Think of these enormous horses, over seven feet high, capable of dragging a very heavy sleigh carrying several people hour after hour. Yet they are guided by one little bit, only six inches long, properly fitted in its mouth. A tug to the left and it turns left. A pull to the right and to the right it turns. It’s not that its mouth turns, or its head only, but the whole great steed changes direction. The Bible says our tongue has this same kind of power.
Words have enormous influence. I am reminded of how important it is for us to teach our children throughout the child rearing process to bridle their tongue. If they cannot do that, you will surely have problems with other body parts later! Solomon had much to say in the wonderful book of Proverbs, but no weightier words than those concerning the tongue. May those of us rearing children once again see and teach the importance of “yes, ma’am” and “yes, sir.” Words are often spoken without any thought of the resulting damage. James 3:6, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” The entire course of a man or woman’s life can be viewed by the direction of the tongue.
A common mistake is when one in authority will engage in a shouting match with those they wish to lead, or demand silence so they can use their tongue to set the course straight for the individual. After much failure, I think we as leaders have learned our need to put down the bullhorn and learn to communicate properly. I think of those, who have had a lasting impact on my life, as they learned to “reason together with me.” After all, God gave us that example when He said “Come let us reason together saith the Lord”. (Isaiah 1:18.) This word reason is a court setting where both sides lay out their reasoning. Often, leaders are afraid for others to talk because of what they might say. I have seen small groups run effectively when the leader is willing to let others speak. It is only then that we find out what is really going on in the heart. Matthew 12:34, “…for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.”
Steve Curington, the founder of Reformers Unanimous Recovery Ministries, told me the history of how he started the Talk, Talk, Talk format that we use weekly in our program. He stated how on one particular Friday evening he walked into the rescue mission and announced the free ride, class, and refreshments available to the first 13 passengers on the van. Steve was wearing a ball cap and walked by a man talking to a friend and heard him say, “I went to that program once and I will never go again. All you do there is listen to the same red-headed man talk for 2 ½ hours.” Those words stunned Steve as he continued to walk. That next week, he and his wife went to the Wisconsin Dells for a short break. There in a wooded ravine, Steve thought about what that man had said, and began to ask God for clear direction. He saw the trees in that gully. Some of them were on the forest floor. Others were tall and straight. Some leaned on others. It was then that he thought: if trees could talk, they would all have a story to tell. He knew if we were going to help people in our recovery program, we needed to allow them to talk.
Listen to your students. Listen to your husband or wife. Listen to your kids. Listen to how they talk and what they say, so we will gain the opportunity to reason with them out of the Scriptures. Can we please put down the bullhorn and stop bullying people into a decision? Can we please put down the bullhorn and stop thinking we are so “right” that everyone else is “left”? Can we please put down the bullhorn and stop forming our opinions and listen to their heart cry for help?
Today, stop and take time to listen. Ask someone important to you how they are doing and listen to them without trying to figure out what you are going to say next. Listening is a verbal or nonverbal response (or both) to someone else’s message.
It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener. Old habits are hard to break and if your listening habits are as bad as society’s, then there is a lot of habit-breaking to do! Be deliberate with your listening and remind yourself frequently that your goal is to truly hear what the other person is saying. Set aside all other thoughts and behaviors in order to concentrate on the message.
Ask questions, reflect, and paraphrase to ensure you understand the message. If you don’t, then you’ll find that what someone says to you and what you hear can be amazingly different!