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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