In this episode, we focus on one of the most important messages, not only in The Book of James but in all of Scripture. The call to listening. James shares God’s command to listen to other people. We are also implored to listen to the Bible. And, directly, to the source of truth, God Himself. Circumstances are just the environment in which we exercise our faith. If we are listening for God’s direction and looking for his truth, we can encounter all life has to offer with wisdom and grace.
Well, if we’ll go in this direction, that’s to our own benefit, we will save our lives from losing.
Now, losing has a lot more to do than just the crown of life. What other negative effects do you have from going into sin? How about addiction slavery? The Bible calls it a slavery. Our modern sensibilities, we would call it addiction because slavery is kind of a nasty thing. Addiction makes it sound like I’m a victim. But it’s the same thing, right? I’m not in control of my life anymore; something else is. That’s one “benefit” we get.
Another “benefit” we get is self-destruction. We can do that.
Another “benefit,” so-called, that we get is separation. Death.
We can commit adultery. We’re free to do that. Not going to be very good for your marriage.
We can create divisiveness with other people. It’s not going to be all that great for your friendships.
We can yell and scream at someone else to try and get them under our control. This is the wrath of man, here, in verse 20. I’m glad I’ve never done that because I know that that’s just silly. I can’t make someone—like especially referees.
You know, referees—I know that firsthand. I could go through the long thing I went through to try and stop yelling at referees. It was kind of like trying to get a dog not to chase cars. But I finally got there. But it was only through massive pain. Because this wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. And that’s not a habit that’s easy to break.
Listen to other people
But look what it starts with. If I want to receive with meekness the implanted word of God, then I start by listening to other people.
Now it starts to make sense, right? When I listen to another person, what am I practicing doing? Listening. Now what is listening? So, if I’m listening to Terri, listening to what she has to say, what are most people doing when the other person’s lips are moving? Thinking about a response. And am I actually trying to understand what she’s saying? No.
Now, if it’s a female that’s a wife and a male that’s the husband, what’s the main thing my response is going to be? What do I mainly want to do?
Well, maybe. But if I want to fix it, what’s the goal? Just to make it stop, right? The main thing I want to do is make it stop. You know, this is a flow of words, and my goal is to make it stop. Because if I make it stop, what do I get to do? Go back to the TV again, right? And pick up the remote control again or whatever else.
So, what is my response supposed to be?
One of my favorite things anybody’s ever written is Dave Barry’s Sally and Jimmy thing. I don’t remember exactly the names, but he’s talking about the difference between men and women. And he’s got this guy in the car, and Susie says, “You know, we’ve been dating for six months today.”
So he thinks, “Six months. Six months.” He looks down at the odometer. “Six months. Oh my gosh! I’m six months past needing an oil change!” And he has this kind of perplexed look on his face.
And she sees it. And she says, “Oh my gosh. He’s feeling boxed in because he’s worrying about our relationship like I do.” And she says, “Hey, I didn’t mean to box you in, you know. I know there’s no real knight and there’s no real horse and that these fantasies are not real. I’m just—”
And he’s thinking, “What’s the safe answer?” And he says, “It’s okay,” and looks over. And she’s happy with that. “Okay, great. It passed.”
Well, that’s kind of what these conversations tend to be like.
If I actually want to hear what she’s saying, what do I have to do? I have to actually set something aside. What do I have to set aside? The desire to go back to the remote control! The desire to go play golf or whatever it is. I want to just make this stop. I have to actually engage.
Now that’s very painful, isn’t it? It’s very painful. Is it not painful? Why is it painful? Yeah, because it’s not about me! We’re not talking about what I want! We’re talking about what she wants.
Now, when I start listening, and I actually stop—so what is she actually saying? I have to, actually, like, get in her shoes, see what she sees. I have to set aside all these other things that I care about.
When that happens, then I start responding back, what does she have to do? What’s her tendency going to be? Yeah, well, her tendency’s going to be—what is your tendency going to be, Terri?
[Terri] Just listen. Stop trying to fix it.
[Woman] Yeah. Why are you using words? I’m speaking here.
[Man] Well, let’s see if we can understand what’s going on here and diagnose this.
[Woman] Wait, wait, wait! That’s a solution! I’ve got problems here! We don’t need solutions to problems! What we need is more expression about how terrible it is. Right? What we need is more words! Why are you listening to me and trying to do something about it! This is about a deluge of words and you paying attention to me and focusing on me, right? I don’t want to listen to you! I just want to talk!
