CONVERSATION: TALKING AND LISTENING

Too many of us are more interested in talking than we are in listening. There is nothing wrong with wanting to talk, but if all we want to do is talk and not listen, then it seems to me we do have a problem.

I’m often disappointed by conversations I hear about and read about from politicians in Washington, D.C., Bible and theology scholars, Christian authors, leaders of church denominations, church members, friends, and family members. So much of the time there is much more talking than there is listening. The last couple of weeks I read two articles that challenged and encouraged my thinking in this area.

One was a review of a book dealing with a controversial subject among many Christians who take the Bible seriously. Early in the piece the reviewer made an observation about the author that caught my attention.  Reviewer Tim Challies notes about the book that the book’s “dedication proves that Schreiner [the author] means to speak as a friend to friends. An eminently gentle man, he never comes close to being harsh or offensive. He very much wants to position this as a discussion between friends of secondary importance.” At the end of the review Challies notes the author’s affection for his disagreeing friends is a regular theme and “he gladly offers them every benefit of the doubt.”

Think about some of these insights. Wouldn’t it be helpful and contribute to many of our conversations if we spoke as friends, if we were somewhat gentle refraining from being harsh or offensive, and if we more often gave those with whom we were conversing the benefit of the doubt?

The other article I read that primed the pump for me in thinking about conversation asked the question “Can You Hear Me Now?” In the heading of this article in Christianity Today author Nathan Betts suggests “In an age when most are rushing to have their say, Christians can love by giving others a hearing.”

Betts’ basic point in his article is that many times we stop listening to those who do not agree with us and begin formulating our arguments to respond. Instead of listening to what is being said we listen for what they might say. He suggests that “Listening to another person implicitly says, ‘I want to learn from you even if I don’t agree with you’.”

I think Betts is correct when he postulates that “Perhaps one of the reasons many of us find it difficult to listen in conversations is because genuine listening take more work and critical thought.” My personal experience in these kinds of conversations is that listening also requires a great deal of patience. It’s usually not just us who is not listening to what is being said; our discussion partner often is doing the same thing.

I completely agree with Betts’ conclusion that “one of the most significant ways we can navigate tough conversations is to ensure that each person in the conversation is heard.” Unfortunately, we cannot ensure we are being heard, but we can do our best to ensure the person we are speaking with is being heard.

Having been challenged by both articles, in my conversations I want to be more like the author of the book Challies reviewed and a better and more understanding listener Betts calls for. How about you?

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PRAYER, FAITH, UNANSWERED PRAYER, AND TRUST

All of us who are Christians would agree that prayer is an important aspect of the Christian life. While driving to a meeting yesterday I realized my prayer life had waned. Right then I acknowledged it to the Lord (without bowing my head and closing my eyes!) and resolved to get back on track.

This morning I read in C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters Screwtape’s observation that if his subject [a Christian he was tempting] was attending to God Himself, both he and Wormwood would be defeated. Screwtape’s advice to Wormwood was that the simplest way to prevent such a thing was “to turn their gaze away from Him [God] towards themselves.” I wondered if that is what I had done. Later I was reminded of one of the great testimonies in the Old Testament about this matter.

Most readers will remember the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3. These three young Jewish men refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar. He had set up an image and ordered on his command everyone to fall down and worship it. In keeping with the king’s mandate, because of their refusal, they were going to be thrown into a blazing furnace.

Daniel 3:16-18 tells us their response to Nebuchadnezzar, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.”

Even in their trying situation Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were clearly attending to God Himself and did not turn their gaze away from God toward themselves. Even though we are not told they prayed, we can assume they did. And I think we can be encouraged and learn from their response.

  1. Note their commitment expressed by telling the king they didn’t have to defend themselves to him.
  2. Note also their faith that God was able and could save them
  3. Note finally their acceptance of whatever God decided.

In his book Eyes Wide Open Terry Lewis observes their words even if he doesn’t “is not a lack of faith, it is the acknowledgement of God’s sovereignty.” Lewis then makes application for us, “What God does about our situation is up to Him, but we do know that He is able!”

In terms of the title of these thoughts – PRAYER, FAITH, UNANSWERED PRAYER, AND TRUST – I’m suggesting it takes faith to pray as well as trust in accepting it when God says no to our prayer requests.

(For those who may be interested, I recommend the new collection of C.S. Lewis writings on prayer entitled How to Pray: Reflections and Essays.)

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IS IT OK TO CRY?

In my Amarillo High School Bible class the last two days we wrapped up our study of Joseph in Genesis 45-50. I had forgotten that the writer tells of seven times Joseph cried or wept from the time his brothers went to Egypt for their second visit until their father’s death years later.

