Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life.James 1:19-24 (The Message)
Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear! Those who hear and don’t act are like those who glance in the mirror, walk away, and two minutes later have no idea who they are, what they look like.
One of my greatest fears is to be seen as a hypocrite, someone who talks a whole lot about love but in all actuality, slanders my neighbor, looks down upon outsiders, gossips about friends, and condemns entire people groups as evil/bad/wrong, forgetting that every person is made in the image of God.
It’s easy to fall into a criticism loop, though, isn’t it? As God’s child, I feel like I have a strong grip on what holiness ought to look like. Instead of applying those principles to my own life, I forget my own face and begin to look for the flaws in my neighbor’s. I get angry and disgusted at the state of the world. I talk about its immorality and its crimes, its evil and its sin.
I get so caught up in looking out at the world that I fail to look in at my own heart (Matthew 7:1-3 NIV). What is all of this criticism of others doing to me? What is it doing to them? How is any of this reflective of the living God who loves so much he sent his Son to die for each and every one of us?
James tells me how to avoid the criticism loop, how to stop talking about love and actually love my neighbor. It begins with humility. Listen, then speak. Follow with letting the Living Word landscape your heart with true virtue, not “spoiled virtue and cancerous evil.”
This means opening myself to the working of the Holy Spirit to reveal in me the spiteful, bitter, critical heart and renew a right spirit within me, daily. It’s hard work, but as children of the Living God, each and every person I encounter is worth it.
Points of Reflection
- In your daily life, what or who makes you angry? Take a deep look at that anger. What are its roots? If it is a person or people group, make an attempt to set aside your anger for now and try to listen. What made them feel the way they do? Why might they be acting the way they are? What might it be like to walk in that person’s shoes? Seeing from their perspective helps us build empathy and kindness, which are fruits of love, even if we still disagree with them.
For the Kids
- It’s easy to react in anger when someone does something you don’t like. Think about a time recently that you’ve gotten angry. How would the situation have been different if you had followed James’ advice, to listen first, speak second, and let anger straggle along behind you?
- Make a stop sign to hang up in a space where you and your family members interact regularly that says, “Listen first. Talk second.” Try this tactic in your household when you disagree.
In our social media-driven world, it’s easy to reverse the order of James’ instructions: we read something, we get mad, and then we respond in anger. Rarely do we even try to listen. We tend to have public arguments at a safe and relatively anonymous distance online, but we’re unwilling to talk individually with a person we disagree with, in true Matthew 18 fashion. This week, when something someone says or does provokes you, try to reverse the order and follow James’ advice. Ask questions and listen to the person’s response. Ask more questions to try to understand better. Consider asking that person to coffee or lunch, or open up a private message to take the dialogue out of the public forum of social media. These are true acts of love and kindness to those who have different opinions, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll each begin to see the world differently.
One of my beach reads this month was Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy by Amy Peterson. The reputation of the church has been damaged in the public eye in the last couple of decades. How can the followers of Christ “re-root ourselves” in the virtues we claim? This beautiful, humble book takes a clear-eyed look at what we say versus what we do, and how we can bring our words and our deeds closer together as believers.
Listen or read online through your local library’s Libby app, buy on Amazon.com or purchase at a local independent bookstore near you.