108. The Caring Tongue

        As soon as the words were out of Alex’s mouth, he wished he could take them back. They were too harsh and he knew it. Yet, when Alice shot back at him in the same angry vein, he forgot his temporary remorse and the battle was on.

        Our tongues cause us a lot of trouble, don’t they? And this includes what’s not said as well, words that would have helped if they’d been spoken.   In chapter 1, verse 19, James counsels us this way:

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. . .”

How can I use my tongue well?

Step #1:  I use my tongue well when I’m quick to listen

James urges us to be quick to listen. Are you quick to listen? Often we aren’t.

Why aren’t we quick to listen?
        Let me suggest some reasons.

1.  We’re not quick to listen because we’re distracted

The other person’s lips are moving, but we’re having a hard time following because our mind is pulled in other directions – by our worries or other ideas that keep photo bombing into our mental picture. So we keep losing our focus on what they’re saying.

2.  We’re not quick to listen because we’re not that interested in the other person
The truth is, our stuff is more important to us than their stuff. Their issues are boring compared to our own. Who cares if such and such is happening to them? Blah, blah, blah.

3.  We’re not quick to listen because we’ve already made up our minds
The truth is, our opinion on the subject is already decided, and whatever they say isn’t going to change it.  Our minds aren’t really open, especially if the conversation involves an argument of some sort.

4.  We’re not quick to listen because we’d rather be the center of attention
We like the spotlight.  It’s more fun when others are listening to us than when we have to step into the shadows and listen.  It makes us feel important to be heard.

What makes us quick to listen?

1.  I’m quick to listen because I love the other person
What they say is important to me because I care a lot about them and their welfare. This is why God listens to us.

 2.  I’m quick to listen because it helps me to understand them better

If we’re to have a useful conversation, it’s necessary that I accurately understand where the facts and how they interpret them. A lot of misunderstandings and unnecessary problems occur when this is not carefully done.

3.  I’m quick to listen because it helps them feel understood
When another person believes that they’ve received a thoughtful hearing, they appreciate it, and are more likely to feel properly understood. This not only honors them, it also makes them more open to listen in return.

 4.  I’m quick to listen because I’m humble
A lot of the problems mentioned earlier spring from selfishness and pride. Humility causes us to value the other and their concerns as much as we value our own. It also opens our ears to listen well since we’re more teachable.

Step #1:  I use my tongue well when I learn to listen I’m quick to listen
Step #2:  I use my tongue well when I’m slow to speak
This, of course is the flipside of step #1.

Why is it good to be slow to speak?

1.  It’s good to be slow to speak since it gives me the time to get the facts right

I’ve already mentioned this. So much misinformation or “fake news” is flying around and our assumptions are sometimes wrong or at least distorted. Ask questions,  and restate what they’ve said occasionally, to see if you’ve gotten it right.

2.   It’s good to be slow to speak because it gives me time to deal with my emotions

Our emotions help us to interpret what we hear, but they also can cloud our perceptions, especially if we’re angry, jealous, worried and so on. Being slow to speak allows them time to settle and this, in turn, helps us to hear what is said more fairly and objectively.

3.  It’s good to be slow to speak because it gives me time to weigh carefully what I’ve heard

Getting the facts accurately is good, but facts don’t interpret themselves. It’s helpful to take time to think about various interpretations and maybe even get another opinion or two before I make my evaluation.

4.  It’s good to be slow to speak because the less I say the more weight my words have

This isn’t always true, but generally, those who speak sparingly and choose their words well are more likely to catch the attention of others. On the flip-side, those who constantly chatter are more likely to get tuned out after a while.

Step #1:  I use my tongue well when I learn to listen I’m quick to listen
Step #2:  I use my tongue well when I’m slow to speak
Step #3:  I use my tongue well when I’m slow to become angry

It’s interesting that James ties this in with the first two, but anger is often more likely if we don’t follow the first two directives.

Why is it good to be slow to anger?

1.  My anger often clouds my judgment
 Anger, though a useful emotion, is hard to use well. It often filters what we hear so that we interpret it more harshly than is necessary.  Things usually look different when we’re calmer.

2.  My anger often springs from improper expectations
While anger itself isn’t wrong, what prompts it can be.  Often it springs from selfishness or from a lack of love or from misunderstanding, so it’s not appropriate to the situation.

3.  My anger often brings out the worst in others
Even when anger is appropriate it needs to be used and expressed wisely. We can be angry without yelling or being abusive or accusatory. If the other person is prompted to anger by our anger, it frequently inhibits a useful conversation and inflames the situation. Therefore, it’s wise to use our anger sparingly and skillfully.

How can I become slow to anger?

1.  I become slow to anger by learning to control it

This is the short-range solution; damage control. I learn to shut my mouth. I Iearn to delay my actions until I’ve calmed down. If possible, I catch it early, before it has a chance to build. This doesn’t necessarily resolve the anger, but it keeps me from doing foolish things I’ll later regret.

2.  I become slow to anger by gaining a more godly perspective

This is a major part of the long-term way of making anger useful and not destructive. As I gain God’s perspective, I’m more patient about many situations which used to bug me.

3.  I become slow to anger when I learn to forgive
Forgiving allows me to drain the bitterness lagoon which too often builds up in us and causes us to be unnecessarily prone to irritability or even rage.

Quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. Another word for this is wisdom. May the Spirit make it so in us.