When students go to college, one of the basic courses they take is Public Speaking. I think there needs to be a course in public listening. Listening is a skill and it is under-developed. Listening takes effort and, sadly, many people do not give any.
Do we actually listen when people are talking? Speaking from my own experiences, too often we are busy thinking about our next comment or argument, thinking about something funny to say, or we may be having a completely different conversation with someone else. And don’t even get me started on texting! As humans (and especially Christians) we owe others the respect to listen and pay attention to what they have to say. Let’s be honest, people know when you are not listening. Especially when we are looking at our phones! The art of listening is not confined to the church pew or the board room. We need to make sure we are engaged in our everyday conversations.
Slowly, but surely, I am learning that I do not have to have a quick response. It does not hurt to tell someone that you will think about it and get back to them. This shows that you were listening and not preoccupied with formulating a response.
There are people in the Bible who simply did not listen. When I think of Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush I see that Moses was not really listening to God’s promises. Moses was worried with finding another excuse. Look at the Jewish leaders in the gospels – because of their preconceived ideas, they were not listening to the things that Jesus had to say. They automatically assumed that what Jesus said held no merit. Even Jesus’ disciples had problems listening. Before we throw out an argument, excuse, or quick comeback we need to listen and think about what people are saying.
There are also people in the Bible who did listen. David heard loud and clear what Nathan had to say. David offered no excuse, argument, or joke. His only response was, “I have sinned.” The Samaritan woman knew how to listen. She did not let her biases interfere with what Jesus had to say. And Simon the Sorcerer of Acts 8 listened. When Peter accused him of sin, the man simply repented without feeling the need to make light of the situation or make excuses.
I have learned that I do not know everything. That is why I, Jonathan Caldwell, need to listen up. This is the great thing about our Bible studies together (and conversation in general). I will not know everything about a subject, so when others comment, I need to listen so that I can learn more or grasp a new application.
Often times, listening is indicative of our attitude. Further, our level of listening often indicates our level of interest and respect for the speaker and subject. When we actively listen, it makes it easier for others to actively listen. When we actively listen, it makes it easier for the speaker to be excited and stay about the subject.
Like mom always said, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason!”
In today’s world everything is about choices, preferences, and self. At Burger King, you can have it your way. Numerous companies advertise that if you aren’t happy then you can return their product for a full refund. This is good business. If you want to run a successful company then you have to design the company around the customer and their happiness. The problem is that this “me first – my preference” focus has spilled over into religion!
Have you ever been to a cafeteria, like Luby’s or something similar? It is not a very common style of restaurant anymore, but the idea is simple. When you enter the building you pick up a tray and your silverware then you proceed down a line with food in front of you. You get to pick and choose what you want – meatloaf, green beans, and a salad or if you don’t want the meatloaf, you can get the chicken and dumplings, carrots, and peas. You pick your choice of meat, vegetables, bread, and desert and then go eat. You get to pick and choose – it’s all about your preferences.
Sadly, religion is beginning to look similar to eating at a cafeteria. This begins with what church you attend. The phrase “church of choice” is heard so frequently that a person just getting serious about finding the truth will think that it does not matter what church they attend. But shouldn’t we be part of a church that belongs to Jesus Christ? One that models itself after the churches discussed in the New Testament? One that strives to follow the teaching of the New Testament without thought of tradition or culture?
Churches that teach things other than what Jesus and His apostles taught are not churches belonging to Christ. Where do you read about praying to or through Mary in the New Testament? Where do you read about instrumental music in the New Testament? Where can you find the sinner’s prayer in the New Testament? In John 6:67-68, Jesus asked His disciples if they wished to go away like the crowds and Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…” It is not just enough to know that Jesus has the words of eternal life; we must listen to those words, obey those words, and apply those words. We can’t just choose a church that we think is fun or exciting. We must choose a church that abides by the word of Christ.
On an individual level, can we just pick and choose the things we want to do or the things we like? 2 John 9, 1 Corinthians 4:6, Revelation 22:18-19, and many other passages say that we can’t. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” We do not just get to choose baptism, prayer, and the Lord’s Supper while leaving faith, giving, and Bible study on the table like a stale roll. Maybe we think that if we choose baptism and giving, then we don’t have to worry about meeting with the saints on a regular basis (cf. Hebrews 10:25). We can’t just take faith and love because they make us feel good and then expect God to be pleased with our selection.
