Stop trying to get the first and last word

I overheard a conversation between a Libertarian and a left-leaning Republican last night as I was sitting in a local coffee shop. I couldn’t really help but overhear, honestly. They were loud–really loud. And that’s saying something because this coffee shop is always busy, always bustling, and these two folks were straining to be heard above that noise.

Everyone could hear them. That fact wasn’t in question. But even though they could hear each other, I don’t think they were actually listening. They were just talking at each other, talking over each other, interrupting each other. They both had important points to make, important things to say, but they each saw their own perspective as more important. And what resulted wasn’t a conversation. It was just a shouting match, and nobody walked away happy.

New wheat sprouting in the southeast pasture at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

New wheat sprouting in the southeast pasture at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Matthew 13:12.

To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.

This is a verse taken from the Parable of the Sower, sometimes call the Parable of the Farmer Scattering Seed. It’s impossible to break this story down far enough to make a simple point about it. It’s so deep, so rich with meaning, so if you’ve got the time to read the whole thing, you really should. You can find the complete text in Matthew 13:1-23.

There’s just one very simple thought that this verse and its corresponding parable brought to mind, and only a small part of it is common courtesy. I mean, I don’t know where our manners as a culture have gone. It’s like we hit this era in communication where we can talk to anyone, anywhere, anytime, and instantly all our civility has gone out the window.

I’m sure what you have to say is important. I’m sure what I have to say is important. But we both should be adult enough to respect each other enough to listen without interrupting, to consider without prejudice, to hear without condemning. Even if we don’t agree (especially if we don’t agree), we can still listen to each other and be polite in our response and tone.

Granted, what God says is right, and that won’t change. Not ever. Not for anyone or any reason. But we’re all joining God’s story at different places in our walk, and we need to give each other a little grace. Don’t you think?

More than anything, this story always makes me want to be a good listener. I’m a good talker. I’m a storyteller, after all. And while I don’t much like talking in front of people, if I can slip into storytelling mode, I can keep a crowd hooked for hours. But talking is easy and cheap. Listening is hard work.

One of the many points of the parable of the sower is that the farm plants seeds on different types of ground, and each type of ground reacts differently to the seed. But in every case, the seed is good. It’s the ground that has trouble. And that’s the way God’s Word works in our lives. When we read the Bible or hear truth from God’s Word, that’s a seed, and how it will affect our life depends on what kind of soil we’ve cultivated in our hearts.

I want the good soil. The rich, fertile soil that allows that seed to take root and grow strong. And while that works for God’s Word, I want it to work for other people too. I don’t want to be the hard, rocky ground that deflects everything from everyone else. I want to be the person who listens, who hears, who understands.

Now, of course, common sense has to come into play with a heart like that. Everything you allow to be planted in your heart should match up with what God says is true, but you get the idea. Those people who can listen kindly, respond gently, yet stand their ground with confidence and conviction–they have hearts with good soil, where God’s Word can grow and where other people can go to speak their minds and not be turned away.

We don’t have to agree. It’s probably better in some instances that we don’t agree. It keeps us on our toes. But it’s so much better to get along, and you don’t have to agree to do that. You just have to love each other, respect each other. So the next time you’re sitting down with someone to talk about anything, stop trying to get the first and last word. Stop trying to get other people to listen to you and try listening yourself for once.

Who knows? You might hear something you don’t expect.

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The awesome limo that took me to lunch Wednesday, Wichita, KS

What a limo ride taught me about God’s favor

Yesterday was supposed to be a normal day. Nothing earth shaking was supposed to happen–just work. And lots of it. (I take it back. A friend was going to come surprise me at 11:23 a.m. … but something happened to prevent it, and she was gracious enough to understand.)

A coworker of mine won a contest on a local radio station, and she got to pick a handful of people at work to be picked up by a limousine and driven to a nice restaurant for lunch!

And she asked if I wanted to go? What?

I’ve never ridden in a limousine in my life. I’ve seen pictures of them, but I’ve never sat in one. So when this monster pulled up into the lot of the Epic Center, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. The driver’s name was Floyd, and he was really nice (though we were told his name would be Leroy…. go figure). And all of us had to scoot in down one long bench seat. There was a compartment with ice, a compartment with Cokes, and a bunch of glasses and bottles. The roof had little LED lights in it that twinkled like stars.

And good old Floyd had that heater turned up so high, nobody needed a coat inside, which was nice because it only got to like 25 today.

But as we drove across town to the restaurant, I couldn’t help feeling humbled. I hadn’t expected this sort of a thing. I’m not sure anybody did. We all just showed up at work today, and BOOM! We ended up in a limo, being taken for a free lunch.

The awesome limo that took me to lunch Wednesday, Wichita, KS
The awesome limo that took me to lunch Wednesday, Wichita, KS

Today’s verses are Proverbs 3:1-4.

My child, never forget the things I have taught you.
Store my commands in your heart.
If you do this, you will live many years,
and your life will be satisfying.
Never let loyalty and kindness leave you!
Tie them around your neck as a reminder.
Write them deep within your heart.
Then you will find favor with both God and people,
and you will earn a good reputation.

Has someone ever done something nice for you when you really hadn’t done anything extraordinary to deserve it? I mean, maybe you showed up on time. Or you didn’t mind watching a kid at the last minute. Or whatever. As far as you were concerned, you were just doing your best to treat others the way you wanted to be treated.

I think a lot of times we Christ-followers focus on what goes wrong in our lives. I know I do. It’s easier for me to face the troubles and trials when they come if I’m expecting them, so when I get blessings instead of disasters, I don’t know what to do. I almost don’t know how to handle myself.

I didn’t used to spend much time thinking about the concept of favor when I was a kid. It didn’t really mean anything to me. But it was something my mom talked about a lot–that we had favor. I didn’t start noticing it until I got older. As far as I was concerned, I was just living the way Jesus would want me to live, making decisions as He would, treating people like He would, working like He would, and I would end up with opportunities.

Some people would say it’s because I worked hard to earn them, and maybe they’re right to a certain extent. But I say I worked hard because that’s what Jesus expects from me–to work for people as though I’m working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23).

The Bible is so full of wisdom, and all we have to do is learn it and apply it to our lives. Sure, sometimes life gets screwed up, and sometimes you have nothing to do with it. Sometimes life is just life. Sometimes you do the right thing, and you end up in bigger trouble than you were before.

But other times, you do the right thing, and God gets to show you what real favor looks like. It’s privilege you don’t deserve. It’s regard you haven’t exactly earned. It’s respect you don’t know how you obtained.

You get all that just by working hard? No. You are given that when you remember how God says to live and you choose to live that way.

Now, you may not end up in a limo being taken to T.G.I. Friday’s for a free hamburger … but favor will make itself known in opportunities or unexpected gifts that really brighten your day. And when you see them, don’t ignore them. Acknowledge them for what they are.

You made the right choice, and God is blessing you. So thank Him for it. He doesn’t have to, you know. He’s not bound to shower you with limo rides just because you chose to do what He expected of you anyway. But He’s a good God, and He knows that we all need a little encouragement every now and then.

So are you tired of doing the right thing all the time? Think nothing good ever comes from doing the right thing? Think nobody notices? Just hang in there. You might have a limo waiting for you too.

Listening

Verses like the one this morning make me cringe. Actually, most verses out of James make me cringe because so much of what James writes about is what I struggle with. And this morning is one that truly throws me for a loop.

James 1:19

19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.

As I was reading this today, I realized something I never saw before. I always considered these three instructions to be individual. As in, we need to make sure that we are good, attentive listeners. We need to make sure we don’t talk too much. We need to make sure we don’t lose our temper. But as I was reading this morning, I started to wonder if instead of individual commands they’re actually connected.

How many times have I sat and listened to someone speak without interrupting them to tell them that they’re wrong and getting angry about it?

Listening is a sign of respect. Listening demonstrates that you love someone else more than you love yourself, that you’re more concerned about what’s going on in their life than you are about what’s happening in yours. Listening is hard. But that’s probably becuase it’s a good thing to do.

So what do you do when you’re listening to someone and they say something wrong? Or they say something offensive? What do you do? Do you jump all over them? Do you interrupt them and tellt hem that they’re wrong?

If we think about these three commands as though they are all connected, what are they saying to do?

Be quick to listen. That means we need to be eager and excited to listen to someone else’s story. But once they get started, let them finish their thought without interrupting them. And then, don’t get angry at them for expressing beliefs or opinions that contradict your beliefs or opinions. Let them finish their thought. Let them have their say. And then — calmly and without anger — explain your position. Explain your beliefs. Explain your opinions. And explain why you feel that way.

I struggle with this enormously, especially if someone is telling me something I have already heard before. If somebody is repeating something I’ve already heard, I usually interrupt them and finish the thought for them. And, honestly, that’s just rude. I should care more about the people who are talking to me than I do about what they’re telling me. So what if I heard it before? I shouldn’t be in such a hurry that hearing it again bothers me.

I am always quick to listen, but I’m not always slow to speak. And that’s something I need to work on.