X-TRIALS: TAKIN’ LIFE TO THE X-TREME
August 26, 2001
Since we have been in the survey-conducting mood, I thought I would conduct a survey of my own. All you need is your hands. Don’t worry about a Number 2 pencil or any kind of documents like Preston presented to you. I am talking about a simple survey. I want to see what kind of rhythm you have. I know it is a little bit early in the morning, almost 10:00, but let’s see how good you are at rhythm. I’ll clap and you follow along. If I do this, you do the same. If I do one, two, you repeat it. Okay, let’s get complex now. [Ed does a series of claps and the crowd follows] Incredible. Give yourselves a round of applause. What rhythm!
Speaking of rhythm, Lisa and I met a couple several years ago who happened to be world champion dancers. I am talking about the waltz, the rumba, the foxtrot, and stuff like that. One night, we were at a wedding party, rehearsal dinner, and they asked me if I wanted to learn how to dance. I said I would be happy to learn how to dance. I can jump rope a little bit, play the drums, and have decent rhythm. They said, “Okay, Ed, just follow us and do these moves.” I couldn’t keep up with even the most simplistic moves. These people were on another level. I was having serious motor skill problems just trying to follow the rhythm. People would fly in from all over the country and certain parts of the world just for this man and woman to give them dancing lessons. They said, “Ed, we would be happy to give you lessons free of charge. We can teach you, I promise you, how to really dance.”
James, the most practical book in the New Testament teaches us in a real way how to dance. James shows us what it takes to have some awesome relational rhythm. Over the next few moments, we are going to discover how to keep in step relationally. Let’s stand together. Everyone stand because we are going to read God’s Word, the Bible. It’s very important to show reverence for the Bible and oftentimes, it’s important to stand or kneel while reading Scripture. I’ll read. You read with me. If you don’t have a Bible, you’ll see a scripture sheet in your worship guide if you want to look at that. Or follow me with the view-a-verse on the side screens.
“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”
Let’s pray together. Father, give me words to say. Not my words, but yours, as you use my voice box to communicate your truth. I thank you now in advance for what you are going to do through this time of worship. In Christ’s name. Amen.
Please be seated. Aren’t those comfortable seats? If you want to thank someone for those comfortable seats, don’t thank me. Thank Owen Goff. He was the man who pushed for those comfortable seats and all the room in between the seats, those nice aisles. Pastor Owen Goff.
I hope you picked up the rhythm, though, in James 1:19-20. I hope you didn’t miss that rhythm, one quick and two slows. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. It’s quick, slow, slow. Quick, slow, slow. We are just dancing through the book of James. That is what we are going to do today. We are going to dance: quick, slow, slow.
QUICK TO LISTEN
Think about your marriage. Do you have that relational rhythm happening? Think about your relationship with your coworkers, with your friends, with those you travel with. Do you have a real relational rhythm? Are your relationships reflecting the grace and the power of God? James wants them to.
The Bible says we are to be quick to listen. Let’s talk about that. What does it mean to be quick to listen? Why would James begin with listening? I’ll tell you why. Because the listener, not the talker, drives the communicative process. People these days are not looking for talkers. You can go into Barnes & Noble and the shelves sag on how to improve your vocabulary, how to talk with more power and force, and on and on. Rarely, though, do you ever find a book about listening. Be quick to listen. Be alert. Get ready for what the other person is saying.
Jesus said, in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Jesus is implying that listening is a learned commodity. We should listen more than we speak. It’s pretty obvious. We have two ears and one mouth. You don’t have to have the IQ of Stephen Hawking to understand that. You should become a great listener.
A lot of people these days talk about others having ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder. I’m sure I have it. I have never been tested for it, but I know I have it. A lot of people have ADD, but there is something else that almost all of us have. Some have ADD, some don’t, but all of us pretty much have this one, LDD—I made that up—Listening Deficit Disorder. A lot of us have a deficit in our listening. A lot of us are not quick to listen. We are slow to listen. I like that word “quick,” don’t you? It sounds quick.