Jesus dealt with this problem in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:21-23 says, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, your workers of lawlessness.” What we see from these three verses are individuals who were doing good things, religious things, but they were not doing everything Christ had commanded – they were picking and choosing!
How do we keep from being sucked into this cafeteria style religion mentality? First, we must recognize that God is supreme! Our feelings and our behavior must be in subjection to Him. Second, we must spend time with the word of God. If we only read, study, teach, or preach on the same passages day in and day out, then we are going to end up picking and choosing what we want to believe and obey out of ignorance. Third, we need to spend a lot of time with other Christians who are doing the same thing. This enables us to learn from one another and to feed off one another. And that brings us full circle to the church we choose to attend!
If you want to follow Jesus Christ, let’s be honest with ourselves – it’s all or nothing!
According to Dictionary.com, punctuality has the following meanings: acting or arriving exactly at the time appointed; prompt; paid or accomplished at or by the appointed time; precise; exact. This is something that is a pet peeve of mine, and on this blogI get to discuss things that are of interest to me and try to relate to you their Biblical applications.
I have always been of the opinion that I would rather be 30 minutes early than 30 seconds late. What are some reasons, as Christians, that we should be punctual? I think the first reason is for honesty’s sake. When we have given someone our word, we should be able to keep that word. When we tell someone that we will meet them at 12:30, we should meet them at 12:30. We, as an honest people, cannot let petty things interfere with our word to others. Now am I not saying that serious things do not come up in which we may be forced to be late for something. If I tell Bob Jones that I am going to meet him for lunch at 12:30 and I get a flat tire…you see my point (but have the courtesy to call).
In a world where honesty and trustworthiness is becoming less and less a characteristic of people, we as Christians need to shine. This is simply another place that we can show others that we are followers of Christ. Not simply that we showed up at 12:30, but that we kept our word. I appreciate some people’s attitude towards this subject – they know that they are bad when it comes to the timing of things, so they tell people, “I will be there around noon.” As Jesus says in the sermon on the mount, if you are not going to keep your vow, don’t make one.
What about our salvation? Does punctuality have anything to do with our salvation? Today is the day of salvation – the Lord will come as a thief in the night (2 Peter 3:10). If we are not punctual in doing what God has asked us to do, then we will not have a home in heaven. Note one of the above definitions – “paid or accomplished at or by the appointed time” – the price has been paid, we need to accept it before the appointed time. The thing about that is that we do not know the appointed time, so we had best be early.
Speaking of being early, can I encourage everyone to come to services early? I realize that I cannot show a verse that says one must be 15 minutes early to church. However, coming early does two things. First, it allows us to spend some time together as brothers and sisters and to talk about our lives (this could also be done after, so don’t feel like it is a race to the door when “amen” is said). And second, it prevents people from being late. Stragglers can be a distraction. Not to mention the loss of time learning, encouraging, and praising God. We would never dream of being late to work, school, or doctor’s appointment on a habitual basis, why do we feel that meeting with the saints is any less important?
Finally, I would like to discuss our jobs. Punctuality not only involves being on time but also completing the tasks that our employers set before us on time. One of the biggest wastes of money in the business world is time theft. This is when we fail to do our work because of the distraction of other things. One proverb that always come to mind on this subject (and could really be applied to the others) is Proverbs 6:6, “Go to the ant, O sluggard, observe her ways and be wise.” If we apply this in every aspect of our lives we will be better Christians, friends, husbands, wives, sons, daughters, moms, and dads.
If this is something you have a problem with, it is not like you are the only one, but you do need to work on it (we all have things we need to work on). Here are some tips to be more punctual:
- Remember that being late can be a distraction for others
- Think of the stress caused by running late
- Pray and ask God to help you be more punctual
- Ask your family for help
- Set your clocks fast
- Prepare the night before
One of the first memory verses I remember learning is Matthew 5:16 – “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father who is in heaven.” This verse contains some things that, for a Christian, are imperative to understand.
Let us start with the end of this verse. This command is given so that God can be glorified. Why are people on earth? To give glory to God. As children of God, our goal is to get to heaven and to help others get there. We need to be leading people to glorify their creator. “Be exalted above the heavens, O God; let your glory be above all the earth” (Psalm 57:5). Are we fulfilling this verse in our life? Are we doing all we can to praise God and lead others to glorify Him?
