The Vital Element…When Man Listens

The Vital Element…When Man Listens by Cecil Rose for The Oxford Group

These are not conditions which can only be fulfilled by the few and the specially gifted. They are the simple and spiritual conditions which can be fulfilled by anyone who is willing to learn in the school of Christ.

The vital element in this work of life-changing is, of course, an infectious experience of God-an experience real enough for other people to catch from us. The conditions we have to fulfill are, the simple and spiritual conditions just outlined. If, however, we are to be used by God to the fullest extent in other people’s lives, there is much to be learned in the art of dealing with men and women. Our own practical experience is the best teacher, but it may be some help if we summarize a few lessons learned by those who have attempted the work themselves.

One thing must be grasped at the beginning. If we are to help men and women deeply, we must make friends with them. People only begin to show themselves to us when they feel they can trust us. They only trust us if they feel we care for them, and understand them as real persons, and are not merely interested in them as `cases’ or as `possible converts.’ To establish such a personal relationship needs patience and makes big demands. We shall have to find time, put ourselves out of our way to cultivate acquaintance, get to know what other persons are interested in, what books they read, what are their ambitions. We may have to join them in their play. Sometimes the entry on the other life is swift and the response to us instinctive. Sometimes the process is long. But whether the process is long or short, if we try to break in without friendship, attempt to put the other person’s right and tell them what they should believe or do, we shall find the door of their inner life slammed in our face. If we are to work at this deep level, then we must reckon with the fact of sex. There are confidences which can only rightly be shared between man and man, and woman and woman. To ignore this condition would mean either a superficial job, or a wrong relationship.

It is when we have made friends that we begin to see the other man more clearly. That is essential. The first step in life-changing is to introduce a man to himself. We have to help him to look behind his actions and his feelings and see their roots, or perhaps face things in his life he has been hiding so long that now he cannot see them. That is a task which requires the insight of real love. The difficulty he brings to us first may be (and very often is) a mere blind. Again and again people will put forward their intellectual difficulties when their real trouble is moral; or they will tell you a lot of things of which they are afraid, while keeping back the deepest fear of their lives. Sin deceives a man about himself, and our first work is to help in breaking through that self-deception. It is here that we can so easily fail those we are trying to help. We can fail through carelessness because we simply have not taken the trouble to watch and learn the other man as far as we possibly can.

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