How do you know if you have LDD? Some of you are saying, “Well, my husband has LDD. My best friend has LDD.” How do you know if you have this disease? You know you have LDD if you listen like a space shuttle. Maybe you are talking to someone and you hear their first two sentences, but after that, you fire up the engines and you leave the conversational atmosphere. They are still talking, but you are out there somewhere in outer space orbiting Pluto or somewhere like that. Then suddenly you realize there is something wrong in the conversation. There is a silence. The person has quit talking so you fire back the engines. You re-enter the conversational atmosphere and you give them a blank stare and go, “Oh, really.” That’s right. You have got LDD if you are a space shuttle listener.
You also have LDD if you listen like a golfer. How many golfers do we have in the house? Lift your hands if you are a golfer. What a great game. You never conquer golf. A lot of people listen like golfers. You are playing golf and your ball maybe lands near a hazard, a cart path, or a rock. Golfers do something called “improving their lie.” They pick the ball up and drop it in a more convenient spot so they can better strike the ball. Have you ever been talking to someone and they are not really listening? They are looking over your shoulder. They are trying to maybe improve their conversational lie. They see you as a hazard, a rock, or a cart path. They want to tee it up with somebody else. You have got LDD if you listen like a golfer.
You also have LDD if you listen like The National Enquirer. You act like you are really concerned and sweet and kind. As the person is spilling their guts, you are going, “Oh, really?” But you are collecting all that gossip and all that junk, and you are judging them in your mind. “Oh, she is so materialistic. I would never run my business like he does. What an igmo.” You know, all those things.
I love that song by Don Henley, “Dirty Laundry. Kick ‘em when they’re up, kick ‘em when they’re down.” There is a guy in the church that I know real well who knows Don. If you know Don Henley, tell him I talked about him, because I would love to bring him on this stage and let him sing that song. It’s a great song. I am serious about that. Dirty Laundry.
Are you a National Enquirer listener? Come on now.
There is another kind of listener, the techno freak listener. You call a techno freak on the phone, and you will hear his computer fire up. Sometimes my father gets into this. I will be talking to Dad, “Dad, how’s it going?” “Oh, doing well, Ed, yes. Doing well, Ed, yes. Yes, doing well.” And I hear in the background, he is watching the Astros. “There’s a drive by Lance Berkman. It’s out of here.” “Dad, Dad? Dad, I’ll call you back later. You’re watching television.” “No, I was paying attention. Yes, Ed, yes.” Don’t tell him I said that.
Techno freak. A lot of us are so tethered to technology and we think technology improves our communication. In many ways it does, but in many ways it doesn’t.
Another way to know if you have LDD is if you listen like a pole-vaulter. Maybe someone is telling you this, “Hey, my wife and I just got back from California on our vacation. We spent a week there and we had a great time.” You take out your pole vault pole and you run down the little track and you go, “California? My family and I just got back from three weeks in Hawaii. Top that one, baby.” Always pole vaulting over the other. “Oh, look I got a new car. I got a Suburban.” “Oh, really! Well, take a look at my Range Rover.” I like Suburbans better than Range Rovers but, anyway, that is a whole other story.
You have got LDD if you are a space shuttle listener, a golfer, a National Enquirer, a techno freak, or a pole vaulter. You know what I discovered as I studied this text, as I thought about the book of James? I discovered that I have never gotten into trouble or messed up in my life by listening too intently. I have never said to myself, “You know, Ed, your problem in that situation was that you paid too close attention to what the person was saying. You really blew it.” I have never messed up doing that. But I have messed up talking too much. I have messed up doing that and so have you. We have got to learn how to listen.
Our great God is the ultimate listener. Isn’t that wonderful? When I pray to God, he listens to me about the small things and major things. God doesn’t say to me when I am praying, “Ed, hold off on that prayer because Billy Graham is praying. You just put that on the back burner.” God doesn’t do that. He hears all of our prayers and he listens intensely to every single phrase, every thought, every word. Our God is a wonderful listener. He is quick to listen.
Here is how to turn LDD, I am talking about Listening Deficit Disorder, into a real conversational cadence. Here’s how to begin that quick, slow, slow rhythm. Are you ready?
The first one starts with a mind map. When someone is talking to you, just do a mental mind map. Every time I speak, I develop a mind map. I write out on my computer, word for word, the message that I am giving and I do it through a system called “mind mapping.” There is a book by Michael Gelb on this. Here is what I do. I put the big idea in the middle of the page, X-Trials – Relational Rhythm, that is what I am talking about today. I am doing three little things. I am talking about being quick to listen, that’s the pink, all of that. I am talking about next, slow to speak, that’s the green. And then, slow to anger, that’s the blue which turns into orange. I memorize it, not word for word. I see it in colors.
