Examining James chapter 1, Robert Lewis speaks on how we need to listen and make a difference in the world around us.
The story is told of Franklin Roosevelt, who often endured long receiving lines at the White House, that he complained that no one really listened or paid attention to what he said as he shook their hands. So one day during a reception, he decided to try an experiment. To each person who passed down the line and shook his hand, he murmured this, “I murdered my grandmother this morning”. The guests responded with such phrases like “marvelous”, “keep up the good work”, “we’re proud of you”, “God bless you”. It was not until he got to the end of the line while greeting the ambassador from Bolivia, that his words were actually heard. Nonplussed, the ambassador leaned over and whispered to Franklin Roosevelt, “I’m sure she had it coming”.
The writer Charles Swindell once found himself with too many commitments in too few days, ever been there, too many commitments in too many few days. He got nervous and tense about it. He said “I was snapping at my wife and our children, choking down my food at mealtimes and feeling irritated at those unexpected interruptions throughout the day”. He recalls this in his book, The Stress Fractures. “Before long, things around him at home started reflecting the pattern of my hurry-up style. It was becoming unbearable. I distinctly remember after supper one evening the words of our younger daughter Colleen. She wanted to tell me something important and that had happened to her that day at school. She began hurriedly, daddy I want to tell you something, I’ll tell you really fast. Suddenly realizing her frustration, I answered honey you can tell me and you don’t have to tell me fast, say it slowly. He says I’ll never forget her answer, then listen slowly”.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.James 1:19-27
We can look at the headings listening and speaking which we find in verse 19. In verses 23 to 25 it talks about listening and doing and then in verses 26 to 27 it talks about listening and making a difference. We need to listen and make a difference in the world around us. Wherever our world might be at home with family, with friends, at school, we as Christians need to be making a difference. We need to be good listeners, good listeners. Billy mentioned that I’ve worked in a school, I worked in one school in Guildford for just over 20 years, comprehensive school students age 11 to 17 and I have had the privilege of doing pastoral work with them, one-to-one pastoral work and it has been such a privilege to listen to young people. I was in a meeting or on one occasion and this particular lad in the school had not been behaving that well and his mum came in and his mum decided to bring her mum in who had been a matron in a private school and we knew that it was going to be a difficult meeting and that we had to kind of point out some home truths about the lad’s behavior and we’re going to go through this meeting and I was asked to give my input and then the grandmother chipped in and she said this, “I’ve worked in a private school for X amount of years and boys don’t talk”. Now I had to bite my tongue actually because I felt like saying, “well they do, they do”. If somebody will give them time and if someone is prepared to listen, teenagers will talk.
I’ve said it to many a teenager that they’ve never had it so good. What I mean by that is the opportunities for teenagers these days is absolutely amazing. It’s great, fantastic opportunities but the pressures and the stresses that are upon our teenagers have never been so great. They have never been so great. I was asked to see one particular year 10 student, in fact her mum was a teacher in another school but this particular student was coming in late almost every morning, almost falling asleep in every lesson and I was asked to do a little work with her and so after a few weeks she said to me, “I can tell you what’s wrong with me”. I said “go on then”. She said “I’m on social media till three o’clock every morning”. Well I’d heard that many times so that wasn’t a shock, that wasn’t a surprise. Sadly many of our young people are on social media a lot longer than they should be. So the next sentence that took hold of me, she said “yes I’m on social media till three o’clock and I have to be the last one off in case my friends talk about me.” I have to be the last one off in case my friends talk about me. Now what I felt like saying was change your friends because if your friends would do that to you they’re not really your friends but I didn’t say that, I just just kind of listened but that pressure and there’s so many voices aren’t they speaking out and we mentioned this morning we’re in a battle, we’re in a warfare and when you’re in a warfare you need to be listening to the right voices and we need to be listening to the right voice. We need our ears tuned to God’s voice speaking to us.
When I was a little boy my mum would quite often say to me you’ve got one of these [mouth] and two of these [ears] and use these [ears] twice as much as you use this [mouth]. I’ve noticed in the work that I do that I don’t only hear with these but I’ve learned to hear with these as well. Call it body language don’t they not to go into that in any depth. I’ve spoken with lots and lots of teenagers and they sometimes they don’t say much but you can see what they won’t say and we need to be seeing and hearing what God is saying to us as individuals and as a church and for those people that came into partnership this morning what you will find here in this church is a pastor that will listen and leaders that will listen to you and we need to be listening to one another. Husbands need to be listening to their wives and vice versa. Parents need to be listening to their children and children need to be listening to their parents.
