In the Bible, James, the brother of Jesus wrote, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19-20 ESV)
This verse is profound and rich, but if James was sitting across the coffee table from me, I would like to simply ask him if he ever moved across the world, started a new job, recently got married, and got a new puppy a few days ago.
I have always liked to think of myself as a fairly level headed and patient guy (Well, I would like to think so at least.) However, so far in my time in Shanghai, I have felt my blood boil so much easier over here.
It is possible for me to issue a bunch of reasons why I believe this might be. Perhaps it might be too much change or not enough rest, but no such excuse takes care of the fact that God desires the best for me and wants me to represent Him well here on earth.
Hardly could I expect my verbal lashing out at a dog who is keeping me outside in the winter at 2am to be the best way for me to reveal God’s compassionate care for His creation (Genesis 1:28).
Nor is when I am frustrated at Ali for not fulfilling my unspoken expectations in regards to toilet paper to be what I imagine the best way to be an image of Jesus who patiently loves and serves His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:25).
But while it would be easy for me to begin beating myself up over James’ verse and my daily failure to live up to it, I do not view it that way. Instead, I see a friend trying to show me (and you) a better way. His invitation is to be (1) quick to hear, (2) slow to speak, (3) slow to anger, which is wise advise to all of us whose ears begin to shut as our faces grow red.
But more than that, they are the words of life required for being grateful for every moment, whether it is hanging out with my pup in the cold or learning to communicate more effectively and lovingly with my bride.
God’s desire is always for the creation of more intimate relationships where one party isn’t simply talking at the other person, but both are learning more about each other as they grow in understanding. I would guess we all know that, but do we consider to live this out daily? Do we genuinely believe it is more important to hear others than be heard ourselves and to understand more than be understood?
I rarely do, but Jesus did. We never catch a moment of Him in the Gospels speaking without knowing the heart behind His listeners. Of course, He had a divine sixth sense, but He also had a tool even we are equipped with used to understand even His roughest opposition, the sense of hearing. He was such a good listener that He eavesdropped with the best of them (Mark 2:16-17).
So how does listening relate to my anger issue? When we listen to the heart of others around us, it gives us the opportunity to remember that they are real people who desire to be understood and not just scarecrows that we can beat up. This includes politicians and those with whom we don’t agree on Facebook.
So to bring it back to the practical, I have recently begun trying to begin each opportunity for anger or conflict by being the first to listen and simply asking questions that would allow me to hear the other person’s motivation and message. It is incredible how much this simple action has changed my anger level in many situations, because now I am not just focusing on making my point, but am also understanding the point of someone I care about (or should care about).
To follow Jesus is to be more like Him. And to be more like Him is to listen and speak more like Him, to acknowledge the humanity of others, and to listen with humility (i.e., listen more, be slow to speak, and be slow to anger).
FULL DISCLOSURE: Less than an hour after writing this, Duffy (my pup) peed on the rug and I didn’t keep my cool. Work in progress.