Years ago, when our younger daughter Kate(now one of the Lutheran ladies) had just started high school, I received a phone call from the school office. I was told that Kate would be suspended for three days because she was caught smoking. The school secretary was somewhat apologetic, probably because Kate was a good student, and explained the punishment was mandatory. She added “We want you to know that Kate was very respectful and polite when we questioned her.”
Of course, I was unhappy and disappointed. However, I know that teenagers push the boundaries and I trusted Kate would learn from her mistake and its’ consequences. Surprisingly, the school called me back later the same day to say they had been wrong, and Kate would not be suspended. Kate insisted that she was not smoking. Because of her past history and her courteous behavior, the principal spoke with the coach who reported the smoking incident. She had seen Kate with a group of students who were smoking, and assumed Kate was also. She admitted she did not actually see Kate with a cigarette.
By this time you’re probably wondering, “and what is the point of this story?” Well, here it is: Kate’s prior behavior and courtesy earned her a hearing. The school took a second look at the evidence and realized Kate was telling the truth. As Christians we can learn a lesson from this. The Bible tells us:
“… Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”(1 Peter 3:15).
People will not listen to the good news of the gospel from a person they perceive as self righteous. They will not listen to a person who buries them in Bible verses without giving them a chance to respond. They will not listen when they are treated as if the views they hold are ignorant or stupid.
Many people today know practically nothing about Christianity beyond generalities that they accept as truth. They’ve heard a lot of New Age nonsense about what it means to be spiritual. They may have been told that all religions are the same, just different paths to God. To them the Bible is simply another book they haven’t read and they have no incentive to accept what it says. To give them “ears that can hear” we must first earn their trust. We must listen to them respectfully, and then, when the opportunity presents, gently explain our own beliefs. We can tell them about our personal experiences and the things we know to be true as witnesses, not theologians or even students of the Bible. We can answer their questions without being condescending. If our attitude and behavior is caring, kind, and humble it may lead some to take a closer look at what we have to say. Then we can trust the Holy Spirit to do the rest.