James says “my dear brothers and sisters take note of this everyone should be quick to listen, quick to listen, slow to speak.” Sometimes we might not like what God says to us. There’s a story in the Old Testament of a guy called Naaman; he had leprosy and he went to the prophet looking for an answer and the prophet told him to go and wash in a dirty river. He thought I’m not doing that, hr didn’t want to listen because it wasn’t comfortable. He was on his way home and thankfully a young servant girl told him if the prophet had said this and this, you would have done it wouldn’t you? He said yes, why not just listen, just listen and so he did listen. He went and he dipped in the river that God told him to dip in through the prophet and you know what happened? His leprosy left him and he was healed.
Lots of the time we like what God says to us but God, because he is God and because he loves us so much, sends the Holy Spirit to us and says “I’m not quite happy with that, you were a bit sharp when you spoke to that person the other day, I understand you were tired and you were irritable”. We have to be careful with our words but all just to be able to listen when God says all the good things but also those times when the Holy Spirit wants to change us from one degree of glory into the next. I mean God’s so wonderful isn’t he, the only reason the Holy Spirit points certain things out in our life is to make us Christ-like. When we become more Christ-like who benefits from that? We do! This is the God that we worship.
So there are times that all of us will go through it, but God will say “come on, let’s change, let’s work on that that attitude that thing that happened 30 years ago that you’ve not let go of but you’ve not forgiven”. Let’s work on that and we listen to God’s voice and we listen to one another. Right throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament we have so many examples of men and women of God who at times listened and other times didn’t. The Israelites in the desert, the man that came down from heaven, they were so excited and God said don’t worry about the Sabbath I will provide for you. What did they do? They didn’t listen and what happened? It went mildew – it wasn’t good for them. If we don’t listen to God, it’s not good for us! Jonah go to Nineveh – Jonah didn’t want to go to Nineveh, but eventually he got there.
And so we have examples; let’s make sure that our ears are attentive to all that God says to us being able to listen to God’s Word. That’s why it’s so important to have a reading plan to develop that good habit of reading God’s Word every day, because God speaks through his Word, God speaks through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. We need to be able to listen to the needs of our society, not to be influenced by them, but to recognize what the needs are in our society and we need to listen to one another to know that you have someone that you can turn to and be vulnerable with. All of us are tempted day in day out, but none of us are beyond temptation. Some temptations we think that we can share and we feel comfortable there may be other temptations that what the devil speaks then cross our mind. You may think that I can’t share that with somebody because they might think this of me, and what we do we lock it in and the devil then makes us feel condemned. The devil likes to condemn, us but the spirit wants to set us free and to have someone, wherever it is, to say I’m really really struggling in this area and that person listens, prays for you and supports you through whatever you are going through. It would be lovely if all our Christian life was on the mountain. But we have to go through a few valleys. Valleys can get dark and valleys can get cold and sometimes in a valley you can’t see where you’re going and we need somebody alongside us who will listen to us. We know that Jesus will always listen to us, but we flesh and blood and God knows that we need one another to really really listen.
Have you ever been talking to someone and felt that they’re not really listening? You know, somebody comes into the room and their gaze is immediately taken to the person that comes into the room and it kind of makes you feel less important, or the phone rings and they will answer the phone “excuse me this is an important call”. What’s that saying? This call is more important than you! I try to let the person I’m talking to know that they are the most important in the person in the world while they are talking to me and I’m not just listening because I’m trained to do it, I’m listening because I care. I’m listening to this teenager because I know there’s a better way and they’ve been listening to the voice of the world and all the pressures and all the stresses and I somehow in my listening I’ve got to convey a better way in a better message that they can live. We need to be careful this is a thing that I have had to train myself to try not to do you’re talking to someone and you finish the conversation for them you know that they can’t think of the word to say sometimes and you jump in with the word you think it should be and sometimes you get it right and sometimes you just get it wrong and the person now thinks I’m not gonna bother.
Or have you ever been part of a conversation even in home group when are you just trying to contribute but Fred and Mary are monopolizing in the conversation and every time you’ve got somebody else jumps in! Now if you’re an extroverted type of person you you make sure your voice is heard but if you’re not an extroverted type of person you just shrink back. Remember those days in in school when the teacher asked a question and you knew the answer but you’re too timid to put your hand up in case you’ve got it wrong? And then somebody else put their hand up they got it right and you knew that you had it right as well but you just didn’t have the courage! We’re all different, but when James tells us dear brothers and sisters take note of this be quick to listen slow slow to speak so that we can feel valued we know that God values us, but we need to know that we value one another and everybody’s voice is so important.
Sometimes when we speak without fully listening we can say the wrong things. There’s a tragic story in the Old Testament found in Judges chapter 11.
Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”Judges 11:29-31
Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Sounds committed, sounds as if the person is putting God first. But then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gave them into his hands he devastated twenty towns from Aor to the vicinity of Mineth as far as Abel, Karim thus Israel subdued Ammon when Jephthah returned to his home in Mizbar who should come out to meet him but his own daughter but his own daughter danced into the sound of timbrel she was an only child except for her he had neither son nor daughter when he saw her saw her he tore his clothes and cried oh no my daughter you have brought me down and I am devastated I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.
Proverbs tells us that with our tongue we can heal and with our tongue we can destroy. You may have been broken by words that have been spoken to you. Those words still are having an impact on your life. I want to tell you that God can set you free because his words he speaks over you, that harsh word those words that hurt so much, Jesus just wants to set you free from those words as he speaks his love his purpose. You were not a failure, you were not an embarrassment – you are a child of God. You are gifted because God gives us all different gifts. You are not a mistake, God knit you together in your mother’s womb. He has known you from the beginning. God doesn’t make mistakes. God just wants to set you free from those words that have held you back. God wants you to be released from the effect of those words that you listen to. Lsten to his words and what he would say over your life slow to speak let me move quickly slow to become angry.
Now there’s no one here that would ever have a bad temper, I’m sure none of you would get ever would ever get angry! I’m quite a mild person, I’ve become quite a mild person particularly when I’m in church. But in half an hour when I’m in my car, something changes – particularly when there’s a person keeping to the speed limit and it’s quite a nice road and you could at least do 35 – I know it says 30, but I’m late! None of you would be like that would you, but becoming angry is dangerous and along with wrong words being spoken we can destroy people.
One of the other sad stories in the Old Testament which I always always struggle with is why Moses wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land. He’d done so much. I know he lost his temper, I know he got a little angry but he’d done so much for God. Couldn’t God just have let him go into the promised land? But God has boundaries. God has standards, but it was Moses’ anger that kept him out of the promised land and this is one area particularly when I felt God calling me to ministry that God had to deal with me because I had a fiery temper. I’ve always loved sport and I hate losing. Lots of us have a church face but my wife my children, the people close to me, they know what I’m really like they know whether I’m slow or quick to anger. I can be singing hallelujah in church every Sunday and I can be aggressive to my wife and my children and my work colleagues. That’s not a good witness, it’s not a good testimony and we need to be slow to become angry. God can work with that.
God spoke to me a number of years ago and it was a challenge to me and he brought these two words to my mind; revelation and reality. This was the challenge from God; Robert you can quote so many scriptures God has revealed so much to you, Robert you know that you can have a peace that passes understanding. But what is the reality of that? What is the gap between what my Bible tells me is mine in Christ and what I’m actually living and God has called me? What I’ve been working on personally for a number of years now is trying to close that gap with the wonderful revelations that God gives to us to the reality of my living and walking day by day. What does it say do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves but live the word.
I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].John 10:10
It’s wonderful to sing about it and that’s part of our living it, but in the valley as well to live it in the valley that revelation and the reality do not merely listen to the world and so deceive ourselves and that enclosing, that true religion just to live out what God has spoken to us to us as a church and to us as individuals knowing that I am in a small way changing people’s lives.
One familiar story to finish with once upon a time there was an old man who used to go to the ocean to do his writing he had a habit of walking on the beach every morning. Before he began his work early one morning he was walking along the shore after a big storm had passed and found that a vast beach had been littered with starfish as far as the eye could see. Stretching in both directions off in the distance the old man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked he paused every so often and as he grew closer the man could see that he was occasionally bending down to pick up an object and to throw it into the sea. The boy came closer still and the man called out good morning may I ask what is you were doing? The young boy paused and looked up and replied I’m throwing starfish into the ocean the tide has washed them onto the beach and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the Sun gets high they will die unless I throw them back into the water. The old man replied but there must be tens of thousands of starfish on this beach I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference. The boy bent down picked up another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean then he turned smiled and said it made a difference to that one.
You might not change the world but just imagine the privilege of changing one person’s life because you listened to what God has said to you you, listened to what the teacher of the church has said to you and you’ve changed at least one person’s life. I try to spend as much time as I can walking and talking to Jesus because I know that he listens, he hears the cries and the groans of my heart. And he hears the cries and the groans of your heart. God will listen to you, tell him what’s on your heart. If you are carrying hurts and pains, talk to him about those hurts and pains. He really loves you and he really wants to set you free.
Will you just say to God; “I want to be a good listener, I want to make a difference in my world. I don’t want to drift, I want purpose and I just want to make a difference in the lives of other people”. I just pray this morning that Father you’ll make us good listeners and further help us to live it and for each of us. Father to make a difference in our families, workplaces, places of hobby or interest. God that we will all make a difference as you have made a difference in our lives we ask it in your name. Amen.