Listen Up and Slow Down (James 1:19-20)

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 
-James 1:19-20

Listen up and slow down.

I grew up learning to interrupt people who were talking.  And I learned to think about what I was going to say next, while the other person was sharing.  I also would get to the end of my rope fast, in stressful situations.

But God changed me.  I ended up teaching listening skills at my church.  Not because I became the crowned expert, but because I became a listener.

My assignment for many years, was to listen to people tell their stories, over and over, and not to interrupt.  Today, I am still learning to listen, just ask my family.

And I want to hear God's voice more than anything.  And God mostly speaks to me in the still small voice, that could be dismissed as a passing thought.  I am on a lifelong still cultivating hearing God and being still to hear God.

I wrote a blog a year or two ago about learning to be silent before God for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, while intentionally setting an issue in my life before him.  I think that being quiet before God is a very good thing and beneficial.

But throughout my life, I have mostly talked to God, and not heard much back.  And I have learned that God is a really good listener.  I have also come to believe that God really loves it when I talk to him.

One of the most loving things you can do for a person is simply listen to them.  God is love and God is a listener.

And God does not have a problem with my running through the same stories many times, asking about the same thing, or requesting something over and over.  He actually likes it.  And I think that God would like me to talk to him  more and listen to him more, even if I don't hear anything back.

I believe that God sets the example for conversation, and is very quick to listen and very slow to speak.  God is patient and rarely interrupts and has perfect self control to speak when it is the right time.   And when talk to God and do not hear a response, it is rather an invitation to keep talking and listening.

And when I don't hear God, I don't have to fill in the blanks, but the silence is filled by what I know about the character of God.  God is love, God is good, and God cares.  He is merciful and kind.  He loves me.

What does it mean to be slow to anger?  It means forbearance.  Some people are irritated easily by everything.  They are not slow to anger.

There is extroverted and introverted anger, explosive and implosive.  Anger is not a bad thing.  We get angry when we feel a loss or injustice.  

James links speaking fast with with getting angry fast and says don't do it.  Somebody says or does something and one person reacts while another one holds back and does not even have a need to react.

For example, when driving and someone gets out of their lane, we do need to react and hit the brakes of turn the wheel.  But the constant reacting to everything the other cars do is not good.

I was at a show, at Disneyland's California Adventure park.  A man right in front of me, put his child up on his shoulders, as the show started, blocking the view.   I took it in a stride.  25 years earlier, I was a different person, at an Amy Grant concert.  I actually yelled, "Sit down!", at the people that stood up, in front of us.

The admonition to listen up and slow down, is classic Biblical wisdom.  Other philosophers say similar things, like; "We have two ears and only one mouth, that we may hear more and speak less" (Zeno, the founder of Stoicism), or, "Without anger, speaking little, and listening much", 'is how a man might rule best' (Demonax).

James' command to listen up and slow down, is written in the context of his discussion of trials.  Remember that the letter of James can be summarized as, "Now that you have become a Christian, you have a lot of problems".

Think about how we talk too much, in anger, when we face trials, troubles, or problems.  We wrongly respond by whining in simmering, bitter, vindictive anger.  Constant complaining is anger.

Instead of reacting in anger, with complaining, and acrimonious bitterness; James says to slow down.  Slow down your reaction, slow down your defensive comeback.  To be growing in righteousness means you don't constantly defend yourself and demand your rights.

Human anger is when you go after people with words or deeds, without waiting, standing down, or listening.  That is not the way of Christ.  When you act merciless that is exactly wrong.

When Christians protest, they do it because they are angry.  Whether it is complaining about a petty slight or righteous indignation about the government's handling of an issue.  We get in trouble when we have either an "I am more important than them", or a, "We are right because we are following what the Bible teaches about this issue!", self-righteous attitude that puts us on the throne.

We act like we are entitled to our wrath and we are not.  We conflate our interpretations of the Bible, which may be true, with our anger about an issue, giving approval, in our minds, to our quick words, and hot tempers.

And James says, "No, this is not the right way".  Two examples, from recent times, of Christians who were angry for social justice; but slowed down their talk and their anger; while putting their beliefs into action are Martin Luther King Jr.'s Civil Rights movement and Operation Rescue.

Both of these groups did peaceful demonstrations.

Christians are sometimes angry people.  We fight each other and fight the world to get what we want.  And James says that is not the right way for us.

The command for Christians from James, here, is to listen more and talk less; and to stop having such a short fuse on your anger.

Cultivate listening skills.  Listen more.  Listen to people who are different than you

If you are a conservative, listen to liberals and seek to understand them.  And if you are a liberal, same thing.  Listen to the other side.  Listen to people who are on a different part of the church map or theological spectrum.  Listen to people from different races than yours or different cultures.  Just listen.

If you have anger towards people who are different than you, own that and confess it as sin and repent.  If you have a short fuse and complain about every time you are slighted in your life, be honest and admit that is not right.

Move from anger to listening.  See people you disagree with as people that have the image of God, whom God loves.  Move from angry, to tolerate, to celebrate.  And we do not tolerate or celebrate evil.  I am talking about people and what God feels about them and can do with them.

If it feels like a war, and in wars people kill each other, realize that is what you have in your heart.  Change from waring listening.

Even war has rules that civilized countries follow, that are guided by humaneness.  Enemy combatants are captured on the battlefield and not executed.  A lynch-mob mentality is injustice, fueled by unrighteous anger.

Take that same analogy and transfer it to trials and troubles in your life.  See everything that hits you as an opportunity for God to bless you.  When that thing happens to you, God has a gift for you (provision) attached to it.

Move from fighting it to receiving the gift from God and transforming it.

Look up a couple verses before, "be quick to listen and slow to speak",  and see that God is the gift giver, in trials!  Let's look at it:

Blessed is the one who endures trials, 
because when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life 
that God has promised to those who love him.

No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” 
since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. 
But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. 
Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, 
and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.

Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 
Every good and perfect gift is from above, 
coming down from the Father of lights, 
who does not change like shifting shadows. 
By his own choice, he gave us birth by the word of truth 
so that we would be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

My dear brothers and sisters, understand this: 
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger, 
for human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.

If we slow down and listen up, we can begin to find out what the gift is that God has for us in our personal trial.  Not listening, not seeking to discern, but instead reactively talking in anger; nullifies your ability to find and receive God's gift to you.

We have a trial, and react and talk back, in anger, because we've been wronged and are hurting.  We are aggrieved and seek recompense.  And our focus and energies all go towards avenging and vindicating ourselves.  And we miss out on what God wants to do.

Listen up and slow down.

Angry words, thought or spoken, in haste do not produce God's righteousness in us.  When any trial or negative circumstance happens to us, we need to put on the brakes on our words and slow down.  Instead of reacting in anger, we will lean into God, the Father lights, who has a good and perfect gift for us in this.

Listen up and slow down.

(re-edited for clarity and brevity at 17:19 on 7/5/18, PDT)

The letter of James and Peter, William Barclay
James, Ralph Martin
The epistle of James and John, Alexander Ross