Friday, June 15, 2018

Quick to Listen

God is good.
God created everything good and when he was finished he pronounced everything very good.
God has good plans for us.
God gives good gifts.

We sing that he is a good, good Father.

Should we not be eager to listen to him.  Most of the time when I consider these two short verses, I think of relationships between and among people.  Consider the words.  Nowhere do we see that these words are restricted to person-to-person use.  They are immensely valuable in that way, but not restricted just to conversations among humanity.

What if I was quick to listen to God.  What if when I felt God’s Spirit or his word speaking to me, I just closed my mouth and opened my heart and mind and listened—listened intently.  What if I was quick to listen?
What if I was quick to listen to God?

What if I listened without interruption?  What if I permitted only God’s thoughts to have a voice—the only voice when he is speaking.  What if my own counter-thoughts and arguments and excuses fell silent for this time.  I became slow to speak.  I became slow to formulate the thought.

I knew God was communicating with me, so I became quick to listen and slow to speak.  I was absorbing everything that he had to say through his word or Spirit-to-spirit. 

To get into this mode, we should remember that:

God is good.
God created everything good and when he was finished he pronounced everything very good.
God has good plans for us.
God gives good gifts.

Maybe we should sing Good, Good Father a little more often between Sundays to make us more receptive to what God is saying to us.

When it comes to God having something to say to us, we should be quick to listen and slow to speak, and we should be slow to anger.  The anger that our human nature generates will not get us to the right standing with God that we think it will.

Most of the time, anger is a problem.  Anger is not prohibited, but we are cautioned that anger does not get the upper hand on us.  It must not give the devil a foothold.  The sun should not set on our anger between us and others.  Reconciliation is our goal.

Retaining our anger can adversely affect our health.   There are many adverse effects that go with anger, but the counsel here is constraint not restraint.  We are to be slow to anger.

Why?  Human anger cannot produce the right standing that God desires.

So, is this counsel on anger about our relationship with God as well?  Yes!  We are not entitled to become angry with God.  When we do, he understands us, but he knows that our anger does not produce the desired results.

If you are angry with God, tell him.  It’s not like he doesn’t already know.  Then, be still and listen to him.

Our anger has no efficacy.  Efficacy is the power to produce desired results.  Self-efficacy is the power to produce desired results in ourselves.

If we are totally tuned into God and his direction, we must not rely on our own human understanding.  We are trusting God.  Our own nature and understanding may want to argue with God or reject his counsel, but we are to trust in him completely.

We are to be slow to anger when we don’t like what God is telling us or we don’t like what is happening in our lives.  In fact, we should be so slow that we just never seem to get there.  The Lord will direct our paths.

When we trust him completely—yes, that is with all of our hearts—and when we acknowledge him as we implement his counsel over our own understanding, God puts us on the right path and we continue in right relationship with him.

This counsel from James is also for our person-to-person communication.  That’s the way that we study it most often.   Be quick to listen to the other person.  Listen first, talk later, and listen intently.  That means listen to understand not to formulate your rebuttal while the other person is speaking.

Listen, really listen to what someone is telling you.  Understand what they are saying.  Do your best to understand it in their own words.  Don’t rephrase it to fit a pattern that already exists in your own mind.  Try your very best to fully understand what they are saying.

If you have questions, they should be questions that advance the understanding, not those that counter it.  Understand that understanding does not mean agreement.  It means understanding.

At some point, you will want a turn to be understood.  The counsel from James is don’t rush that part.  Let the other person speak until they feel understood.  Then take your turn.

Let us understand that we are talking about our most important conversations.  This is not Cowboys and Sooners banter.  This is husband-wife, mother-daughter, coworker to coworker, believer and believer.  There is a relationship in place and a greater relationship to be desired, even and perhaps especially, when the relationship is on the brink of dissolving.

It is time to be the one who listens first—to be quick to listen.  Perhaps, it is best to have an agreement to listen before you even begin.  I will listen to you until you tell me that you are completely understood.  After that, I ask that you extend to me the same measure of listening to understand.

