Scripture: Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1:19 ESV
Observation: In his letter to Hebrew converts, James (the half-brother of Jesus) writes out of concern for how this young church is responding to persecution and how they are growing complacent with the absence of Christ’s return, thus reverting to their former self-centered lifestyle. He reminds them that their Father of lights is unchanging and consistently gives them “good and perfect” gifts, including his gift of the “word of truth,” that they might become “a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (1:18). Knowing this, he adds the above appeal to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.
Takeaway: As James elaborates in chapter 3, our tongues wield much power to build up and tear down. For this reason, we should be more cautious about what we espouse to others, for we live in a social-media culture that facilitates instant responses to a worldwide community. Sadly, more often than not, people express their opinions without regard to how they are impacting their audience. Hence, we have entered a new age of cyberbullying. While our first amendment protects freedom of speech, many have taken the license to “speak their mind” without regard to the outcome. Sadly, few exercise the art of listening amid the many voices clamoring for significance. Resultantly, tempers flair, and sometimes the result is catastrophic, causing collateral loss of lives.
As James would contend, this should not be so in our Christian community. Followers of Christ ought to be models of good listening: with our spouses, our children, our neighbors, our coworkers, and even our enemies. So what constitutes good listening? It entails hearing with understanding, discerning beyond the words to the matters of the heart. But we can only listen at this depth of insight if we first listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. So here are four steps that will help us attune to the Holy Spirit:
- Start with a godly disposition: pray for wisdom, expressing our earnest desire to care for the relationship over being proven right.
- Seek to understand the other person over our desire to be understood (the other person will more likely understand our position if we make the first move).
- Give our undivided attention (if triggered by something said, we will stop listening as we internalize our response).
- Respectfully communicate our understanding of what the other person said (repeating this step until there is a meeting of the minds).
In short, our attitude makes it or breaks it. Good listeners follow the example of Christ: they exercise grace and humility in listening beyond hurtful words (often borne in pain) to the heartfelt cries of the other person. Resultantly, they sow seeds of peace over anger. Indeed, good listening is an art and a gift that brings new life.
Prayer: Father God, we thank you for the gift of your Son, who always listened to you in assuring the efficacy of his Gospel mission. Would you please help us to stay attuned to the promptings of your Holy Spirit that we might be slow to speak and quick to listen with understanding to our hurting world? Amen.
Rev. Gordon Green, M.Div., M.A. Counseling