I have set out to identify, and answer, the three most commonly asked questions that I’ve encountered in my travels, in Q&A sessions and through email. Last month we dealt with the first one, which was “How did you come into the message of grace.” To illustrate how common the question is, it was the first question asked at my most recent Q&A, which occurred since the airing of that essay.
The second most common question is one I receive less frequently than the first (honestly, nothing even comes close to the number of times I’ve been asked the first question), but it is still one that pops up repeatedly. It is asked in a variety of ways, but I’ll hone it down to two versions of the same question. “How do I get my friends and family to accept this message?” and “How do people hear this message of grace and not receive it?” Essentially, it is asked by people who have been transformed by the finished work of Christ but find that others are not as excited about it as they are.
It’s an impossible question to answer definitively, because everyone has their reasons for what they believe and why they believe it. I think we are all looking for a super verse of sorts, some argument that can be made that is both compelling and irrefutable, but we all realize that no such argument was made to us. We walked into whatever revelation we are in because it just became real to us. Like Saul on the road to Damascus when he saw Jesus and it changed him forever. He didn’t go looking for that revelation, and he didn’t argue his way into it. Peter, James, and John didn’t corner him and convince him that he should accept Jesus as Messiah. Had they tried, it probably would not have worked. Think of that, those who walked with Jesus and saw him in the flesh, were not capable of winning religious Saul. It took a revelation from God, and that is what it will take now.
Jesus spoke repeatedly, both in the Gospels and the Revelation of “those who have ears to hear, let him hear.” It would seem that he is addressing our spiritual ear rather than our natural one. We are capable of hearing what we need, but not really hearing it. It doesn’t merely “go in one ear and out the other,” it simply doesn’t penetrate our awareness. It’s not revelation, it’s just information. And when we approach the information as someone who has nothing to learn from it, we cannot possibly be transformed by it.
It seems to me that we all fail to learn when we fail to be good listeners. Everyone wants to think they are a great conversationalist, but most people list great conversationalists as people they can talk to. Did you catch that? It’s people they can talk TO, not people that talk back to them. What most people are looking for when they want to talk is someone to listen to them talk. This is why being a good listener is far more valuable than being a good communicator. We don’t learn much when we do the talking, but we are open to learning when we do the listening. So listen as if you have something to learn, because, who knows, you might.
When Jesus was twelve years old, his family found him sitting in the temple listening to the doctors and lawyers, and asking them questions. Notice that he was listening, and asking questions; and this was Jesus! The next verse in sequence tells us that they were astonished at his understanding and answers, but notice that this comes after he listens and questions. You have no ground for understanding what you do not listen to, and you have no answers to questions you are not asking.
Many people do not receive the revelation of the finished work or the message of grace because they aren’t listening for it. They hear us quote Scripture or give testimony, but they aren’t listening in order to learn. Sometimes, they are only listening in order to argue or just long enough to jump in with a rebuttal. In these cases, I suggest moving on. Stop throwing your pearls to the swine. That allegory is not to indicate that your friends and family are pigs, but that, like pigs, they don’t realize the value of what is in front of them. A pig treats a pearl the same way they treat a table scrap; there is no recognition of value. Treat your revelation with value, and you will be careful about where you release it, and to whom.
Just as many don’t receive because they aren’t listening, many more do not receive because they are not ready. We don’t know what brought Saul to his spiritual knees, so that he could become the Paul we know and love. Sure, the vision of Christ on that road ultimately brought him home, but what brought him to the place that he was willing to listen. Just seeing and hearing Jesus didn’t always do it. Many of the Pharisees had nearly daily encounters with Jesus and they didn’t all convert to his way of thinking. They were not ready for what he had to say. Some became open to the message after his ascension, as the great 15th chapter of Acts tells us that there were many Pharisees who believed on Jesus. They went from not ready, to ready, and each in his own time.
I wasn’t ready, and then I was. I have already recounted for you some of the journey that took me there, but that journey was mine, not yours. Your journey may be similar, but not exactly the same. You were made ready, maybe by exhaustion of your own efforts, maybe by shame and condemnation, or maybe you asked enough questions that the only answers left were wrapped up in God’s grace.
We must also acknowledge that some people don’t receive the message because they are afraid. They fear what they don’t understand. If the message is different in any way to what they have heard, they shy away, content with the knowledge they have. The fear of something new is partially inspired by Scripture itself, where Paul warned Timothy that in the last days the very elect would be deceived. Already convinced we are living in the last days, any doctrine that deviates from where they were founded could be the voice of the devil in this dark hour, and they run from it for fear that they too will fall to deception.
The one possibility I am loathe to acknowledge, but obligated to do so, is apathy. I think it is a close bedfellow to fear, but it has a sinister edge to it. With fear, at least there is a basis for the emotion, and maybe even some twisted scriptural interpretation that causes it, but with apathy, there is really no good excuse. Some people don’t receive the message of liberty, grace, and the finished work because they just don’t care. For them, Christianity is their religion, but they don’t spend much time thinking about what it means. To dig into Scripture to mine out truth would be a bridge too far. They like a faith that goes to heaven, misses hell and has clearly defined angels and demons. But when you talk of inheritance, identity, righteousness, covenants and kingdom, you have moved into the realm of either the scholar or the fanatic. They disdain both, or at least don’t care for either, and they move on. Your insistence that they hear this message, or read this book, is simply noise in their life journey. If receiving your “revelation” means getting all excited about this stuff, well, that’s not for them.
If you want advice on what you can do in spite of all of these obstacles, my advice would be to love people. Love them like no one else loves them. Accept them for who they are, warts and all. Don’t judge them, critique them or criticize them. Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples because we love, not because we convince or because we win. When we love, we display the heart of God. We were won over by love, so loving others is our only true option.
So the short answer for how to get people to receive this message is, you can’t. You can’t make anyone receive it. You can make it harder for them to receive it by being pushy, or argumentative, and then you can forget it. You can make it a little easier by being patient, non-combative, and by listening. Listen to the them as if you still have something to learn, because you may be surprised to find, you do.
Finally, enjoy the freedom, the liberty and the love that you have experienced. You don’t have to change the world with it or convince others of it. Some revelations are to be enjoyed, not recycled. Watch for opportunity, and like Peter said, always be ready to give an answer. But as this Paul says, at least wait until you are asked.
Grace to you.