For a number of years during my commute to work, I would enter the highway at the same toll ramp almost every day. I would impatiently wait in the line of cars, wanting to get through the tollbooth as quickly as possible. As I waited to pay, I would see an anonymous hand reach out of the booth and go back in, then repeat this mechanical motion for each vehicle. Most commuters did not even notice that this tollbooth attendant was a person. But for some reason, probably prompted by God, I decided to pay attention to her. The first time I noticed her, I slow-rolled up to the booth and mustered up a pleasant smile and a cheerful “Hello!” After handing her my toll money and making eye contact, I said, “Have a great day!”
She was there every day. In future interactions, I noticed her nameplate and greeted her by name. We engaged in pleasant small talk each time I pulled up to her booth. Over time, our conversations acquired a personal dimension. I eventually learned the names of her children, the details of her family life, and her weekend plans. We even exchanged Christmas gifts. This relationship was built a few seconds at a time each day. Noticing her did not add much time or activity to my schedule, but it did add the rewarding feeling of being on an adventure with God. It was the simple, intentional turning of my attention that made the difference.
Jesus was a noticer. “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36). Jesus noticed the crowds first and was consequently moved with compassion.
The Art of Noticing is a starting point for building more genuine, caring relationships with people who are separated from God. This simple, nonspeaking practice helps you see another person with Jesus’ eyes of love and compassion. It takes no bravery—just intentionality. It’s a doable, everyday practice that gets you “in the game” during your normal life routines. When you begin to practice the Art of Noticing, think about questions such as What is her story? Where is he from? Does she seem happy, sad, angry, or lonely?
While noticing may be the first step in bringing someone the Good News about Jesus and the Kingdom of God, its most significant benefit is that it transforms you and me. We begin to see others, ourselves, and even God differently. People we never noticed before quite suddenly matter to us in ways we can’t explain.
What small changes in your day would help you develop a habit of noticing people?
The second nonspeaking Art to prepare you for spiritual conversations is the Art of Praying. When you notice someone—a neighbor, a coworker, a classmate, or a stranger—you can simply send up a silent prayer, and nobody but God knows you’re praying. I call this “praying behind people’s backs.” It’s a covert operation. You don’t stare, close your eyes, or move your lips. You just pray for people as you see them. Pray that they would sense the presence of God in some undeniable way. Pray for their relationships. A quick prayer will do. Though the person knows nothing about your prayer, it counts with God. Jesus, of course, is our model for this practice because he seemed to have a thing for praying in secret: “When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)
As you secretly pray, don’t be surprised if God begins to change your heart toward that person. Secret prayer prepares you to cooperate with God as he seeks out the lost sheep in our world. It invites you into this search.
As you exercise the Art of Noticing, you will begin to recognize that people are longing for attention. As you secretly pray for people behind their backs, you will become aware of what God is up to. And when you find yourself stirred to engage, the Art of Listening is the practice that will escort you into meaningful conversations with people who believe differently.
We listen because God listens. It’s true; the God-of-the-Angel-Armies listens to me—and to you. This is a staggering truth. God hears my cry and forgives. He hears my prayer and responds. He cares for me enough to hear what’s on my mind. God sets the example for us to follow.
What if we listened to people well enough to understand them better and to see where God is at work in their lives?
When I listen, I demonstrate that I am seeking to understand people, not change their points of view, and create a safe environment for them to open up more intimately. People are often ready to listen to us only after they feel understood and heard. In a society full of folks who would rather talk than listen, people are starved for someone who is willing to move into their lives as a listener and learner. Listening requires that I surrender my desire to be heard and understood in the interest of understanding the other person first—and that takes love.
Whether you are a quiet introvert or raging extrovert, gifted in evangelism or not, you can put these three simple practices into action and start on the journey toward spiritual conversations. It doesn’t require memorizing or presenting anything. It doesn’t call for any courage on your part. The most important thing is that you start doing it.
Here is a practical idea for you to try this week: Commit to spending thirty seconds each day noticing people in your ordinary routine and being curious about them. Whom can you notice in thirty seconds at school pickup? At the grocery store? In the elevator on your way to work? On the highway in traffic? What do you notice happening inside yourself as you pay attention to others?
Share your experience with a friend and celebrate that you are on the journey!
John writes more about noticing and sharing the love of Jesus in his book, The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations.
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