I then thought of some well-known expressions that discourage crying. Boys are sometimes told “don’t be a sissy” when they cry or tear up. There is also the number one hit by the Four Seasons in the 1960s “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” And then there is the oft repeated observation from Tom Hanks in the film A League of their Own “There’s no crying in baseball.”

Is it ok to cry? My answer is yes.

Let me underscore five “Personal Reflections” to consider from Gene Getz in his 1983 book Joseph: From Prison to Palace with added observations from me.

  1. God created human beings with the capacity to weep. (Which in and of itself doesn’t automatically make it ok.)
  2. Weeping is not necessarily a sign of weakness. (For men, boys, women, or girls.)
  3. There is a time and place to weep and it’s to be done with proper motives. (Which suggests weeping can be done with an improper motive–like manipulation.)
  4. Weeping often clears the way for objective communication. (Honesty often is the result of crying.)
  5. Weeping can be a true test of our motives. (See #3.)

I am not embarrassed to admit that I am a person who cries from time to time in a variety of situations. Crying for me is often a release of emotion: stress, relief, gratitude, sorrow, guilt, or joy. Sometimes a song induces a few tears. And sometimes anger and its aftermath brings some tears.

It’s not just babies who cry; and I would hope we never call someone who weeps a crybaby. Some cry more easily and more often than others, but my sense is all of us should be open to crying from time to time and do not need to apologize for it.

I conclude with the two questions Getz asked in his “Personal Challenge” to stimulate our thinking:

  1. When was the last time you wept?
  2. Why have you wept?

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MISSING THE MARK

A word of caution from Jordan B. Peterson in his current best-seller 12 Rules for Life reminded me of something important I taught for years, but have not said much about the last few years. In Rule 10 (Be Precise in Your Speech) he warns, “Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission” (p. 271).

A good definition I used for sin in my “Bible Basics and Our Church” class was that sin is “missing the mark.” The image suggests shooting an arrow at a target and missing it. I always made the point that there were two ways to miss. One was missing by going past the target. The other was to miss by coming up short of the target.

When it comes to sin there are two ways to miss the mark: there are sins of commission and there are sins of omission. The root verb of the word commission is to commit—to do something God has told us not to do. The root verb of the word omission is to omit—not to do something God has asked us to do (to leave something out).

My sense is that in general the Church and Christians have overemphasized sins of commission to the neglect of sins of omission. We have majored in those things we should not do and minored in those things we should do. Some have known Christians more for what they are against than for what they are for.

I not suggesting we should quit talking about the things God has clearly instructed us not to do. With many people first coming to Christ, dealing with sins of commission would seem to be the first kind of sin to address. But soon on the heels of that, I would hope an equal emphasis would be put on sins of omission.

I’m excited to teach a Sunday evening class this fall entitled Overcoming and Replacing the Seven Deadly Sins. The focus of overcoming the seven deadly sins will be on sins of commission. The emphasis on replacing them will be primarily about sins of omission.

We all miss the mark when it comes to living as the Lord has called his followers to live. We need to deal with both sins of commission and sins of omission. And I think Peterson’s observation—“Don’t ever underestimate the destructive power of sins of omission”—is worth taking to heart.

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THERE IS A DIFFERENCE

Often in my reading or discussions with others I become aware of something I had never thought of before. The last several days I’ve been mulling over something I read last week that was totally new to me. It was in a recent book of selected previously published writings by C.S. Lewis entitled How to Be a Christian: Reflections and Essays (published by HarperOne).

Lewis acknowledges that unless he is very careful, “when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking Him not to forgive me but to excuse me.” He then adds, “But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing.”

What is the difference? For Lewis the difference concerns circumstances and responsibility.

He also notes that excusing and forgiving is not limited to our relationship with God, but with others as well. We both need to be forgiven and/or excused by others, and others need to be excused and/or forgiven by us. But it is not always a simple matter of either one or the other. Lewis notes that many times, either between us and God, or between people, there may be needed a mixture of both forgiveness and excusing.

What Lewis writes that most convicts me is “the trouble is that what we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.” He didn’t note the connection, but I was struck that often when we ask to be excused (instead of forgiven) the request comes with excuses. While there can be “extenuating circumstances,” those circumstances rarely completely excuse our sin.

Summarizing what Lewis suggests (in my own words), we have to admit, confess, and/or own what is inexcusable in terms of our sin. Real forgiveness is the result of being honest with ourselves and God and asking Him for it.

The basic premise is the same when it comes to forgiving and being forgiven by others. Forgiving and excusing wrongs and hurts are not the same thing. Lewis declares “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (Lewis does not raise the issue, but I personally do not believe forgiving someone means we have to put ourselves back into a situation in which they can wrong us again or continue to wrong us.)

