus used the harvest of wheat as a symbol of salvation: “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few” (Luke 10:2). You know when wheat is ready to be harvested because the heads of wheat are so heavy they hang down. This principle is the same with the people whom you have been listening to. Sooner or later, the way they do life doesn’t work as things get heavy – marriage trouble, family trouble, financial trouble – and their heads hang down. The harvest is ready. You have put yourself in the wheat field as a worker; you have learned to tend the field with love. Now is the time. “I know things are hard for you right now. Let me introduce you to someone who can help. Jesus.”
Learn to love, to value people’s story and life journey, listen with your whole heart … so that in time the lost will listen with their whole heart to you.