IN ADDITION to giving people a witness, you need to make an effort to reach their heart. In the Bible, the heart is often set in contrast to what a person appears to be on the outside. The figurative heart represents what a person is inside—how he feels, all that he thinks about, why he thinks about it, and how those thoughts influence his actions. It is in this figurative heart that the seed of truth is sown. (Matt. 13:19) And it is from the heart that obedience to God must stem.—Prov. 3:1; Rom. 6:17.
So that your teaching can penetrate to such depths, focus on these objectives: (1) Discern what has already influenced your listener’s heart. (2) Strengthen positive qualities, such as love and godly fear. (3) Encourage your listener to analyze his inner motives so that he can be fully pleasing to Jehovah.
Using Discernment. The reasons why people have not yet accepted the truth vary. When conducting a home Bible study, you may need to break down prejudice and provide facts to offset wrong ideas the student has, or you may just need to supply proof. Ask yourself: ‘Is this person aware that as a human he has spiritual needs? How much does he already believe? What does he not believe? Why has he arrived at those conclusions? Does he need help to overcome desires that could prevent him from accepting the responsibilities that come with knowing the truth?’
It is not always easy to find out why people believe as they do. “Counsel in the heart of a man is as deep waters,” says Proverbs 20:5, “but the man of discernment is one that will draw it up.” Discernment is the ability to grasp what is not readily evident. This requires keen observation and a caring attitude.
Not all communication is verbal. A certain topic may produce a change in a student’s facial expression or tone of voice. If you are a parent, you no doubt realize that a change in your child’s behavior may indicate that he is reacting to a new influence in life. Do not ignore these signs. They are glimpses of the inner person.
Well-chosen questions can help you to draw out what is in someone’s heart. You might ask: “How do you feel about . . . ?” “What convinced you that . . . ?” “How would you react if . . . ?” Yet, be careful not to barrage people with questions. You might tactfully preface your questions with, “Do you mind if I ask . . . ?” Discovering what is in the heart is a painstaking task that cannot be rushed. In most cases trust must be built up over a period of time before a person is willing to reveal his inmost feelings. Even then, care must be exercised so that the person does not feel that you are asking about things that are not your business.—1 Pet. 4:15.
The way you react to what you hear also requires discernment. Remember that your objective is to understand people so that you can determine what Bible-based information is likely to motivate them. Quickly suppress any urge to expose the wrongness of their viewpoints. Instead, be alert to discern the feelings behind the words. Then you will know how to respond; and your student, feeling understood, will more likely think seriously about what you say.—Prov. 16:23.
To some extent, you can motivate individuals even when you are addressing a large group. If you have good audience contact, are alert to facial expressions, and ask thought-provoking rhetorical questions, you will likely get an idea of how your listeners feel about what you are saying. If you know your audience well, show consideration for their circumstances. Take into account the general attitude of the congregation as you reason with them from God’s Word.—Gal. 6:18.
Stirring Up Beneficial Feelings. After you gain some understanding of what a person believes, what he does not believe, and why, you will be able to build on that. Following his resurrection, Jesus reached the hearts of his disciples by “fully opening up the Scriptures” to them in the light of events that had recently occurred. (Luke 24:32) You too should strive to make the connection between what a person has experienced, what he longs for, and what he is seeing in God’s Word. A student’s heart will be touched in a beneficial way when he clearly realizes: “This is THE TRUTH!”
When you emphasize Jehovah’s goodness, his love, his undeserved kindness, and the rightness of his ways, you help those whom you teach to build their love for God. When you take time to show your listeners the fine qualities that God sees in them as individuals, you give them reason to believe that a personal relationship with him is possible. This can be accomplished by reflecting on such texts as Psalm 139:1-3, Luke 21:1-4, and John 6:44 and by helping your listeners to appreciate the depth of Jehovah’s loving attachment to his faithful servants. (Rom. 8:38, 39) Explain that Jehovah looks beyond our mistakes and sees our entire life course, our zeal for pure worship, our love for his name. (2 Chron. 19:2, 3; Heb. 6:10) He remembers even the smallest details about our makeup, and he will, in a remarkable way, restore to life “all those in the memorial tombs.” (John 5:28, 29; Luke 12:6, 7) Since humans are made in the image and likeness of God, a discussion of his qualities will often strike a responsive chord in the inner person.—Gen. 1:27.
The heart can also be touched when a person learns to view other people as Jehovah does. It stands to reason that if our God shows tender regard for us as individuals, then he also shows the same consideration for others, irrespective of their background, nationality, or race. (Acts 10:34, 35) Once a person has reached such an understanding, there will be a solid Scriptural basis for him to eradicate hatred and prejudice from his heart. This will enable him to reach out peacefully to others as he learns to carry out the divine will.