When you are talking to someone, and after you have talked and they begin talking to you, instead of just checking out and doing the space shuttle thing or the pole-vaulter thing, really listen to them and make a mental mind map. Say, what is the big idea? What are the sub points of what they are saying? Picture yourself taking a sheet of paper and writing out a mind map.
Jesus said in Matthew 13:9, “He who has ears, let him hear.” After I do the mind map, I put on a ball cap. People love to wear ball caps. We have some cool ball caps in the Fellowship Bookstore. I wear them all the time when I am running and stuff. When you are talking to someone, maybe you are talking to me for example, and you want to identify or empathize with me, don’t just look at me and say, “Oh, okay, that’s Ed.” Actually in your mind, take my ball cap off and put it on your head and ask yourself, “What would it be like to be in Ed’s position in his family, to have his background, his pressures, his stresses?” If I want to listen to you and empathize with you, I have to do the same thing with you. That’s why the Bible says in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
I do a mind map, a ball cap, and also I do a word wrap. After I have done the mind map and ball cap, I wrap up what you are saying and give it back to you in verbal form, a little sound bite of what you have said to me. If you do the word wrap, you don’t have to worry about saying something cute or clever. Just repeat back in a bite size chunk what the person has said and you will be a great listener. People are looking for listeners.
I thought about my closest friends. My closest friends are great listeners. I pray that I am a quick listener as well. That’s how you do it.
For the last 11 years, I have had an incredible view of listening. Guys, I watch you listen, week in and week out. Some of you are sitting on the edge of your seats, taking notes. Others of you are giving the elbow to family members. Some of you are listening and talking on your cell phone, while sitting in church. Others of you do something really weird. I’ve seen you listen with your eyes closed. It’s an amazing thing, drool coming out the side of your mouth.
Here is what I do sometimes when I have a sleeper. Now and then I will have a sleeper. See, you think I can’t see you. I can see you. I’ll see a sleeper maybe like right there on the third row. I’m kidding. Let’s say someone is asleep. I’ll intentionally start talking softly, kind of dial down a little bit. Then in my mind, I am getting ready to make a loud noise. I’ll do something like, “Yeah!” And I will watch them. It’s a little pastoral humor. You know, we have fun up here too. Church should be fun.
Being a quick listener starts with God, listening to God as he talks to us through his word as he is doing now, as he talks to us through messages, through songs, through drama, through events, through a myriad of ways. Listen to the voice of God. When you talk to God, is it a one-way conversation? Are you saying it like this? “God give me this and give me that. Thank you, God, and that’s that.” Is that what you are doing? I sometimes do that. I think, “Ed, your prayers sound so me-istic. It’s about you.” Listen. We should listen as much as we talk. God has been saying some great things to me lately, not audibly, but I can feel it, sense it in my spirit or through his Word. That’s what it means to be quick to listen.
SLOW TO SPEAK
Let’s look at the next thing James says. Not only do we need to be quick to listen but we also need to “be slow to speak.” The word “slow” sounds slow. It doesn’t mean that we talk really slowly and deliberately. It means we are to be strategic and thoughtful and discerning when we talk. It means don’t be an over-talker. When the Bible says to be slow to speak, it means don’t be an over-talker. We have a lot of over-talkers running around these days. If you are saying to yourself, “Surely the Bible does not talk about communication this much.” Just hold on to those customized theater seats and listen to this. Watch the side screens. Proverbs 10:19 (NIV), “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Proverbs 13:3 (NASB), “The one who guards his mouth preserves his life; the one who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 17:28 (NLT), “Even fools are thought to be wise when they keep silent; when they keep their mouths shut, they seem intelligent.” That verse says, if we will just shut up, we will look smart! That’s my translation. Proverbs 29:20 (NASB), “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”
How do you know if you are an over-talker? You are an over-talker if maybe you invite someone over to your house, and as you are talking, you see them dropping hints like, (Yawn) “Well, I have had a good time.” Getting tired, they start checking their watch. Over-talkers are still talking. Over-talkers find themselves following their friends out to the driveway. They have started their cars and you are still talking. I have had some over-talkers follow me as I am leaving the house, “Wait, one more thing.” If you do this, you are an over-talker.
