Lesson 4: Jesus Studied Hearts

Methods of Jesus.04

Lesson 4: Jesus Studied Hearts

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this module, the learner will be able to do the following:

  1. Facilitate discussion in ways that establish and heal relationships.
  2. Interact appropriately by analyzing circumstances that shape individual lives.
  3. Adapt approaches to circumstances.

Jesus showed keen insight into human nature. He not only possessed supernatural knowledge of character but also demonstrated up-to-date techniques such as interpreting body language, adapting His message to the needs of His hearers, and selecting the right time and place to share truths.

He Spoke Body Language

Emotions and attitudes are quite clearly exhibited through facial expressions and what is known as “body language.” It is generally understood in religious educational circles that up to 60 percent of communication takes place without words. Think of the interaction that happened between Jesus and Peter when “the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61). There are many instances where inspiration gives insight into the manner in which Jesus used body language. We are told:

“Jesus watched with deep earnestness the changing countenances of His hearers. . . . When the truth, plainly spoken, touched some cherished idol, He marked the change of countenance, the cold, forbidding look, which told that the light was unwelcome” (The Desire of Ages, p. 255).

“He discerned the impressible heart, the open mind, the receptive spirit. . . . He watched the faces of His hearers, marked the lighting up of the countenance, the quick, responsive glance, which told that truth had reached the soul” (Counsels on Sabbath School Work, p. 74).

Jesus could tell from facial expressions that people were “in great perplexity” (The Desire of Ages, p. 427). With prophetic insight He “could look beneath the surface, and see the cherished sins that were ruining the life and character, and shutting souls away from God” (Gospel Workers, p. 48).

Jesus was not the only one that studied facial expressions. The disciples “watched for interested hearers, explained the Scriptures to them, and in various ways worked for their spiritual benefit” (The Desire of Ages, p. 349). It is interesting that Ellen White also observed nonverbal expressions. In describing a certain meeting she says: “They all listened with wide open eyes and some open mouths” (Manuscript Releases, vol. 9, p. 31).

Religious educator James Michael Lee says: “Behavioral interaction is the fundamental characteristic of the religious instruction dynamic. Thus if the religious educator wishes to improve the quality of his teaching, he must continually keep the focus of his attention on specific learner behaviors—what these behaviors are, and how these behaviors specifically flow and ebb during the process of ongoing interaction with the teacher, with the subject-matter content, and with the environment” (The Content of Religious Education, p. 414). Lee says that the best way to do this is through observing the affective state of the learner through facial expressions.

Can You Interpret?

Body language can become a remarkable means of obtaining feedback from class members regarding their interest, attitudes, and receptivity. While the Christian educator should be careful not to attach too much significance to nonverbal communication, a little awareness can be a useful tool.

It is essential not to call attention to body language or make people self-conscious in the process of communication. However, some of the following insights may be useful to the present-day facilitator.

On the basis of considerable research, Lee reports that wiping the eyes, rubbing the face, and so forth may be used as a way to camouflage certain emotions.

The face. He says a smile may be used to mask anger, fear, disgust, and sadness (ibid., p. 417). This does not mean that a person who smiles is necessarily hiding emotions, but the discerning class facilitator should be alert to the possibility.

There are other nonverbal facial clues reflecting emotional experience. For example, in general we are aware that blushing appears to indicate embarrassment, anxiety, or discomfort. We also recognize that raised eyebrows express surprise and fear, while we tend to lower our eyebrows in moments of anger and threat. What may not be as commonly known is that people tend to raise their eyebrows and hold them there for a fraction of a second when greeting a friend. It then becomes the nonverbal equivalent of a yes or approval (ibid., p. 418). Facilitators may not only observe reactions by means of this expression, but may use it as a way of confirming, thanking, or emphasizing.

Lee generalizes the following communication tendencies in body language: A head nod is associated with affiliation.

Crossed arms and legs may close one individual off from another and place them in the position of an outsider or even an opponent.

Hands that are opened slightly flexed with palms faced upward signal sincerity and openness. Drooping hands may convey weakness, submissiveness, or shyness.