Godly fear is another feeling that you should help others to cultivate. (Ps. 111:10; Rev. 14:6, 7) Such profound reverence, or fear of God, can motivate a person to achieve what may not be possible in his own strength. By discussing Jehovah’s awesome activities and his extraordinary loving-kindness, you can help others to develop a wholesome dread of displeasing him.—Ps. 66:5; Jer. 32:40.
Make sure that your listeners understand that their conduct matters to Jehovah. He has feelings, and by our response to his direction, we cause him either sorrow or rejoicing. (Ps. 78:40-42) Show people why their personal conduct can make a difference in answering Satan’s challenge to God.—Prov. 27:11.
Help your audience to see that meeting God’s requirements is beneficial for them. (Isa. 48:17) One way this can be done is by pointing to the physical and emotional consequences of rejecting God’s wisdom, even momentarily. Explain how sin distances us from God, deprives others of the opportunity to learn the truth from us, and otherwise encroaches on their rights. (1 Thess. 4:6) Help your audience to treasure the blessings that they already enjoy as a result of having kept God’s laws. Strengthen their appreciation for the fact that walking in Jehovah’s righteous ways spares us much adversity. Once a person has faith in the wisdom of God’s ways, he will be repulsed by every course in opposition to them. (Ps. 119:104) He will see obedience, not as a burden, but as a way to express loving devotion to Jehovah as a person.
Helping Others to Make an Examination. In order to continue to grow spiritually, people need to become sensitive to what is in their hearts. Explain how the Bible can help them to do this.
Help your listeners to realize that the Bible is more than a record of commandments, counsel, historical events, and prophecies. It also reveals the thinking of God. At James 1:22-25, God’s Word is compared to a mirror. By our reaction to what it says and to the way that Jehovah carries out his purpose, the Bible’s message shows up what is in our heart. Thus it reveals how God, who is “the examiner of hearts,” sees us. (Prov. 17:3) Encourage your listeners to keep this in mind. Urge them to ponder what God has preserved for us in the Bible record and what adjustments they may need to make in their life in order to be more pleasing to him. Help them to view Bible reading as a means of getting Jehovah’s estimation of the “thoughts and intentions of the heart” so that they can cooperate with God in making any necessary adjustments.—Heb. 4:12; Rom. 15:4.
Some Bible students may want to act on what they are learning; yet they worry about what other people will think. They may be battling certain strong fleshly desires. Or they may be rationalizing to find some way to serve God while clinging to practices of the world. Point out the dangers of such indecision. (1 Ki. 18:21) Urge them to pray to God to examine and refine their hearts.—Ps. 26:2; 139:23, 24.
Show them that Jehovah understands their struggle and that the Bible explains what is taking place. (Rom. 7:22, 23) Help them to exercise care so that the inclinations of an imperfect heart are not allowed to dominate.—Prov. 3:5, 6; 28:26; Jer. 17:9, 10.
Encourage each one to analyze his motives for doing things. Teach him to ask himself: ‘Why do I want to do this? Will it show Jehovah that I truly appreciate all that he has done for me?’ Work to strengthen the conviction that an approved relationship with Jehovah is the most valuable asset that anyone can possess.
Help your audience to grasp the significance of serving Jehovah with their “whole heart.” (Luke 10:27) This means that all their feelings, desires, and motives must be brought into line with Jehovah’s ways. So teach your listeners to analyze not only what they do but also how they feel about God’s requirements and what their motives are in serving him. (Ps. 37:4) As your students discern areas in which improvement is needed, encourage them to pray to Jehovah: “Unify my heart to fear your name.”—Ps. 86:11.
When a student develops a personal relationship with Jehovah, he will obey God as a result of faith and not simply because of your urgings. He will then, on his own, “keep on making sure of what is acceptable to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:10; Phil. 2:12) Such heartfelt obedience delights Jehovah.—Prov. 23:15.
Bear in mind that Jehovah is the one who estimates hearts and draws people into a relationship with him. (Prov. 21:2; John 6:44) Our role is one of cooperation. (1 Cor. 3:9) It is “as though God were making entreaty through us.” (2 Cor. 5:20; Acts 16:14) Jehovah does not coerce anyone to accept the truth, but as we use the Scriptures, he may cause our listeners to realize that what they are hearing is the answer to their questions—or their prayers. Approach every teaching opportunity with this awareness, and earnestly ask Jehovah for his guidance and help.—1 Chron. 29:18, 19; Eph. 1:16-18.