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Listen with Your Ears – and Heart

Listen with Your Ears — and Heart

Article by

Instructor, Bethlehem College & Seminary

Fruitful conversation with someone who disagrees is a rare find today. And that may be because we’re forgetting why and how it should be done.

Perhaps you’re preparing to converse with a colleague, friend, or family member with whom you do not see eye to eye in way one or another. You’ve imagined how this conversation might go, and it does not look promising. You’d rather avoid it entirely.

Or maybe you find yourself consistently embroiled in debates on social media or even with the person next to you on the plane. Facts fly and opinions rocket around, but your conversation rarely sheds more light than heat. You’re beginning to wonder whether it’s worth the hassle and frustration.

In high school and college, I competed in formal debate. It pushed me to think on my feet, craft clear arguments, and appeal to a person’s mind and heart. But at the end of every debate round, the judge would declare one team the winner. That was always the goal: to win. Dominate the conversation and overwhelmingly refute the other team’s arguments. Outside of that artificial debate environment, however, should that be our goal?

Why Talk When You Disagree?

Jesus tells us that second, after loving God, is loving our neighbors. We can love our neighbors in many ways, but one irreplaceable avenue for such love is the way we talk with them. Our motives and methods in conversing with neighbors — especially toward those with whom we disagree — reveal our love, or lack of love, for them. We show a lack of love when we quickly ignore them and retreat from them as well as when we seek to dominate and defeat them.

“One irreplaceable avenue for loving our neighbor is the way we talk with them.”

To love others truly, we must choose God over self. An act of genuine love toward another human demonstrates, “It’s not about me. It’s about God.” We love others when we die to our own selfish desires and set our hearts on God. And in conversation, we show that life is about God, not us, when we expect to learn truth from others and don’t hold back what truth we have for them. Neither avoiding conflict nor winning the conversation should be our goal. Rather, our goal is love (1 Timothy 1:5).

Key Principles for Dialogue

But what does that look like? Does it mean we always concede? Do we stop using the available means to persuade others of what we believe to be true? No, we don’t.

So what might it look like to speak in love with that Muslim neighbor with whom you discuss faith at the coffee shop, or your mother-in-law who wants you to parent differently, or the friend voting with a vastly different orientation than you?

Seek First to Understand, Not Defeat

When we talk with someone we expect to disagree with, our first goal should not be to defeat them but to understand them. Understanding someone does not mean we only listen long enough to identify what we disagree with so we can launch a counterattack. We know we’ve understood them when we can articulate back to them — in a faithful and agreeable summary — what we’ve heard, and they respond, “Yes, that is exactly right!”

We cannot love someone well until we’re ready to learn from them. And that means we have to understand them, to lean in and listen with a learner’s ear.

Clarify Differences, Rather Than Blur or Exaggerate

When we discover differences as we listen carefully, we’ll be tempted to respond in one of two ways. Either we will minimize the differences or blow them out of proportion. In both cases, we miss the opportunity to learn from and love someone by clarifying the differences and identifying agreement. In that moment, using precise language is like focusing the camera lens so that the object becomes clear to everyone looking at it.

We love our conversation partner well when we’re precise with our language. Words, and how we use them, matter — and all the more as disagreements emerge.

Address Concerns, Not Just Beliefs

But precise words are not enough. Although we may be able to restate exactly what someone believes, in clear language, we may have no clue why they believe it. If we stop at the level of belief, we may fail to learn their deep, underlying concerns and thereby miss a chance to love someone who disagrees with us.

“We show that life is about God, not us, when we expect to learn truth from others and don’t hold back what truth we have.”

Recently I’ve had the privilege to talk for extended periods of time with a friend whom I disagree with on essential matters. He’s a committed Catholic; I’m a staunch evangelical. While our debates revolve around philosophical frameworks, doctrines, and practices, we’ve both learned to appreciate these important guidelines for dialogue, but especially this third and most overlooked principle.

