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Quick To Listen, Slow To Speak

Have any of you ever been shocked by the words coming out of your own mouth? Have you ever heard yourself speaking angrily to someone and thought “why am I unable to control my own tongue?!” Have you ever wished you could go back in time and do a conversation over again without getting angry and saying something careless or mean? If you have ever had any of these experiences, thoughts, or feelings then you understand the danger of the tongue. The tongue is such a small part of our body, but it is so powerful for good or bad. The Bible doesn’t mess around when it describes the tongue: “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue, we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:3-10) Ouch! But so true! And if you think the Bible is exaggerating, just ask any person who has grown up in a verbally abusive home and they will describe how painful and damaging words can be. This is why the Bible warns us to be careful with our tongues:

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” (James 1:19) QUICK to LISTEN = Really try to understand what someone is telling you. Think about their perspective and situation. SLOW to SPEAK = Think before you speak. Don’t respond with careless words or with your emotions. SLOW to ANGER = Even if you are justified in your anger, use self-control in your response. Imagine if we could practice this all the time, but it’s not easy. Just the other day I came home tired from an afternoon of teaching and discovered my wife and kids were not home. I called my wife and she told me they were at a playground in the shopping mall. She quickly told me her cellphone was about to die so all she needed to know was what we were going to do for dinner: eat out or eat at home? Out of nowhere my attitude suddenly changed. I felt angry that she was asking ME what our dinner plans were. Why couldn’t SHE choose? With my voice raised, I told her to decide and then suddenly her phone died and that was the end of our conversation. I immediately knew I had just been a huge jerk. Without considering her stressful situation - being out with our three kids, having a dead cellphone, being responsible for cooking dinner - I had just used my words to wound instead of comfort. Since there was no way for us to contact one another I knew that my wife would be coming home with our children in a few minutes and I knew that when she got home she would still be hurt and upset. I began to prepare my apology. The seconds turned into minutes and the minutes stretched into half an hour and then longer. I began to wonder where they were. I began to worry that maybe my wife and kids had been in an accident on her 3 wheel motorbike (FYI, we live overseas in Asia where most people drive mopeds, bicycles, and 3 wheelers). It was cold and rainy outside and the traffic was bad. And then I heard a loud ambulance going down the street outside and I really began to worry. What if that was the LAST conversation I would ever have with my wife?! What if those were the last words I ever got to speak to her?! The wrong words can come out so easily and when they do they might be the last words we get to say. Thank God, my family showed up a few minutes later and I wasted no time apologizing to my wife and asking for her forgiveness. I gladly took the family out to eat so she didn’t have to cook! During those long agonizing minutes, while I was worrying that the worst had happened, I kept wishing I could just go back and redo that whole conversation, but that’s simply not possible. The only thing that’s possible is for us to remember and practice LISTENING carefully, SPEAKING slowly, and CONTROLLING our ANGER. But for this, we truly need God’s help: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23)

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