Notice What Others Overlook and You’ll See Opportunities They Don’t.
but you know as well as I do that people are oblivious most of the time.
We walk around in a vacuum, navigating the smallest encounters on autopilot, looking at our phones instead of looking people in the eye and missing the sunset for months.
Not only do we miss opportunities that would bless us, but opportunities that would bless others.
From fleeting opportunities to encourage someone to huge missed opportunities to…
connect with someone,
learn from someone,
even receive help from someone.
When we don’t pay attention, we miss identifying all the disconnected things we encounter in our day, which means we forfeit opportunities to recognize ways we can connect them, leading to new ideas that might solve our problems or inspire us to take a step in a new direction.
Try it. Just for today. Pay attention to as many things as possible – small and large, in your direct line of vision as well as in your peripheral vision. Listen to words and sounds you overhear in the background and stop tuning out direct messages as noise.
If you are a person of faith, pray.
Ask the Holy Spirit to prompt you. Nudge you. Call your attention to whatever He wants you to notice today.
“By this we know that we abide in him
and he in us,
because he has given us of his Spirit.” 1 John 4:13 (ESV)
I used to think the word “abide” referred to that part of prayer where I was supposed to shut up and listen. Like God and I were taking turns doing the talking.
Prayer: My turn to talk, God’s turn to listen. Abide: God’s turn to talk, my turn to listen.
Over the last 7 years, I’ve come to realize that abiding is so much more than me shutting up and listening during “prayer time.”
I think I first began to realize that my definition of abiding was much too narrow when I began to understand that my definition of prayer was much too narrow.
I used to think of prayer as dedicated time talking to God. These days, I call that type of prayer “event” prayer because it takes place like an event – it has a beginning and an end. Often, it’s prayer that opens with a salutation, like “Dear Lord” or “Heavenly Father” and always concludes with the word “Amen.”
And then it’s over until next time.
By the grace of God, I’ve come to understand that while “event” prayer is good and necessary, it is only one kind of prayer.
Now, the most common type of prayer I engage in is practicing the presence of God. It’s an ongoing, no holds barred conversation with God. What used to be that constant inner conversation with myself all day long has shifted and now it’s [almost always] directed to God. The shift in direction has transformed self-directed self-talk into intimate prayer with the Holy Spirit who dwells within me through my faith in Christ.
When prayer began to saturate my moments and my days in this way, abiding began to take on new meaning. When I talk to the Holy Spirit about everything, all day, it’s because Christ is answering my prayer with a big “YES!” when I ask Him to bless me with an awareness that “the Lord my God is is with me everywhere I go.” (Joshua 1:9)
When I’m aware of God’s presence in my moments and my days in this way, I’m abiding in Christ.
When I work as a computer trainer and consultant, I offer potential or new clients a free “needs analysis.” It didn’t take me long to realize that most of these clients fall into one of three categories:
1. They know exactly what they need, and they are right. They understand their situation and possibilities.
2. They know exactly what they need, and they are wrong. Their perspective is limited and/or skewed.
3. They’re not sure what they need, but they know they need help.
I’ve found a similar pattern with people who believe they are a Christian:
1. They believe they are a Christian and they are right. They have a relationship with Christ.
2. They believe they are a Christian, but they are missing a relationship with Christ.
3. They’re not sure what they believe, but they are seeking.
(And then there are those who are comfortable with where they are and aren’t seeking.)
John Wesley saw that second group of people clearly. Adam Hamilton, in his book Revival, described it this way:
“Wesley said that many who thought they were Christians seemed to be so in name only; they were almost Christians. They did not have the joy, assurance, or peace that comes from being wholly surrendered to God. They lived their lives in compromise with sin, willing to do just enough good but no more. They entertained evil, provided that it wasn’t too extreme. They did little or nothing to grow in love with God.
In what ways did faith in the church of Wesley’s day resemble the faith in our churches today? Some would suggest in a great many ways.
Wesley said there is so much more to being a Christian than simple acceptance; there is a power, love, and joy that come from walking with God. And God expects more of Christians than simply trying to not be so bad as other people.”
To say this quote resonates with me would be an understatement. I can only speak from my experience and understanding, so I’ll say it this way. When I accepted Christ at 15, He became my savior. I lived my life in the context of that relationship with Him until 2007, when He revealed to me that I was holding back. He wanted to be more than my Savior. He wanted to be the Lord of my life. He wanted me to give up my will and trust Him in every aspect of my life, with no limitations. Over the last 7 years, by the grace of God and through the equipping of the Holy Spirit, I’ve taken down the boundaries between the different aspects of my life and I’ve been striving to offer up all of me to Him. I’ve been growing into an intimate, dependent, living relationship with Christ.
While I’ve spent most of my career as a computer trainer and consultant, at my core, I’m an educator. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a passion to help people grow. As I myself have grown closer to Christ, the Holy Spirit has taken that passion and set it on fire. I’m determined to encourage and challenge people to intentionally examine what they believe and why they believe it. I’m determined to encourage people to doubt their assumptions, ask questions, search for answers and make informed and intentional decisions about their beliefs.
Notice the language I just used. It’s very specific. I said “decisions about their beliefs” not “decisions about God.”
My goal within any of these conversations is not to change someone’s mind.
My goal is to leave a “spiritual stone” in the shoe of everyone with whom I interact, mostly through asking questions and listening.
I fail often.
But when I have a conversation with someone who wasn’t thinking about God, and the conversation results in them thinking about God – especially long after the conversation is over – I haven’t failed. After the conversation is over, it’s up to the Holy Spirit to soften that person’s heart and open their mind as he draws them closer to Himself.
