Master Your Response
Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us].
James 1: 19-20
One of the most important lessons any of us can learn (or need to learn) is to control our responses to difficult people and stressful situations. All of us remember(often with a wince of shame) times when we said too much, too intensely, and too often. In James’ brief letter, he gave many insights and motivations about the power of words, but this lesson may be the most important of all for many of us.
When we face someone who is defiant or annoying, our natural response it to try to control. We may try to intimidate, we may run away, or we may appease the person to get the conflict over as quickly as possible. These tactics work just fine-for a moment- but they don’t create positive, healthy habits of communication.
In these situations, we often interrupt to say what we believe needs to be said. We fail to ask for the other person’s point of view, because, to be honest, we don’t want to hear it! It takes only a few seconds for our anger to erupt like Mount Saint Helens, and then, all that’s left is picking up the pieces after the relationship is shattered.
James offers a different way: Hush up, listen carefully, ask questions, don’t jump to conclusions, and put a lid on your anger so you don’t ruin the moment and, perhaps, the relationship. His solution is simple, but challenging. We need to recognize the damage inflicted by our current responses to others, and then, with a fresh wave of motivation, take steps to change. Memorize a simple strategy: Don’t jump to speak, ask questions and listen, watch your anger thermometer and keep the temperature down. You can do it. It just takes practice. When you change your world for the better, you have positioned yourself perfectly to change the world of those around you.
Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.
Listening is an art, especially when we truly listen to what someone else has to say. It seems that we live in a world that majors in talking over each other. Often we fail to hear what the other person is saying because we’re focused on what we will say as soon as we get the opportunity to express our thoughts. Sometimes two people can be saying the same thing using different words, and yet continue to argue. Other times, something moves us emotionally and nothing said after that moment is heard.
It is apparent that this challenge isn’t something that has just developed over the last few years for James wrote on this subject to the church in the first century.
His phrases are unique and worth paying attention to. First, he says we are to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Most of the time we practice the opposite. The Amplified version defines quick to hear as being a careful, thoughtful listener. Another phrase to define quick to hear is active listener. James tells us that we should quickly engage in listening to what the other person is saying, we should carefully think about what they are saying, and we should make sure we understand fully what message they are trying to give to us. Active listening requires that we repeat back to the speaker what we have heard to insure that what was said and what was heard is the same thing. I’ve discovered that sometimes my definition of a word or phrase is different from the other person’s definition. Many years ago as a single young man I was working at a textile plant. One day one of the women asked me if I was talking to one of the girls who was working there. Of course, I replied that I was talking to her since as a technician I had to talk to operators to figure out what was wrong the the equipment. I thought the question was strange so I asked the woman to explain to me why she asked me if I was talking to this girl. I then discovered that her definition of talking to a girl was far different than just having a conversation. Her definition was that talking to the girl was dating her. Had I not asked the question, both the girl and myself would have been in an embarrassing situation and I would have been in trouble since the both of us were dating other people. I know that’s a silly story but I think it illustrates our need to listen and try to understand what the other person is actually saying before we draw our conclusion.
Second, James says we are to be slow to speak. How often does our lack of thinking about what we are going to say create strife simply because we choose the wrong words. Proverbs says that a soft answer turns away wrath. Just as we need to listen carefully to what the other person is saying, we need to be equally careful in how we respond. Pausing before we respond, especially in an emotionally charged moment can often bring about a resolution rather than emotional rhetoric that leaves both parties divided and at odds with each other. Someone said it this way: make sure your brain is engaged before your mouth is in gear.
Third, James says we are to be slow to anger. We live in a world where anger has become the normal response when things don’t go our way. To be sure, we live in stressful times with a lot of uncertainty and interruption to “normal” living. It’s fair to say that the pandemic, the turmoil in the political arena, the fear and anxiety brought on by inflation, and the erosion of morals have all contributed to high emotional responses. Frustration abounds in every sector of society including the church. We want instant solutions that meet every expectation sometimes without regard to the things that limit or prevent such responses. So we respond with anger against leaders, communities and even family and friends. James says slow down and ask yourself whether an angry response will accomplish anything or whether it will just make a difficult situation worse.
James says that failure to being quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger will result in us not producing righteousness. If we as the people of God cannot respond to the crisis around us with godly conduct and righteous behavior and words, how will the world ever change. We are called to model a different way of living and one of those ways is to listen carefully and to speak thoughtfully.
Do you need to ask God to help you with this today?
Dr. John Thompson