I know, because I struggle with being an over-talker. I’ll admit it. I love to talk. I talk a little bit too much sometimes. Let me give you some deep theological truths about over-talkers. If you are an over-talker, listen to this. I believe this is what the Bible is saying in two words, be quiet! Be slow to speak.
So what is the solution if you are an over-talker? And I struggle with this too? What should we do? Number one, I think we should put a big old stopwatch in our brain. How many of you have one of those Nike sport watches, the ones that when you run they are also a stopwatch? How many of you have a watch like that? Lift your hands. Those are cool aren’t they? I can never figure those things out. But they are very cool. Put one of those around your brain and around your mouth. So when you are talking to your friends, ask yourself this question: When was the last time I heard the other person’s voice? How long have I been talking? Put a stopwatch to it.
The other night I was with some close friends and I was so excited to be with them, I just started talking so much that I had to say to myself, “Ed, stopwatch, brain, mouth.” I just dialed down and I began to listen.
Don’t interrupt people, either. Over-talkers, we love to interrupt people. We think we know where everybody is going and we just interrupt. One little break and we are jumping on the train. Don’t do that.
Here is something else. Let me get more serious. We need to ask ourselves why do we over-talk? Why? You know why we over-talk? I sincerely believe this. I believe most of us talk too much because we don’t trust God enough in the communicative process. We don’t trust him in our communication enough. We don’t trust him with our marriage enough, our family dynamics enough, our friends enough, or our working situation enough. We just don’t trust God enough. If you look at the real why behind it, there are certain things driving over-talkers.
Some of us over-talk because we are insecure. I was with a person the other day. I was out of town speaking and this guy was the classic over-talker. He is a very successful man. He has been blessed by God. He was dropping name after name. I was thinking, “You don’t have to do that. I know God has blessed you. Rolls Royce’s don’t have to advertise.” He just kept going on. “I know this guy and I know that guy…” I began to play a game in my mind. I began to say, “Is this guy going to ever shut up?” Then I thought about bringing up subjects to see if he would bring it back to him, and sure enough, every name and subject I brought up, he would bring it back to him. He was insecure. As I pulled out my mind map, put on the ball cap, and did the word wrap, I realized I was with someone who was insecure. That’s why he was over-talking.
We can also over-talk if we are lonely. Sometimes lonely people talk too much. Loneliness drives you to talk too much when you are with people. You leech onto someone and start talking a mile-a-minute, and your loneliness and over-talking drives away what you desire. That’s not good.
Some of us over-talk because we are just selfish. We think everything revolves around ourselves, my agenda, my deal. Forget your schedule. Forget your agenda. Forget your time. It’s all about me. But the bottom line is it is a lack of trust. We don’t trust God enough to take care of our communication and relational needs.
Okay, over-talkers, let’s get solution oriented. How do I become an under-talker? I didn’t say undertaker—an under-talker. How do I do that? Right up front, we need to make meaningful eye contact with the person. Look at them. I don’t mean stare a hole through them. A friend of mine, while I’m talking to him, will just stare at me, and the more I talk, the bigger and bigger his eyes get.
I use to really struggle with eye contact until my oldest daughter, when she was about four or five years old, hit me between the eyes. She said, “Dad, every time I talk to you, you are looking at something else, or reading something else. And here is what you say, Dad, ‘That’s great, LeeBeth. That’s great, LeeBeth. That’s great, LeeBeth.’ Why don’t you listen with your eyes?” There is nothing else like children preaching to you, is there? Make meaningful eye contact.
Sometimes people are space invaders. You know those people who get too close to you when you are talking? They kind of make me nervous. Don’t get in someone’s face. Give them room.
Ask great questions. That is another thing we should do. If you want to become an under-talker, ask some questions. Go through the gospels and underline how many questions Jesus asked people. I have jotted some down. Jesus said, “What do you want? Who do you say that I am? What are you arguing about? Why do you call me good?” He asked questions to rabbis, tax collectors, prostitutes, disciples…the list was limitless. Jesus was the question asker. Christ, the smartest man who ever lived, could have said, “Well let me tell you what I know first.” But he didn’t, did he? He was quick to listen, slow to speak and a great questioner.
