By Glenn Balsis, L&D Team member and Collegiate Navs Rep, Purdue University contact by email
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Present to God; present to people.
These six words, used by Charles de Foucauld (1858-1916), intrigued author and pastor Gordon MacDonald. He said, “In the morass of mission statements and pithy slogans…I think I like this one best.” These six words tell me that I must first be present to God, so that I may also be present to people.
Even in the midst of a hectic schedule, three keys have helped me be fully present with people.
1. Let Your Story Linger in the Background
James 1 captures a simple but profound phrase: “Lead with your ears” (1:19 MSG). Listening can be a rare ingredient in ministry conversations. Dietrich Bonhoeffer noted, “Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.” Listening involves being fully attentive to the person who is sharing.
My wife, Margo, and I sat with a dear friend whose son-in-law had experienced a brain aneurysm. Parts of us wanted to jump in to share our insights on our own chapters of suffering. We listened, without interrupting for 45 minutes. Afterward, Margo and I realized we wouldn’t have been able to hear all of Dave’s story if we had detoured him with our story or peppered him with sidetracking questions. Focused listening often means our story will linger in the background so another’s story can unfold.
2. Express Your Curiosity
An unlikely conversation developed between an Ethiopian eunuch and evangelist Philip in Acts 8: “So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’” (v. 30 ESV). What could Philip have missed if he jumped in with a message versus a question?
After a lively conversation with my student friend, Dan, he exclaimed, “I’m just not interested in Christianity.” An instant prayer prompted me to ask, “I’m curious, should you be?” After a brief pause, Dan went on to explain that his image of Christianity was that he would have to “clean up his act to be presentable to God.” We then talked for a half hour about the Gospel, and our self-effort. The question helped us both see that Dan had deeply held misconceptions about Christianity.
3. Be Intentionally Thoughtful
Paul encourages the Philippian church, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4 NIV). Our focus shifts from meeting our own needs to observing, caring, and helping meet the needs of others. Thoughtfulness is a lens, allowing us to see the unique needs of those around us.
Last Sunday, a group of hungry college students came to a barbecue at our house. While tossing Frisbees in our backyard, Stephen and Austin noticed two of our neighbor kids watching. “Would you like to learn to toss a Frisbee?” they asked. What they didn’t know was these kids came from a single parent home lacking a dad. And it was Maria’s tenth birthday. In the midst of a collegiate Bible study group dinner, two students made a huge difference in the lives of two kids because of their thoughtfulness.
Mother Teresa once said, “To be thoughtful means you are full of thought towards people.” Her words remind us to be fully present to people who could remain invisible.