We agree with how Tony Lane describes this ground rule for dialogue:

It is important to pay attention not just to the doctrines put forward by each side but also to the concerns that underlie these doctrines. If each side can be brought to understand and value the concerns of the other, considerable progress can be made. (Justification by Faith in Catholic-Protestant Dialogue: An Evangelical Assessment)

If we can identify and appreciate the concerns behind a person’s beliefs, then real progress in understanding them, and loving them, is possible. But that is hard work, and it’s going to take both a learner’s ear and a lover’s heart.

Like any worthwhile habit, dialoguing well will take practice. But that practice will shape us into the sort of people who are able to truly learn from and love others.

Heart and Mind

Psalm 28

A Psalm of David.

To You I will cry, O Lord my Rock:
Do not be silent to me,
Lest, if You are silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my supplications
When I cry to You,
When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.

Do not take me away with the wicked
And with the workers of iniquity,
Who speak peace to their neighbors,
But evil is in their hearts.
Give them according to their deeds,
And according to the wickedness of their endeavors;
Give them according to the work of their hands;
Render to them what they deserve.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord,
Nor the operation of His hands,
He shall destroy them
And not build them up.

Blessed be the Lord,
Because He has heard the voice of my supplications!
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.

The Lord is their strength,
And He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
Save Your people,
And bless Your inheritance;
Shepherd them also,
And bear them up forever.

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These are my exact notes from reading this chapter, earlier this morning. I hope it speaks to your heart as much as it did mine.

Oh how important it is to our lives and souls to hear from God.

Our heart must desire purity and holiness.

Our eyes must feast on the Living Word of God.

Our thoughts must be consumed with Him and His ways.

Our lips must be filled with His name, and Praises to Him.

Priniciple #4

Deuteronomy 17:18-20 

18 “Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes,20 that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.

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These were part of the final instructions and commands Moses was giving the Israelite’s before they crossed into the promise land. In this passage God spoke four principles that future kings were to abide by. So that they may govern and rule the people and the land with wisdom. Most importantly God’s hand would be over them.

This fourth principle was to rewrite the entire Bible at that time. The king was also supposed to make it part of his daily life. This was a book to read, write, memorize.

To learn to fear the Lord, and to be careful to observe God’s commands. That this book would keep the king from becoming prideful and oppressive. Among many other descriptions.

That is powerful stuff men. The living word of God was able to direct and guide wise kings that feared the Lord. So that all their decisions and actions were done under God’s grace and wisdom.

If the king of God’s people was required to do this, how much more do you and I need this?

Men, do we really fear the Lord? Do we want to have our light shine for Christ? Do was want our marriages to be rock solid, and reflection of the love of Jesus Christ? Do we want to raise children that stand up for truth and righteousness in this increasingly dark society?

Well if I can be honest, it wont happen by standing around. It wont happen with a half-butt effort. It takes work. It takes change. It takes a renewing of our mind.

It takes time in God’s Word to constantly keep changing our sinful nature.

Hunger and thirst for Him men, before it’s to late.

 

 

Mercy Please!

Psalm 17:2 NLT

Declare me innocent, for you see those who do right.

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The late Dr. J. Vernon McGee says this in his commentary about this verse:

“I don’t know about you, but I am not asking for justice from God; I am asking for mercy. What most of us need from Him is mercy.”

Brothers if I can be honest; this convicted down to my soul.

How often I am so quick to ask for justice. To declare my way to God as the right way, while others are wrong. Men I couldn’t be farther from a pure heart.

How quick I forget my sinful nature. How quick I forget how desperate I am for God’s mercy. How quick I am to forget that I did nothing to receive my salvation. Absolutely nothing I did, nothing I had control over brought me salvation and eternal life with Jesus Christ.

Everything was God. Everything was paid for by Jesus Christ. I am nothing, and I am ashamed of the way I think and handle situations.

I want the heart and mind of Christ. I need God’s mercy.

Hunger for Grace

Proverbs 3:34

Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble. 

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Good Morning Men!

