Outside the Walls: Living Stories

“Everyone has their story. Take time to listen.” Of all the advice my grandmother, Helen Corder Keisler, could have written for a young, impressionable preacher, she chose to pen these words inside the cover of my first study Bible, the one she gave me after I obeyed the call to preach. (I thought evangelists were supposed to speak, not listen!)

After the death of my grandfather, a retired South Carolina Baptist pastor, my grandmother began serving on summer mission trips. The summer I accepted the call to preach, she was in Cape Cod at a camp and hooked me up with my first out-of-state speaking engagement.

I don’t remember what I spoke about, so I’m sure no one else remembers either, but they remember Grandmama. It wasn’t because of the angel rolls she baked every morning or a Bible study she led them in; it was because they felt valued and loved by her.

I vividly remember her showing me pictures she had taken that summer. Despite the beautiful landscape of the Cape Cod area, all the pictures were of people. Most of them were closeups of their faces. As she described each one, you would have thought they were world-famous. Every face had a name, every name had a story, and every story now included her.

My grandmother will turn 90 years old this Christmas Eve. She will receive a package in the mail from a man named Prince; the package will be full of gourmet fruit, chocolate and nuts. Prince was a young college student whom she met that summer at camp. He is from Bangladesh and of the Muslim faith. Grandmama listened to his story and was fascinated by him and his family. She valued him, shared about Jesus, and has continued a relationship with him. She was invited a few years ago to come to his traditional Muslim wedding, where she had a seat of honor. Prince is not a Jesus-follower yet, but he knows someone who loves him and Jesus.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).

It’s hard to listen. The noise of the world is deafening at times with talk of government shutdowns, special-interest groups that call evil good, and pop culture that comes swinging in on a wrecking ball. If you listen closely, however, you may hear a sweet melody through the white noise. It is a song that is being sung by individuals whose lives are being restored by the gospel and those who shared Jesus with them.

If you want to see lives transformed, treat individuals like people who need to be listened to, rather than projects that need to be fixed. During this Christmas season, give the gift of listening, and bring value to someone. It will reveal the passion of their soul, their hurts and their needs. Who knows? They may eventually want to know about your story. Then you can start the conversation.