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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Communication, Part 1: Talking

In my persistent pursuit of perfect irony, I have a lot to say about how much we talk vs how much we listen.  It is a topic (listening, speaking, words, actions) that is covered at great lengths in the Bible, which should tell us how important it is.  I have split everything I have into a series of three posts: Talking, Listening to God, and Listening to Each Other.

My niece, Audrey, is five.  You can tell that her parents spent countless hours with her regarding manners because she is one of the most courteous five-year-olds you will ever meet.  If I am having a conversation with someone and Audrey wants my attention, she will politely say, “Excuse me, Uncle Josh?”  Adorable.  Sort of.  See…if I don’t stop my conversation immediately and attend to whatever Audrey needs, she will continue saying, “Excuse me, Uncle Josh?” until I turn my focus on her.  In Audrey’s mind, she has been respectful by saying, “excuse me,” now the polite thing for me to do is listen to her.  She has something to say and it’s more important than whatever conversation I am currently having.

Again…she’s five.  What five-year-old do you know that interrupts with an, “excuse me?”

We aren’t five, yet we continuously talk over each other.  No “excuse me” needed.  May the loudest voice win.

Mark Driscoll writes, “It is said that the average woman speaks around 5,000 words per day whereas the average man speaks around 2,000.  For men who work full time outside of the home, the number increases to as many as 3,000 words a day, and 10,000 to 20,000 words a day for the average woman working full time outside of her home.  Furthermore, we send innumerable emails in addition to spending countless hours on the telephone.  In short, we communicate a lot, in both spoken and printed words.”

Words are important.  On average, men speak around 2,000 – 3,000 words per day while women speak 5,000 – 20,000 words per day.  Are we choosing these words wisely?  When we speak, are we selecting our words with a specific purpose or merely spouting them every which way?  Furthermore, while we speak 2,000 – 20,000 words per day, how many words are we listening to?

Driscoll again, “The Bible is filled with examples of condemnable speech, including cursing God, blasphemy, making false accusations, perversity, rashness, harshness, wickedness, boasting, lying, flattering, bitterness, nitpicking, adulterous flirtation, busy-bodying, gossip, nagging, whining, complaining, needless quarreling, and plain old foolish stupidity in its innumerable forms.”

If we think about it, where did man’s original sin originate?  From the mouth.  Satan spoke to Eve and through his words, convinced her to sin.  Eve then spoke to Adam and through her words, convinced him to sin.  Speaking without thinking led to acting without thinking, which led to sin and death.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.  There’s a reason children say that…because adults know better.  Sticks and stones may break your bones, but those bones will eventually heal.  Words cut like a knife (to use another common phrase), and knife wounds scar.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption – Ephesians 4:29-30

Catch that?  When we use our words in a negative way towards others, we cause grief to the spirit of God.  Our words can cause pain to God.  Want more?

Proverbs 11:9.  Words can be used as a weapon or a tool, hurting relationships or building them up.
Proverbs 15:28.  Righteous people weigh their words.  Wicked people don’t because they care little about the effects of their words.
James 3:1-12.  James compares the damage the tongue can do to a raging fire.  A few words spoken in anger can destroy a relationship that took years to build.

Our words carry immense power, and it’s time we took that more seriously than we do.  A future series of posts that I am working on revolves around the idea that non-Christians have grown weary of Christians.  That it’s almost become taboo to even admit that you’re a Christian for fear of retribution, and to be honest—we’ve done it to ourselves.

By now, even non-sports fans know the whole Peyton Manning saga.  Earlier this month, that story finally came to an end when Manning signed with the Denver Broncos.  To make room for Manning, the Broncos traded their starting quarterback (and devout Christian) Tim Tebow.  Due to this action, televangelist Pat Robertson said on “The 700 Club” that if Manning got hurt this year, it would “serve him and the Broncos right.”

Is this opinion shared by the majority of the Christian world?  Of course not.  However, since Robertson said this, all I have read or heard is how, “This is the problem with Christians today.”  One man with a microphone opens his mouth, says something stupid, and all Christians are painted in a poor light.  The problem is that we have a lot of Christians with a lot of microphones saying a lot of stupid things.  They believe that just because they have a mic, they have to say something, and that babbling brook has turned off a lot of people.