This is a big agreement.  It is not an agreement to reach agreement.  It is an agreement to understand each other.

If people do this, they have each met a basic human need to be understood.  Our nature is to have others understand us.  We want to talk first, be heard first, and be understood first so that others will see our perspective.  Our nature says, if only they could see things my way, then we would surely agree.

Our human nature is to be understood and when both parties to a conversation insist on being understood first, we have what Steven Covey calls the dialogue of the deaf.  Everyone talking and nobody listening.

I ask you to understand that we don’t always get to agreement, but we can get to understanding.  If we can get to understanding in our conversations, the need to have agreement lessens.  I understand the way you see this.  I think you understand the way I see this.  I think that we understand each other.  We might not agree on whatever this thing or issue or discussion point is, but now that we understand each other, it seems like agreement is not as important as it once was.  The desire to have to be right about this thing has lessened.

Respect for each other grows.  Conversations are easier and other areas are open to be explored.  Quick to listen and slow to speak is a good model. 

But the words say “everyone” should be quick to listen and slow to speak.  Everyone who is seeking to please God.  This letter was written to Hebrews who believed that Jesus was both Savior and Lord. 

Would this counsel benefit everyone?  Of course, but few who do not seek to please the Lord are going to comprehend this whole love you neighbor business to the extent the believer does.  They are surely not ready to go beyond the theoretical to application mode.

Now let’s get to the motivation for quick to listen and slow to speak.  Letting lose on someone to satisfy that hunger in us to get even or go one up on another person is a temporary fix.  Anger is a temporary fix for a junkie who needs to feel like he or she has imposed justice on the world, or at least on another human. 

Once again, I am not talking banter which should be done in good spirits and never truly be hurtful.  I am talking seeking anger when we really need to seek reconciliation.  I am talking about loving anger when we should love understanding.  I am talking about living as if we desire sacrifice (to us) over mercy (to others). 

Let’s return to efficacy—the power to achieve desired results.  If we are living in anger and we desire right standing with God, Siri says, “You can’t get there from here.  Here are some things that I can help you with:  Find a good restaurant, calculate travel time, regurgitate useless facts.”

Our anger can never do what the blood of Jesus has already done for us—put us in right relationship with God. 

Understand that the counsel is slow to anger.  This is a constraint not a restraint.  We can become angry but it is never our first calling or something that we permit to take control of us in the moment.

Slow to anger means that only when we have exhausted all of our other directives from God, do we give our human anger a voice.  It is not a means to achieve righteousness. 

I can personally feel angry about killing half a million babies a year. That anger doesn’t make me right with God.  That anger doesn’t get me extra rewards in heaven.  I have to make sure that such anger does not supplant my calling to love one another and proclaim good news.

God permits you to be angry about some things.  Perhaps you are angry about how we litter this earth.  God did charge us to be good stewards of the planet.  Maybe it is how our media seem to slant everything one way or the other depending on where you set the dial.  God did tell us to speak the truth and use honest scales and standards.

There are plenty of things in our world that we could get angry about with some justification, but we do not get to right standing with God by any of these.  Only the blood of Jesus puts us in right standing with God.

From the perspective of achieving the desired results—efficacy—anger does not get us to being in right standing with God. 

Love is the operating verb for the disciple.  Love grows relationships.  Love leads us to this verse to better receive what God is telling us and to get along with each other more and more.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

We are permitted some anger.  It is a natural human emotion.  In the new creation that we are, anger does not govern.  Love governs, and peace is the fruit that we enjoy so much.  There are other benefits of living a life of love, but peace in a world that does not know peace is ever so valuable.

Let’s learn to listen to God and absorb everything he tells us.

Let’s learn to communicate with each other and enjoy the peace that comes just from being understood.

Let’s be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.

The blood of Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. 

Now that God has made us right with him, let’s work at listening to God without distractions and getting along with each other by listening to understand more.

Quick to listen.
Slow to speak.
Slow to become angry.


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