James 1:19 says, “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]” (AMP). Chances are that you’re doing well in at least one of these areas, but struggle at being good in all three. I’m not always quick to listen. I like to guess where you’re going with something and get to your conclusion before you do. The problem with that is when we’re not quick to listen, we’re telling the other person that we don’t value them enough. Being quick to listen is important for us as believers because we need to listen to what God’s Word and the Holy Spirit have to say as well, and for the same reason.
Being slow to speak can be difficult, especially if we don’t have much of a filter between what we think and what we say. Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a [callous, arrogant] fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips he is regarded as sensible (prudent, discreet) and a man of understanding.” Being slow to speak changes how people perceive us. It’s tough to do, especially when we’re the type who listens in order to respond rather than to understand. Being slow to speak also gives us the opportunity to listen more. Before responding, ask yourself if that really needs to be said and if it edifies or builds up the listener.
Finally, being slow to get angry can be tough, especially when we view people through a filter of pains from our past. When we go from a 3 to a 10 quickly, we say and do things we later regret. This one can be difficult to learn, but it starts by getting better at the first two. When I listen well, and give the other person the opportunity to say everything and listen with the intent of understanding, with a patient, reflective and forgiving heart, anger slows down. The Holy Spirit is at work in each of working to produce these three things in each of us. If you’re not good at all three, don’t despair. Ask God to help you so that you can be a better representation of Him. We’re all under construction and have areas God is working on. Spiritual maturity comes from allowing the Holy Spirit to daily help us get a little bit better at following Him.
Have you ever noticed how we judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their actions? We give ourselves a lot more grace than we give someone else. Whenever I accidentally change lanes, but don’t see the car in that lane, I sheepishly duck my head, wave and mouth “sorry” hoping they understand. However, when someone does that to me, I see it as an attack of a negligent driver who is intentionally trying to kill me. I got from zero to angry in .5 seconds, honk my horn, shake my fist and scream at them. Now that I realize I’m judging them differently than I’m asking them to judge me, I’ve had to learn to give more grace in these situations. Chances are high, they simply made a mistake, like I do sometimes, and they’re not intentionally trying to run me off the road.
It’s scary how quickly I can go from singing along with the radio to straight up anger when that happens. The problem is, that’s not the only time or place I have a tendency to do that. We even do that when someone is talking to us. We judge ourselves by the intention of our meaning and others by their words and our interpretation. We can easily get angry without listening to everything they’re saying or the intent of their heart. Once anger comes into play, listening goes out the window and words usually come out of our mouth. Even when they try to explain, our anger has shut out reason and withdrawn any grace we had to give. These things happen to all of us, and if we can understand the hypocrisy of our own thinking, it can help us tone down how quickly we jump to anger.
Another way to slow down the anger train is to keep our mouth shut long enough to listen to their heart. James 1:19-20 says, “My dearest brothers and sisters, take this to heart: Be quick to listen, but slow to speak. And be slow to become angry, for human anger is never a legitimate tool to promote God’s righteous purpose” (TPT). That last sentence should give each of us pause. Anger is never a tool to promote God’s purposes. When we’re angry, we’re usually out of control and saying thing to hurt the other person. Anger is a legitimate emotion God gave us, but He also told us not to sin while we’re angry (Ephesians 4:26). We’re either promoting or destroying God’s purpose with our lives. Anger has a tendency to destroy it. When we change how we judge others actions and words, we can begin to control those flare ups.
Last night after church, I spent some time chatting with my pastor’s wife. Every time I have a conversation with her, I walk away thinking, “Wow! That was a lot of wisdom.” She often shares her thoughts on what they’ve learned in decades of ministry. When it comes to learning, you can go out and do it the hard way or you can find someone who’s been there and done that and listen. I try to soak in as much as I can when I’m around her because I know the best way to get wisdom is to be around wise people.
Most of us don’t take the time to stop and listen to others who have gone on ahead of us. We think we know the best way and that their way is outdated. The truth is, the trail of life is the same, just the scenery has changed. People are still people and do what they’ve done for centuries. Those who are older than us or who have gone down paths that we’re on have wisdom to share, but we rarely want to hear it.
I like to talk. Ok I love to talk and I’m not afraid to strike up an hour long conversation with a complete stranger. What I’m not great at is listening. I’m not sure how many of us really are. What I’ve learned is that listening is more important than talking especially when someone is trying to pour out wisdom into your life. It’s difficult for me to stay quiet and to not try to jump in when someone else is talking. I’ve noticed that when I do that, the conversation leaves it’s original intention and heads down bunny trails.
I don’t think bunny trails are bad, but when I cause them, I miss out on valuable insight from someone willing to give it. James 1:19 tells us we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. There’s a saying in sales that I love. It says, “No one ever listened themselves out of a sale.” Our mouths are what get us in trouble and keep us from learning. James understood that. He followed that verse up with the thoughts that it’s not enough to just listen. We have to go do what we’ve learned after we’ve listened.
Applying wisdom is another difficult thing. We have the mentality that our way is the right way. We think, “That was good for their path, but this is good for my path.” We have to learn how to take the wisdom that someone gives us and then apply it to our lives in a way that keeps us from learning the hard way. I’ve learned plenty of lessons from the School of Hard Knocks. I prefer the School of Shut Up, Listen and Learn. It’s a lot less painful.
Solomon said, “If you want to be wise, walk with the wise” in Proverbs 13:20. To me, that means we need to spend time with those who have more wisdom than we do. Take time today to think of someone in your life who has tried to give you wisdom, but you’ve failed to listen to or have distracted the conversation. Find a way to sit and spend an hour or so with them on a regular basis. Take notes on the conversation and write down questions instead of interrupting them. Your life will become better for it and I can attest that it will be a lot less painful.