Dan Kimball, in his book They Like Jesus But Not The Church, wrote: “Maybe we in the church have been doing so much talking that we haven’t really listened (to the non-Christians).  Shouldn’t we hear their thoughts, hear their hearts?  Shouldn’t we listen to why they believe what they believe, instead of jumping in to try to make them believe what we believe?”

If we’re doing all the talking and refusing to listen to them, then what Kimball also says makes sense: “I pleaded with (a group of pastors) to awaken to the fact that most people in our emerging culture are not listening to us anymore.”  Why should they listen to us if we don’t reciprocate the action?

I was listening to an old Francis Chan sermon a couple weeks ago, and as always, he made a powerful statement in the simplest of sentences: “I think the world is tired of us talking.”

The Bible agrees:
Proverbs 10:19; 13:3; 17:27-28
Ecclesiastes 6:11; 10:12-14

Chan continued: “That doesn’t mean you stop sharing the gospel, because many people will still listen.  It just means that there are some people in the world of whom you will not get their attention by your words.  Until they see true religion coming from the church…not just talk.”

It’s time for another clich√©: Actions speak louder than words.  In many ways, it’s time for us as Christian to stop talking and start doing.  People don’t want to hear what we have to say anymore, and I don’t blame them because a lot of stuff coming out of our mouths is garbage.  We can talk about the life of Jesus all we want, but until we start living that life, the rest of the world is going to assume we are speaking lies.

Again, the Bible agrees:
James 1:26-27
Matthew 3:8 (The notes in my Bible for this verse provide the following insight: “This verse means that God looks beyond our words and religious activities to see if our conduct backs up what we say, and he judges our words by the actions that accompany them.”)

Why is all of this so important?  Because your words show the world your true heart.

“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good?  For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.  But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:34-37

“It’s not just the words that come out of your mouth, it’s that the words that come out of your mouth reflect the state of your heart.”
“When you say evil things, it’s because you have evil in your heart.”

“The disciple of Jesus learns to speak under the discipline of the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit enables Christians to speak truthfully in love – not too much or too little – in a manner that is appropriate for both the hearer and Jesus, who is listening in on our words.  Sometimes, the key is to get our time to listen silently to God through His Word so that when we do speak, we echo Jesus.”

A lot of people use this tactic to try to avoid sin: They imagine that Jesus is in the room with them.  Watching.  (Which He is.)  In their mind, it’s harder to succumb to temptation with the idea that Jesus is right next to them.  But did you catch what Driscoll just said?  “…Jesus, who is listening in on our words.”  Maybe next time, before you open your mouth to speak, ask yourself if you would be saying the same thing if Jesus was in the room.  (Which He is).

Would you say the same thing if you were speaking to Him?

So is the message here a simple one?  Just shut up!!  Not exactly.  I have a devotional calendar next to my bed, and last night’s said this: “You may, by virtue of your words or ways, change a person’s life forever.”

Go back and read most of the Bible passages provided earlier.  Within the context of what I was saying, it appears that each passage warns of the danger of words.  However, most of them are split: Half of the passage warns of the danger of words, while the rest speak to the positive side.  The righteous man chooses his words carefully…The man with good in his heart says and does good…Words can build relationships.

When Driscoll gave examples of condemnable speech, I cut him off.  He went on to say, “On the other hand, the Bible also describes speech as an opportunity for worship, prayer, grace, teaching, counsel, preaching, kindness, truth, comfort, love, healing, sweetness, encouragement, mercy, hope, gentleness, conviction, and faith.  As Proverbs 18:21 says, ‘The tongue has the power of life and death.’” (I added the bold print.)

So much good can come from the things we say.  The problem is that we believe everything we have to say is good.  It’s not, and we need to stop with that arrogance (yes, I need to take something from this post as well).  Think of it like this: The more you listen, the less you talk.  Then, when you do speak, your words will carry even more weight.  When words have that amount of power behind them, people listen.  When people listen, there is an immeasurable amount of good you can do…so long as your heart is good.

Chan took the following acronym from someone else, but he couldn’t remember whose it was—so the best I can do is cite Chan: THINK.  Before you say anything, THINK about what you’re about to say.
T = True.  Is what I’m about to say the truth?
H = Helpful.  Is what I’m about to say helpful?
I = Inspirational.  Is what I’m about to say going to inspire and bring others closer to God?
N = Necessary.  Is what I’m about to say necessary?
K = Kind.  Is what I’m about to say kind?

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. – Colossians 4:6
An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up. – Proverbs 12:25

Next week: Part 2, Listening to God.

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