Thank God for His love, mercy, and grace shown in forgiving us. Let’s make fewer excuses and take more responsibility for our sin. And let’s do what Jesus told us to do: forgive others in the same way we are forgiven.

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TOO MUCH

Many things in life are good, but when there is too much of some of them they are not so good. Talking is one of those things — too much is not so good. I’m a person who talks too much.

Talking less has been one of my New Year’s challenges the last couple of years, but I’ve made only minimal progress. Here are some wise warnings and insights about the issue from the book of Proverbs:

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (Proverbs 10:19,NLT)

“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3, NIV)

“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” (Proverbs 15:3, ESV)

“A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.” (Proverbs 17:27, NLT)

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2, NIV)

“There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.” (Proverbs 29:20, NLT)

I’m not confessing my talking too much violates each one of these nuggets of wisdom, but I am acknowledging I think I talk too much.

In general I talk too much, but specifically I sometimes tease and kid too much.  I have some ideas of why I talk too much, but I’m not sure why I talk and tease so much.

Several years ago I mentioned this in a sermon and told the congregation that I tease people I like. Afterwards a woman approached me and asked, “Why don’t you tease me?” I told her, “Because I don’t like you.” But in my response I was teasing her and hope she realized I did like her. I do tease people I like.

The danger with constant teasing is that you can go too far and wound or hurt someone. I know that is true because my teasing of others invites them to tease me back. And since I have been wounded by some I know I too have wounded some.

Two quotes in my reading the last couple of months prompted me to give some thought to my habit of teasing others. One quote is from Timothy Keller’s book God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life in which he asks, “Do you tend to turn everything into a joke or carry on in a lighthearted way? That can be pleasant to some, but might it not be a denial of or insensitivity to the genuine sadness of life?” (p. 108) Ouch! You see why I underlined it when I read it, don’t you?

The other quote comes from Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book Thou Shall Prosper in which he suggests, “How you think of someone and how you refer to someone will ultimately impact how you relate to that person, even if you protest that you don’t mean anything by the appellation.” (p. 315) I don’t completely agree with the Rabbi, but I do think what he says is worth thinking about.

You may or may not personally identify with all this, but you probably know people who talk too much and/or tease too much. I want you to know that I’m aware of it and working on it. And even if you don’t identify with me, I hope you will take seriously the verses from the book of Proverbs.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: Raquel Camargo <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/18202205@N03/3296054642″>shh</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

TOO MUCH

Many things in life are good, but when there is too much of some of them they are not so good. Talking is one of those things — too much is not so good. I’m a person who talks too much.

Talking less has been one of my New Year’s challenges the last couple of years, but I’ve made only minimal progress. Here are some wise warnings and insights about the issue from the book of Proverbs:

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” (Proverbs 10:19,NLT)

“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” (Proverbs 13:3, NIV)

“The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” (Proverbs 15:3, ESV)

“A truly wise person uses few words; a person with understanding is even-tempered.” (Proverbs 17:27, NLT)

“Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2, NIV)

“There is more hope for a fool than for someone who speaks without thinking.” (Proverbs 29:20, NLT)

I’m not confessing my talking too much violates each one of these nuggets of wisdom, but I am acknowledging I think I talk too much.

In general I talk too much, but specifically I sometimes tease and kid too much.  I have some ideas of why I talk too much, but I’m not sure why I talk and tease so much.

Several years ago I mentioned this in a sermon and told the congregation that I tease people I like. Afterwards a woman approached me and asked, “Why don’t you tease me?” I told her, “Because I don’t like you.” But in my response I was teasing her and hope she realized I did like her. I do tease people I like.

The danger with constant teasing is that you can go too far and wound or hurt someone. I know that is true because my teasing of others invites them to tease me back. And since I have been wounded by some I know I too have wounded some.

Two quotes in my reading the last couple of months prompted me to give some thought to my habit of teasing others. One quote is from Timothy Keller’s book God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life in which he asks, “Do you tend to turn everything into a joke or carry on in a lighthearted way? That can be pleasant to some, but might it not be a denial of or insensitivity to the genuine sadness of life?” (p. 108) Ouch! You see why I underlined it when I read it, don’t you?

The other quote comes from Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s book Thou Shall Prosper in which he suggests, “How you think of someone and how you refer to someone will ultimately impact how you relate to that person, even if you protest that you don’t mean anything by the appellation.” (p. 315) I don’t completely agree with the Rabbi, but I do think what he says is worth thinking about.

You may or may not personally identify with all this, but you probably know people who talk too much and/or tease too much. I want you to know that I’m aware of it and working on it. And even if you don’t identify with me, I hope you will take seriously the verses from the book of Proverbs.

Feel free to leave a comment below and/or share this post on Facebook or other social media.

photo credit: Raquel Camargo <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/18202205@N03/3296054642″>shh</a&gt; via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;