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19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20 NIV
I often pray the words, “Lord, come quickly.” I recently added the prayer, “Let the election pass quickly.” People seem to lose their ever loving minds over presidential elections. Social media turns into a hotbed of hatred and vitriol – even more so than usual. And from my vantage point, Christians often shout the loudest and fling the most poo. This both frustrates and saddens me.
There is a reason people say we should never talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. And it’s not because those topics aren’t interesting. We have simply forgotten (or maybe never taught) how to listen to people we disagree with. I use the election as a current and relevant thorn in my side, but we could just as well substitute racial equality, differences in theology, our response to COVID-19, or a slew of other hot topics.
John 13:35 says, By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. NIV What I have never seen in the Bible is that we will show others we follow Jesus with our anti-fill in the blank rhetoric. I don’t know how “love one another” got translated to “convince you to think just like me”. And even if it did, I don’t see the arguing leading to much convincing. If anything, it’s just causing more arguing.
I think our conversations become so cyclical and fruitless because we fail in the art of listening well. In a debate (friendly or not), we most often listen only long enough to formulate our counter-point instead of listening to understand. It’s a problem as old as time. I mean, did you see the 1st presidential debate? Or some would say debacle? Proverbs 18:13 NIV states, To answer before listening—that is folly and shame. But that foolishness is exactly what most of us do. So how can we listen better, and as a result, conduct healthier dialogue?
1. Be About the Relationship
God is love, and the Bible tells the story of His love relationship with us from beginning to end. His word commands us to love others because He loves us (1 John 4:19) and love is about relationship. Our goal in any interaction – whether in person or online – should be to show Christ-like love. If we are primarily motivated by forming, maintaining or furthering relationship with another, we will naturally use language that encourages, builds up and shows compassion. Care more about the person than your point.
2. Ask Clarifying Questions
In a sermon a couple of months ago, my pastor suggested saying, “Help me understand… (what you said, what you’re feeling, what lead you to your opinion or ideas). How did you arrive at that conclusion?” Knowing where someone else is coming from leads to fewer misunderstandings and promotes empathy, which benefits the relationship. It also gives you the opportunity to think twice and speak once, which also leads to fewer misunderstandings.
3. Present Your “Side” with Permission
This suggestion came from my wise pastor as well. Ask permission to ask questions about what’s been said. Then say, “Is it okay if I share some thoughts on some things I see differently?” Become less of a bulldozer. You are entitled to your opinion, but you aren’t always entitled to share it. Having the humility to ask for permission shows respect for the individual (remember relationship is the goal). And let’s be honest, mowing over someone with your ideas or beliefs never really works.
Let’s open our ears and rain down grace on those we come in contact with. 2020 has been hard enough.
And now for this week’s featured post!
I just featured Barbara Harper of Stray Thoughts last week, but I had to do it again. I think she is somehow reading my mind and my struggles! In What Do You Look for When You Read the Bible, she touched on reading the Bible for truth and not just to speak into our current struggle or feeling. I believe God often does that for us with His word, but this seeking out this type of study is a slippery slope to twisting God’s word to meet our narrative. Thank you, Barbara, for this glimpse of the whole of God’s Word.
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