Also don’t express every single opinion out there. I laugh when people say, “Yeah, I like this guy or this girl because they just say what is on their mind.” That’s crazy. I would get in serious trouble if I said what was on my mind 24/7.
I remember years ago, I met Charles Barkley. Charles is a very gifted guy, but the guy talks too much. He says some stupid stuff. I was with the guy for 10 minutes and you wouldn’t believe what came out of the guy’s mouth. I watched a documentary a couple of weeks ago on Charles Barkley. If Charles Barkley knew how to be slow to speak, he would be on another planet. More importantly, he needs to come to know Christ personally. But Charles Barkley is a poster boy of someone who is an over-talker.
So be strategic, discerning, and smart when you speak. Don’t think, “Well, if I feel it, I’ll just say it.” That’s stupid.
Keep things confidential. Do we have any radio free listeners? Do you betray a confidence? Are you able to keep a secret to the grave? If you have messed up on this one, if you have shared that dirty laundry, go back to the person and say, “I want to speak the truth in love. I messed up. I am sorry. Will you forgive me? I am going to be a confidential person from this day forward. You can trust me.”
You see, when we are quick to listen and slow to speak, let me tell you what happens. The person we are communicating with is affirmed. It is an affirming thing to know someone is listening to you. It’s an affirming thing to know someone is slow to speak. They are intentional and discerning by what they say. That is real affirmation.
If I could interview three of your closest friends, would they know how you really felt about them? Are you intentional and discerning about what you say to them? Think about it. You might be saying, “Well, I don’t know if they know how I really feel about them.” Tell them. Tell them how you feel about them. They might be surprised and say, “What? You felt that way about me? I meant that much to you?” There is nothing like affirming others. I can understand why we have a hard time telling people difficult things, but I don’t understand why we cannot affirm others.
The Bible says in Hebrews 3:13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” There is a guy in the Bible called Barnabas. He was called the son of encouragement. One day, the Apostle Paul was down and Barnabas encouraged him. Because of that encouragement, Paul wrote most of the New Testament. Why don’t you affirm others visually and verbally?
You might be saying, “Well, I wouldn’t know what to say.” Give me a break. Just say it: “You are good at…, I love you because of….” Just say how you feel about them. Affirm your spouse. When was the last time you did that? Affirm your children. Affirm your coworkers. Affirm people.
Then you might say, “Well, they might get the big head.” I am 40 years old and I have never seen someone just freak out and go through a character deformation because of a compliment.
Some say, “Well, it wouldn’t really matter if I gave a compliment or if I began to affirm people.” Oh, yes, it would. I cannot thank you enough for the letters, the emails and the calls and the words of encouragement you have given me. It has put wind in my sails.
Some will say, “Well, Ed, I almost didn’t tell you this, because maybe you have heard it before.” And I will say, “No, I haven’t.” It means a lot. Affirm. There is nothing like that power. I think some people have a hard time affirming others because of jealousy or envy. Affirm people in your life. There is power in praise and affirmation to help you break through the sin of envy.
SLOW TO ANGER
So we are dancing now, quick, slow. Let’s do one more slow. See the progression? I hope you have checked it out now. If we are quick to listen, if we turn LDD into a real conversational cadence and we really listen with meaning and power; if we are slow to speak, if we speak discerningly and strategically, then the Bible says we will be slow to anger. Isn’t that great? We will be slow to anger. If you have a problem just flying off the handle, or losing your temper, I guarantee that you need to go back to being quick to listen and slow to speak. If you have anger issues, you are not doing the fundamentals. Most of us read this verse this way: we are slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to anger.
Anger, the Bible says, is not always a sin. The Bible says it is good to get angry over sin or injustice, but the anger here is when someone just loses it. We should be slow to anger. Are you slow to anger? Think about your relationship with God. He is the ultimate listener and the ultimate talker. God is also slow to get angry. We should take that relationship we have with God, as we communicate with him, and translate that into how we communicate with others. We should mirror God’s communication skills with every single person we see.
In your marriage, are you dancing? Quick, slow, slow. Or are constantly stepping on each other’s toes? With your best friends? Quick, slow, slow. With others? How are you dancing? Because this quick, slow, slow cadence is what relational rhythm is all about.