Combinations. Locked ankles and a clenched fist might show anxious, defensive attitudes. The person who frequently crosses ankles, moves extremities, and taps the table with their fingers may be nervous or ill at ease.

The tilts. Leaning forward tends to convey a positive attitude. Leaning backward may convey withdrawal (ibid., pp. 431, 433, 437).

For the most part alert facilitators can perceive whether or not a class member is receptive, resistant, amused, disgusted, hurt, or angered by the content of discussion, simply by observing body language. This awareness becomes a useful tool in guiding the discussion and helping people to bond in unity.

Use the Skills

The case. A class member makes a statement that the King James Version of the Bible is the only one that has been safeguarded by God and that all other modern versions are created by a New Age conspiracy inspired by the devil.

Tune in. The facilitator may see flashes of diverse expressions on the faces of discussion members: heads nodding approval; contortions of anger, disagreement, amusement, surprise, boredom, disgust; smiles that mask their true feelings. This diversity of responses demands prayer and skillful facilitation.

The fighter. It does not take a mind reader to know that the man with a red face and eyes or bulging neck veins, with contorted facial features and waving a thick fist in the air is spoiling for an argument. What is a facilitator to do? Possibilities: Defer the discussion. Make a conciliatory statement. Recognize a person who is known for making healing statements. Encourage further research.

The goal is to explore truth in such a way that members edify one another rather than decry, deny, belie, or defy one another. Body language can help to guide the discussion in such cases. Using techniques of inquiry learning (Class Facilitators’ Seminar, lesson 3, March 2007 issue), the facilitator should lead the discussion in a direction that will seek truth in a climate that is prayerfully open to new information.

Did you see that? The facilitator should try to understand the true emotional state of class participants in order to deal with issues of the heart with care and tenderness. Jesus dealt directly with perceived heart issues with learners, such as Nicodemus and the woman at the well. However, He always treated tender emotions with care.

In His encounter with the woman at the well we are told: “Jesus had convinced her that He read the secrets of her life; yet she felt that He was her friend, pitying and loving her. While the very purity of His presence condemned her sin, He had spoken no word of denunciation, but had told her of His grace, that could renew the soul” (The Desire of Ages, pp. 189, 190).

The Approachable Jesus

Jesus taught in parables “as they were able to hear it” (Mark 4:33). “While He ministered to the poor, Jesus studied also to find ways of reaching the rich. He sought the acquaintance of the wealthy and cultured Pharisee, the Jewish nobleman, and the Roman ruler” (Gospel Worker, pp. 45, 46). Likewise, qualified class facilitators know their regular participants and vary the educational approaches to meet diverse needs.

Periodically review the needs of class members (Facilitators’ Seminar, Lesson 2, February 2007). What are their personality types, interests, occupations, hobbies? What problems are they facing? In what kind of environment did they grow up? Were they raised as Seventh-day Adventists? What is their level of education, their knowledge of the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy? Are their children in the church? What is their theological orientation? What are their concerns? These are the questions the effective class facilitator will seek to answer.

Fellowship with class members beyond the Sabbath School session is a way to develop relationships. Jesus “accepted their invitations, attended their feasts, made Himself familiar with their interests and occupations, that He might gain access to their hearts, and reveal to them the imperishable riches” (Gospel Workers, p. 46).

It is imperative, however, that facilitators do not come across like an attorney or private investigator when getting acquainted with class members. How? By picking up on things that are shared in class or simply express interest and be a good listener in friendly conversation at social occasions.


Make a list or computer file of all members in your class. Under each name write as much information as you know about each individual. Make a note of various tendencies, challenges, nonverbal communication as well as shared verbal information. Review the list from time to time and use your knowledge to discover and record more about each one without prying or making them feel uncomfortable.

Encourage openness with icebreakers and sharing. You might use a simple small group game asking discussion members to compare the one on their right to an animal in a positive light. Then have them explain why they have chosen this animal. This will spark discussion that will help you to become acquainted with that member.

Jim Kilmer
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists