December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.”—James 1:19 (NLT)
God has called us for a purpose—to be used by the Holy Spirit in the places He strategically has us. This call requires us to be willing to intentionally engage with the people God has placed in our lives. Yet, in our polarized culture, it’s become increasingly difficult to have meaningful conversations with individuals who hold different views from our own. While it may seem convenient to avoid certain topics in order to keep the peace, there’s a way to engage in discussions that’s both fruitful and edifying.
The Golden Rule
If there’s an area for us to demonstrate God’s love to our neighbors, it’s in our speech. So, before engaging in a challenging topic with someone, believer or nonbeliever, we need to consider what our motivation is for the things we want to say.
Our conversations should reflect God’s love, grace, and truth. Therefore, the things we say should be driven by love for our neighbor, not by our desire to be right. This is the first and most important place to start with any polarizing conversation because “if [we] could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, [we] would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1 NLT).
Quick to Listen
Difficult conversations can entice us to give quick rebuttals or defenses, but these conversations are a perfect place to practice listening. When we actually listen to what another person is saying instead of focusing on everything we want to say, we gain understanding and empathy for that person. Listening allows us to pick up on definitions, emotions, and values that the topic has for that individual. Therefore, when we’re quick to listen, we gain valuable information which in turn should inform our response.
Slow to Speak
Before we jump to give an answer, we can slow down even further by asking questions. We learn this from Jesus Himself, who often answered questions with follow up questions (e.g., Mark 10:17–18). So, as you’re listening, you can ask questions like:
Asking clarifying and follow-up questions helps us understand where the person is coming from, the logic behind their reasoning, their emotional state, and what they fear and value. This will equip us to respond more effectively.
Slow to Become Angry
Our own emotional reactions to certain topics cannot be overlooked during these moments because our feelings can often hijack our reasoning, which can lead us to respond in ways that are more harmful than beneficial. As you’re listening and asking questions, check in with your own heart. What emotions come up for you as you listen? As you notice them surface, practice surrendering them to the Holy Spirit. Ask Him for words that are grace filled and truthful in order to represent Christ well.
If your conversation is with a nonbeliever, remember:
If the conversation is with a believer, consider:
God has called us to be a light in this dark world, to be His ambassadors in the places He has us, and to point those in our lives to Jesus. As we make space for these opportunities, “let [our] conversation[s] be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that [we] may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6 NIV).
Gabriella Bemis serves as a volunteer for Calvary’s communications and worship teams. She holds an M.A. in psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary and is passionate about integrating her knowledge of human behavior with the truth of God’s word. When she is not writing resources or singing at church, Gabi loves to paint, cook, and enjoy time outdoors with her family and friends.