So what do we have now? We’ve got two people that don’t want to listen. One wants to disengage and go do what I want to do, and the other wants to just keep deluging words because that’s what she wants to do. Ever been there? I see all the laughing and snickering.
So, you can see that no matter what your bent is, if you actually set aside and say, you know, if I say I have a problem, and I’m asking this other person to engage with me and understand my problem, I probably ought to listen to them try to help me figure out what the problem is and how to solve it. Then I would be setting aside my desire for attention and actually trying to get better.
And on the other hand, if I’ve got somebody that’s telling me a problem. I probably ought to stop thinking about whatever else I want to do—go watch a football game or something—and engage with this person and actually take the time to understand, what are they actually saying? If they already knew what the problem was and what the solution was, they wouldn’t need to talk to me. I’m going to actually have to understand first.
And in both cases, what you have to do is set something aside. Set aside a desire for self and stand in the shoes of the other person.
Listen to the Bible
Now if you got good at that with your spouse or your friend, what would that set the stage for?
How do we typically go to the Bible? This person really ticked me off. Where can I find in the Bible something that’s going to nail them good? Right?
I wish the world was a certain way. Where in the Bible can I find a verse that validates my conclusion that I’ve already come to? Right?
Because we don’t come to the Bible to listen. We come to the Bible to speak and get validation, whatever that is. So, isn’t that amazing?
So if we want to win at life, and we want to learn to take the things we believe and put them into action—which is how you win at life—and do that in God’s way, which is the way of wisdom, the first thing you do is learn to actually hear what other people are saying.
Now is that the most ridiculously simple, absurd thing you’ve ever heard? The most spiritual thing you can do—you’ve got this vast spiritual thing of being approved and winning a crown of life, and it starts with listening to someone else.
You’re at work. Your coworker comes in. They start talking. Are you going to actually stop what you’re doing—which is painful—and start listening to them and understanding where they’re really coming from? What do they really need? How can I really help this person? Is that what you’re going to do? That’s certainly not the first tendency we would have, is it?
You see someone, a friend. They start talking to you. How can I disengage from this person? How can I get the topic turned around to what I want to talk about?
Have you ever heard Brian Regan’s gag on stories? He wishes he was an astronaut. So when everybody starts telling these self-aggrandized stories, “You know, I was in Germany last week, and I was in my Alfa Romeo—most expensive sport car—autobahn—and I was going in a private jet—and uh, CEO and—”
“I walked on the moon. You know, I was up in the lunar lander and looking around, and saying, ‘There was not much traffic up here,’ and then I thought, ‘Oh! It’s because nobody else is up here on the moon.’”
Just trump everybody. Well, what’s the point he’s making? Nobody’s listening! Everybody’s just trying to say, “Look how wonderful I am!” That’s the whole goal of the conversation. Well, that’s human nature.
Circumstances are just terrain
Verse 19, So then, my beloved brethren—because we have temptation, and because as we saw in 9-11 that all circumstances are just terrain. Lowly circumstances, opportunity to trust God. Rich circumstances, more difficult opportunity to trust God. In the lowly circumstance at least you don’t have the illusion that you’ve already got what you need, right?
And then everything in between, the plains of life, the every-day part of life is an opportunity to say, “What I’m doing in every-day life really matters.” Which takes faith.
Circumstances are just the environment in which we exercise our faith. That’s all it is.
So, the problem is not circumstances, the problem is us. We have these wicked desires. And the first thing you need to do is learn to listen to other people. That’s the key to having your life saved from self-centeredness. That’s the key to having your life saved from our own wicked selves. Learn to listen to other people. Wow, it’s amazing.
Now, in order to learn to listen to other people, you’ve got to learn to be slow to speak. Which means what? What does that mean with respect to when the other person’s lips are moving? You actually have to not think about, “When will their lips stop moving long enough where I can jump in?” Right? “Now! Now, now, now, I can jump in right now! Oh, I saw your lips stop moving! Can I start talking now? Can I start?”
No. You actually have to listen and understand. It’s pretty common. You’ll hear people talk about great conversationalists and people of whom others say, “That person is so amazing to talk to!”
And they go in and study it, and all that person did was ask a handful of questions and let that person talk about themselves the whole night. “What a wonderful conversationalist!” Because listening is just kind of a rare thing in our lives.