“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” John 6:44a (ESV)
Relating to the three possibilities above, God has specifically planted and grown in me three distinct, compelling and persistent passions:
In addition to my own desire to be discipled, I have a passion to disciple others – to help people who have a relationship with Christ, continuously grow closer to Christ. My prayer is that God would reveal to all who know Him what he revealed to me: That He wants them to give up their will and trust Him in every aspect of their lives. That He doesn’t just want to be their Savior, He wants to be the Lord of their Life. He wants an intimate, dependent, living relationship with them.
2. Relational Evangelism
a) For the people who believe they are Christian but have never entered into a relationship with Christ, my prayer is that they would enter into that relationship. I can’t help but think of this verse:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
b) For the people who know they aren’t Christian, but are willing to share with me what they think and feel about God and, more specifically, Jesus, I’m determined to be a safe person with whom they can voice their doubts, ask hard questions and search for answers. My prayer is that they come to faith in Christ. It’s not my job. It’s my prayer.
For people who are apathetic about God, who don’t believe in Him or flat out hate Him and all His followers, my passion is to help them set aside the baggage that so often comes from religion and help them see that the selfish behavior of some of the people who profess to be Christian is more a reflection of flawed humanity than that of a perfect God. My prayer is that they make their own personal decision about Jesus based on Jesus, and Jesus alone, rather than on their thoughts and feelings about religion and the bad behavior and beliefs of other people.
John 10:10 tells us that Christ came that we may have life, and have it abundantly, in all its fullness. Not abundant blessings or stuff. Abundant LIFE.
My friend had asked me to meet her for coffee because she was smack in the middle of unsettling change and feeling lost. She was seeking direction, feeling powerless, overwhelmed and discouraged by her circumstances. She began our conversation by explaining that over the last few months, every time something would happen, she would think, “I really need to talk to Julie.”
Why me? Not because I knew what she should do, because I most definitely did NOT know what she should do. I don’t have some freakish sixth sense and as much as I pray for discernment, I have very little confidence in my ability to interpret God’s perspective on things in my own life, much less in anyone else’s life.
I responded by telling her that my plan was to listen and ask a lot of questions. She said, “THAT’S why I want to talk to you. You always know just the right questions to ask!”
I’ll admit. I can ask me some questions. And I know that both my plethora of questions and I can get annoying, especially when the answers begin to chip away at mindsets and decisions that were previously firm. But if I ask a question and someone’s answer leads them to doubt or to consider possibilities they hadn’t before, I view that as a good thing. It’s never good decision-making to dismiss alternative points of view without consideration. That kind of tunnel vision leads us to believe we have the best idea ever, only to come face to face with roadblocks and monkey wrenches later. Or even worse, it leads us to believe we’ve come up with the only viable solution to a problem, when really, it’s just what we found at the end of the path of least resistance. If we never consider alternative scenarios, how do we know if we’ve even come close to the best case scenario? Unchallenged thought processes run the risk of leading to substandard ideas and a false sense of security and, sometimes the high and low extremes of a false sense of superiority or resigned hopelessness.
My friend’s comment got me thinking. What are the “right” questions? There are a couple of factors.
First, I ask the honest questions, no matter how “inappropriate” or politically incorrect. I don’t have a lot of patience for pretense (reason #1 and reason #2). Because of my desire to be used by God and my understanding that He equips me for service, I always pray for Him to lead me, to give me the right words to say and to tell me when to ask them and when to SHUT. UP. I pray with full confidence that God will give me the right words to say and since I have that confidence, keeping my mouth shut or skirting around a question that pops in my head feels like a lack of faith. And disobedience. If I ask God for help and He gives it and I chicken out by rejecting or ignoring His help, that’s disobedience.
What else makes for the “right questions?” It depends. And that’s key. It depends on what the other person says. If you ever give me the honor of an onion layer conversation, I’m going ask you questions and based on what I hear, I’m going to try to ask MORE questions that (hopefully) progressively peel back the layers that may be concealing or distorting the crux of the underlying issue. I pay attention to your stories, examples and explanations with the foundational possibility that they are all manifestations of something bigger and deeper. I’m not a-scared to ask the questions that might be embarrassing or make someone angry with me. (Well. Usually. Remember the disobedience thing.) I try to test assumptions (yours and mine), whether I see them as valid or not. I’m not unaccustomed to people getting exasperated with me. As a matter of fact, exasperation is a big clue that I may be on to something. If they didn’t care about a particular issue, they wouldn’t get upset about it. The goal is to find out if they care because they are unwaveringly passionate about something or frustrated because they see the erosion of the reasoning for their point of view? Either is a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned.
Rationalization is a huge obstacle in these conversations. I’m pretty good at it myself. Given enough time, the right books and at least 3 pages of Google search results, I can convince myself of just about anything. I can ignore the elephant in the room no matter how much he stinks. Statistically, I can not be alone in my expert and stealth rationalization skills. I’m thinking I have many, many partners in crime.
For the most part, I’ve found that deep down, people already know what they think and how they feel about their circumstances and choices. They just have trouble extracting it out of the subjective overwhelming chaos of their mind during the frantic pace of their days. We so rarely take the time to be still and think. And when we do, the sudden unaccustomed quiet is often barreled over by a deluge of overlapping thoughts all vying for top billing.
So when I’m blessed with an opportunity to engage in these deeper conversations with someone, I try not to start out by talking. There are already more than enough voices in their head already. I wait my turn, listen to the voices and, based on what I hear – sometimes spoken out loud, sometimes in between the lines – I ask questions.