James, the brother of Jesus is pretty clear on a major issue for many including me, the tongue. He says in trials “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). This admonition continues to plague me, as I tend to talk too much without hearing. This art and trait grows as we increase in godliness. As a chaplain we are to have the ministry of listening presence. This is a discipline drilled into us in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE). We are trained to get ourselves out of the way for the patient to speak or express himself or herself in whatever way they can. When we are talking we cannot hear, obviously. I tend to be quick to prepare my next response and therefore miss the point of someone else’s expressions.
Being slow in this society is frowned upon. We must be quicker than the other. It reminds me of a story of two hikers in the mountains where there were grizzly bears. When one asked the other what he would do if attacked by a bear he responded that he would run. How fast, the other replied? Just fast enough to outrun you he said. That is sort of the philosophy of today, dog eat dog, survival of the fittest and “it’s all about me.” This is about pride as well. James again speaks on the subject saying, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God” (James 4:1-2). We do quarrel or cause conflict and strife for our own selfish needs. Recently a brother in Christ saying that I quarrel constantly confronted me. The counsel hurt but was taken seriously. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6). It is important to look at our own motivations. James went on to say, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). Who is like the person we want to be? “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).
I am glad that God is slow to anger and full of love and forgiveness to those who recognize and confess their sin. He gives us His grace and tells us to be compassionate and forgiving toward one another lest we become proud. He has a way of humbling us when we think we are doing well. This does not mean to be anxious of a God waiting for a chance to put down the hammer. But rather we should praise Him that He takes interest in making us mature and complete, lacking nothing as James 1:2-4 tells us. It also says that if we lack wisdom on how to proceed that we should ask of God in full assurance of His generosity to show us what to do and how to do it to His glory and our good. Thanks be to God.