Slow to speak, slow to wrath
But in order to listen, you’ve got to be slow to speak. And that’s hard to do because by speaking, we’re focusing the attention back on ourselves. And by being slow to speak and really hearing, we’re going to be slow to wrath.
Now why is that connected? Why is that connected? Because if we’re focusing on you instead of me, that really irritates me. There’s a fundamental problem here! And the fundamental problem is that the attention isn’t on me!
So, I learned at a very early age that if the attention isn’t on me and I want it on me, I will execute wrath! I will cry. I will scream. I will hit. I will manipulate. I will tantrum. And then the attention is on me, and isn’t life better?
Have you ever seen that before?
You know, you don’t have to teach children that? Have you noticed? They have it automatically.
You know why? Because they’re miserable little sinners! They’re born that way! Don’t say when your child’s a miserable sinner, “Oh, that’s cute.”
You know what you’re saying when you say, “Oh, that’s cute”? You’re saying, “It’s kind of like me the way I am.” That’s what we’re saying.
What we should say is, “Ah, there’s that overflow of evil and wickedness which is going to destroy my soul! And it’s in my child! I’m going to teach them to set it aside.” That’s what we should do. Because we don’t want their souls wrecked and destroyed with this self-centeredness. We want them to learn how to listen and set aside wrath, especially the kind of wrath that sends their sibling to the hospital.
Listen to God
So this is the key: And then once we learn to listen to others, we can learn to come to the scripture and say, “What is this really telling me now?”
That’s hard too. It’s hard to come to the Bible and say, “God, what are you saying to me?”
[God] “Well, I’m saying that you’re rotten, and you’re full of wickedness, and all the problems you have in your life, they’re all you! All the problems are you!”
[Human] “Can we talk about something else? Why don’t we talk about how wonderful I am? How great my gifts are?”
[God] “We can talk about all that. That’s important. But, you know, step one is you can’t use those gifts unless you’re relying on me. And right now, you’re relying on yourself. So let’s go back and get this overflow of wickedness thing.”
[Human] “I get that. I understand that. I certainly see it in other people. But I’m really more interested in, like, other things.”
Well, it’s painful to go through this and see, you know, I get that the problem I have in my life is me. I’ve got one common denominator in all my relational problems. I’ve got one common denominator in all my attitude problems that I have. That’s really hard.
But when we learn to say—meekness, right? “Okay, God, I will listen to what you’re actually saying, and I will see what you’re saying the way you want to say it.” That’s meekness. “I’m willing to see life as is.”
Humility. All humility is, is seeing reality for what it is. It’s not bringing yourself down. That kind of happens automatically if you’re willing to see reality for what it is. It’s just seeing, where are my gifts, really? What am I good at? What am I not good at? How do other people see me, really!
Not what am I transporting on to them. Not what I wish they saw. Not what I am pretending I control that they see. Just, what do they see? It just is. Right? I’m just willing to see things for what they are. That’s humility.
receive with meekness the implanted word— And if I do, what will it save me from? Me.
I’ll end with this, Job, my favorite character. I love Job so much.
Now Job went through stuff that was many, many, many, many, many, many times worse than anything I’ve ever seen. But he had the same result of his difficulties—massive difficulties—that I got in my tiny difficulty (compared to Job); and that was going through real failure.
You know, he went from being the billionaire that everybody came and listened to to a rejected leper, basically. So, you can’t fall any further than Job fell.
And what he came away from that was this conclusion: I thought I knew God, and now that I see him for what he really is, I have this conclusion: I’m vile.
That word vile can be translated small.
You know, if you’re the richest guy in the world that everybody comes and listens to for your wisdom—and it actually is true. In Job’s case, he was the most righteous man in the world. So much so that God bragged on him to everybody in heaven—It’s really difficult to see God for what he really is compared to you. You don’t have, really, any context in which to realize who I really am.
But when he came to the end, he said, “You know, I thought I was somebody. I realize I’m nobody.”
And God’s like, “That’s all I needed you to know! You’re my favorite guy! I don’t want you to go through life without getting that!”
Well here we are right here. It’s telling us, right? We have a problem. It is us. Our own desires are the fundamental problem. And when we want to get rid of that, when we want to overcome it, there’s a path.
What is that path? Start practicing listening to other people. Actually listening. Powerful, huh?
Now, next, we’re going to go from listening to doing. Because this is just step one. And when we go from listening to doing, then transformation’s going to take place. And we’re going to be saved from living a useless life to a useful and profitable life.