Reading through the book of James recently convicted me about the way I speak and whether it is honouring to God. I come from a big family where racing to get a word in edgeways is the norm, and a dozen conversations can be going on at once. We love to joke with each other and, in an attempt to get the next line in, I don’t often think before speaking. In my speech I’m so frequently seeking to make myself look witty and make others laugh.
These words from James really challenged me:
“My dear brothers and sisters take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry because our anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20)
These words are so straightforward and yet so difficult! Just thinking back over my conversations over the past week, even the past 24 hours, I can see how often I have managed to go against these 3 commands. More frequently than not, I’ve done it all within the same sentence.
This is nearly always due to my words being more about me than about God.
Words about how I am choosing to reveal myself to others. They’re so often the opposite of bringing glory to my Maker and pointing others towards Him.
Maybe you’re reading this thinking that you could be quicker to listen and slower to speak, but that anger isn’t necessarily something you struggle with. You don’t often shout in conversations or vent your frustration to people you’re disagreeing with.
I think that the anger that James is speaking about isn’t just shouting. Anger is an emotion that reveals itself in a variety of ways; it might be catty comments and put-downs. It might not even be verbal – for example, if someone has hurt us, we might choose to hold onto that pain by excluding people with our time, our activities, or even the way we look at them.
How can we then follow these commands? James himself later goes on to describe the tongue as something that “corrupts the whole person”, which no human being can possibly tame (3:6-8). We clearly can’t rely on ourselves to face this impossible task: we need to ask God for His help.
I have found the best way of learning to be quick to listen is to simply practise! Frequently when someone is speaking, we are already thinking through our response and not really listening to what they are saying. By focusing on really listening to others, we show them that we care.
This is such a great way to show God’s love to those around you! Praying before responding to someone can soften any initial anger you feel, can help you to check your motives and can prevent speaking words you might later regret.
Above all, remember that this is to glorify a God who is slow to anger,
abounding in steadfast love and forgiveness.
Read through James 3 for conviction on taming your tongue; if you feel encouraged to read through the whole of James then this study guide is brilliant, and you can download it as an ebook too: https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/james-for-you
For one day of Lent go through a whole 24 hours (well the parts you’re awake for…) following the 3 commands of James in chapter 1:19-20. Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, remembering the different ways anger can show in our actions. It will be difficult, so at the times you find it hard remember to pray to God to ask for his help.
Wearing some kind of visual reminder might keep you mindful of your challenge for the day (Anyone else own novelty socks with lip prints on them?!)
It is important to remember why you’re doing this – it’s not to earn salvation or to be a ‘good’ Christian, rather it’s to honour and glorify God through our behaviour. We have a loving and gracious God who is merciful, compassionate, patient and always ready to forgive.
Lucy lives and works in Cambridge where she loves being part of the Christ Church family. She spends most of her spare time Instagramming her food, re-reading Anne of Green Gables and binge watching The West Wing.