We have been touching on the topics of humility and gossip recently and I read a quote that was so powerful. This quote also powerfully supports what we have been learning.

” A great man shows his greatness, by the way he treats little men.” – Thomas Carlyle

My heart and my prayer is that the Lord would give each and every one of us this heart and this mindset.

The above verse makes it very clear, on God’s actions towards the lack of this mindset, and also His actions toward this mindset.

Lets seek this heart and mindset men. As Philippians 2 teaches us that we should consider others better than ourselves.

Great building blocks to reflecting more of Jesus in all we do and say.

 

Hungering for more grace with all of you.

Gossip Says More About Me

AUGUST 15, 2016

Gossip Says More About Me

Gossip Says More About Me

Article by

Pastor, Pepperell, Massachusetts

Gossip is tasty to its speakers and hearers. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to the inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8 NIV). A choice morsel is exciting and enticing, swallowed greedily, like potato chips or onion rings. But gossipy words aren’t just a burst of flavor on the tongue; they “go down to the inmost parts,” promising to meet the deep desires of our hearts.

Why does gossip taste so good? Ironically, while gossip’s content usually focuses on other people, at its core, gossip is really about me. It promises to make me feel a certain way about myself. We gossip because of what gossip promises to do for us. Therefore, when we gossip, we’re serving and worshiping ourselves (perhaps that’s why Paul lists gossip as a sin of idolatrous people in Romans 1:29).

Jonathan Dodson’s articles have helped me identify gossip’s false promises. Let’s consider four of them it makes to us.

1. “You Are Interesting.”

We all like to feel accepted, and interesting gossip can serve as our entrance badge into a conversation or group. All the more so if the gossip is negative and leads to mutual complaining. Gossiping and griping can be a bonding experience (“Did you hear the latest about our boss?”).

But gossip offers what it can’t deliver. When gossip says, “You’re interesting,” or, “You belong,” it’s lying. To people who thrive on gossip, you’re only interesting as long as your gossip is interesting. When we use gossip to gain access into a community (a church, a workplace, a friendship circle), our words tear apart the very community we want to join.

Jesus gives us a true community, the church. Our entrance badge into that community is his own blood, which unites the church in love. We don’t get into the church based on what we say about others. We get in based on what God says about us in Christ.

2. “You Are Powerful.”

Having information about other people makes us feel powerful and important. We may say to someone in authority over us, “I’m not the only one who disagrees with you; I’ve heard lots of people are unhappy with your new policy.” That’s power-play gossip: reporting vague public opinion as a club to batter down the thing or person in your way. Sometimes we gossip about the weaknesses or misfortunes of those we envy, because it makes us feel good to take them down a notch.

But gossip can’t deliver on its promise of power. It may give us some tiny, temporary degree of influence in the communities to which we belong. But when we stand before almighty God and he holds us accountable for how we spoke about others, we’ll see that our gossip gave us no real power. It was a false promise, a foolish illusion.

The gospel tells us something very different about ourselves: we are weak, and we need help. God is powerful. His words created the world! He sustains all things by the word of his power, and if we will trust in Jesus, God will put his awesome power to work and make us part of his new creation.

3. “You Are Indispensable.”

For those of us who meet needs because we like the feeling of being needed, gossip may be rescue equipment. We may hear of someone with a struggle, and our first impulse will be to spread the word in order to get others involved in a rescue effort. On the surface, we just want to help. But in fact, we usually make the situation worse by inserting ourselves into situations where we don’t belong.

We may say, “Hey, do you know Barry is upset at you?” Our intention may be to encourage our friend to have a conversation with Barry. But we should have told Barry to speak directly with the person, and then stayed out of it. Instead of trusting the Holy Spirit, we’ve trusted ourselves, because we like to feel indispensable.

The truth is, gossip is lousy rescue equipment. It can never make us indispensable. Jesus alone is our Rescuer and Deliverer, and Jesus can save us even from our need to be needed. Jesus gives us true significance — not as mini-saviors, but as those who are saved by him.

