What if God gave us the gift of reading people's innermost thoughts? This is the question bestselling author Terri Blackstock tackles in THE LISTENER, a slim, motivational novella originally published in 2000 as THE HEART READER by "Anonymous." Unlike some of Blackstock's other fiction, this story will be appreciated more for its instructional possibilities than its entertainment value.
Sam Bennett is vice-president of Simpson Advertising and living a pretty good Christian life --- or so he thinks. He goes through the motions of church, work, and family without making too many waves. One night, Sam dreams about a woman searching for a lost coin. When he awakes, Sam discovers he has been given an unusual gift: He hears the unspoken innermost thoughts of people he comes in contact with.
Think about it for a minute. It might sound like a wonderful gift --- you know the needs of everyone you come into contact with! But as Blackstock adeptly portrays, this gift is no picnic. Suddenly, Sam is bombarded with the innermost thoughts of his wife, the people he rubs elbows with on the street, those at adjoining tables in the diner he frequents, his boss, his clients, his secretary. Thoughts like these:
"I can't stand my life anymore. My tunnel's so dark and so long that it's already swallowed up all the light." --- Sam's boss, Rob Simpson.
"A little rest could change my whole life." --- Janie, the waitress at the diner.
"I am my past. I'll always be what he turned me into. I'll never escape it." --- a woman waiting to cross the street.
"Wish I's a real person." --- Jimmy, a Down Syndrome elevator operator.
"If I could just have more than a ten minute conversation... have somebody really listen... be heard..." --- a customer in the diner.
All of these people, Sam discovers, have a deep, aching void that he knows only Christ can fill. But Sam never has been much for evangelism. How can he help people he knows --- as well as complete strangers --- learn about Christ? And how can he share his newfound knowledge with his wife and friends, who will surely think he's nuts? "I'm just an ordinary guy!" Sam tells his pastor, John. "Why would God choose me to curse?"
John encourages him to see his newfound powers as a gift. "Don't you see, Sam? For some reason, the Lord came to you last night and he opened your ears. Is it possible, Sam, that you're hearing what the Holy Spirit hears?" He encourages Sam, saying, "You've been given a mighty gift, and the Lord never gives a gift he doesn't equip you to use."
From this point on in the book, Blackstock shows Sam gaining confidence in sharing his faith as he listens to people's unspoken needs, then shows how Christ might meet these needs. Soon, his contagious enthusiasm for evangelism spreads to others in his congregation. But it's not without some bumps along the way. Some people he witnesses to are hostile. Many of his friends are uncomfortable with his newfound zeal. His boss becomes angry when he talks about the Bible to a large advertising client. Sam must decide which will cost him more --- ignoring the voices of need around him, or responding to hurting people and risking his job, his friendships, and his reputation.
Occasionally, Sam overhears something that doesn't quite fit into the premise of the book (for example, rather than just hearing his secretary's unspoken need for money, he hears the actual lottery numbers she is going to choose). Readers may find the instant conversions based on Sam's invitations to know Christ overly optimistic, although that's part of the point of the novel --- that Christians should be optimistic about sharing their faith, rather than pessimistic, and perhaps the amazing results of Sam's witnessing are exaggerated to make this point. Questions at the end of the book make this novella a good candidate for a small group study on evangelism.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on January 14, 2005