4. “You Are Righteous.”

Gossip makes us feel righteous in comparison to others. We may grumble-gossip to our friends about the annoying or hurtful habits of our spouse or children. Or we may say to one neighbor about another, “I can’t believe Tom bought a brand-new car. I heard he has huge credit card debt.” One of the reasons we enjoy celebrity gossip is that it’s delicious to hear of the secret brokenness of the very people we envy (maybe we’re better than them after all).

But gossip can’t give us the righteousness we desire. Only Jesus does that. The gospel tells us we’re unrighteous and need a perfect Savior to be righteous for us. And it tells us that through faith, Jesus’s perfect righteousness becomes ours.

Look to Jesus

In Jesus, we belong. In Jesus, God’s power works for us. In Jesus, we find significance. In Jesus, we’re righteous. Let’s stop gossiping about others, and instead start talking to Jesus about them, and to them about Jesus. Let’s expose the lies of gossip and instead believe the truth that is in Jesus.

How Can a Young Man Cleanse His Way?

Psalm 119:9-16

How can a young man cleanse his way?
By taking heed according to Your word.
10 With my whole heart I have sought You;
Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!
11 Your word I have hidden in my heart,
That I might not sin against You.
12 Blessed are You, O Lord!
Teach me Your statutes.
13 With my lips I have declared
All the judgments of Your mouth.
14 I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,
As much as in all riches.
15 I will meditate on Your precepts,
And contemplate Your ways.
16 I will delight myself in Your statutes;
I will not forget Your word.

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The Lord led me to this passage this morning as I was replying to some emails. I want to share some of the notes from my Bible in this passage. I want to extract 9 steps to answer the question in the first line. My hope and prayer is that all of us would analyze our hearts and minds and find areas to improve in, even if you think your doing good.

My Bible says, how can a young man cleanse his way?

Im not sure about you men, but I desperately want my way to be cleansed, pure and holy. I do not want any sin in my life. When I do slip and sin I want to make it right with God.

  1. Take heed. We must caution ourselves. We must understand the power and holiness of the Bible. This Bible is the inspired word of God, therefore to know God we must know the word of God.
  2. Seek the Lord with your whole heart. Can we honestly say we are seeking the Lord with our whole heart? If we cannot then something is in the way. If we want to cleanse our way, we must find out what is in the way and remove it.
  3. Do not let me wander from Your word. When we wander, drift and slowly slide way from His word it is a subtle nudge day by day. We will not notice the inch by inch drift. We will notice when its too late 5,10,20 years later when the bottom falls out. When your wife wants a divorce, you stumbled into an affair, your relationship with your kids is broken and so on.
  4. Hiding God’s word in our heart. Brothers its not only about reading the Bible, but memorizing it. Studying scripture with the intent to plant powerful verses in your heart. The Bible is not called the living word of God by accident. Its alive, and comes alive in your daily life when it is hidden and planted in your heart!
  5. Teach me. Are we teachable? Coach-able? Or do we get offended and turned off to easy. This is pride men, pride because of insecurities or sin. Lets allow God’s word to teach us and lead us out from the darkness we love to fall into.
  6. Judgement’s of His mouth and rejoicing in His way. Honoring and trusting the living word of God. Living a life of praise, gratitude, and committed to edifying others.
  7. Meditate on Gods ways. Think and communicate with God. As we continue to spend time in God’s word, lets recap, lets revisit, lets think about these things we are reading. Lets learn to start plugging them in to daily life. Make it real.
  8. Delighting in God’s commands. Men when we can understand that Gods word is a light to our feet and a lamp to our path we learn to delight in His divine guidance and direction.
  9. Not forgetting the Word. When we make these steps a part of our daily lives, when they become more than something you read about. When these steps become second nature to your thinking and your actions, the word of God becomes your life focus. Scripture promises when we live this way, everything we do will prosper.

May the Lord truly bless all of you with a deeper hunger and thirst for Him.

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