The first part of the verse is in the context of standing out from the world. Jesus had just said, “You are the salt of the earth.” You use salt to increase the flavor and to preserve something. We are to help the people of this world by showing them Christ. Then, He told them that they were the “light of the world.” You use light to brighten a room or an alley. Therefore, we are to go into the world as lights, showing people the light, helping them understand where the light comes from (cf. John 1:1-5).
Jesus is telling them to let their light shine that others may see what they do, how they live, and how they act. Now, is Jesus saying to show off? Is Jesus saying to go around and let everyone know what an awesome person and Christian you are? Of course not. Jesus addresses this in chapter six. He condemns giving, praying, and fasting when it is done in order to be seen. That is for our own glory, not God’s.
What SHOULD happen is this: People notice that you do not work, play golf, or participate in secular things on Sunday morning. It makes them wonder where you are. Another scenario: when your buddies from work go to the bar Friday afternoon, you go home. It makes them wonder why you do not come with them. Your co-worker is in a bad mood and is cursing, and you ask him to stop. It makes them wonder why that bothers you. Someone sees you reading your Bible in the middle of a break. It makes them wonder why that book is important to you, before long you are studying, and they are baptized into Christ, and are right their with you, giving glory to God. These are things that can start conversations to help this person understand what God’s will for them is.
Here is the real question: what are we doing instead? Maybe we work or play through church services and Bible study every week. What does that tell your friends or coworkers about you? Maybe we are missing Bible study to hang out with friends, instead of trying to get them to study the Bible. Maybe we are just sitting at home because we feel tired and we refuse to spend the energy to glorify God – that just shows that it’s not really important to us. We are so busy putting things in front of God that most of our associations do not even know that we claim to serve Him. People should be able to see that we put God first. Everything else comes in at a distant second.
People should be able to tell that I am a Christian by the way I act. That should, in turn, lead them to ask questions and provide an opportunity to teach them about Jesus Christ, and one day they can give glory to God. A perfect example of this is when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to worship the idol. When they came out alive, Nebuchadnezzar fell down giving glory to God (Daniel 3:28-29). They were letting their light shine, and Nebuchadnezzar was influenced by this and God’s protection of them, and he came to glorify God.
How are we living before others and what are we doing to give God the glory? Are you letting your light shine?
I want you to ask yourself a simple question. You may not like the answer, but I want you to be honest with yourself. The answer to this question is simply between you and God (and He already knows). How much did you pray last week? How many times did you begin the day with prayer? How many times did you close the day with prayer? How many times did you give thanks before eating a meal? How often did you make time to pray?
I think there is a difference between praying at certain times and setting aside time to pray. By this, I do not mean that God does not appreciate both. I am not saying that the first lacks any benefits. The point is whether or not we pray when it is convenient and when it may not be. Praying before a meal is like going to church on Sunday – it is a time that is already set aside; it is convenient. We should pray before meals, but is that the only time we pray? We should go to church on Sunday, but is that the only time we worship God?
People have often asked, “Is it wrong if you fall asleep while praying in your bed?” This is a difficult question. There is no passage that gives us a direct answer. However, the Bible does talk about some attitudes that might help us with the answer. If night time is the only time you pray, then it might be best to get out of bed, get on your knees, and pray. But if you “pray without ceasing,” I can only imagine the joy God has as one of His children lays their head on His lap and talks to Him until they fall asleep. I assume it is similar to a little child laying his head on mommy or daddy’s lap and telling them about their day. But if we are only praying at night, then we have another question we need to be answering – “Why don’t we pray?”
I think there are four reasons why we do not pray and we need to move beyond all of them.
- We think prayer does not work. We know what the Bible says, we know that God hears our prayers, and we know that we are supposed to pray. But what about when Grandma was sick? We prayed for her to get better and she died. What about when we were having trouble paying the bills and I was up for a raise at work? I prayed about it, but I did not get it. As humans, we seem to be able to focus only on the negatives – when we did not get what we wanted. Too often we pray selfishly (not according to God’s will) and too often we pray without faith. When we pray with faith, we are praying with an attitude that God does hear us, but that he also knows what is best for us.
- We are too busy. I think this may be the number one hindrance to prayer. When I lie down at night and realize that I have not prayed all day, it is usually because I was running from one thing to another. I had not set aside time to pray. This is why Jesus would get away from everything. After dealing with large crowds, He would go off by himself to pray. After the limited commission, when the disciples came back, Jesus took them off by themselves. They needed some time away to refocus and pray.
- We fail to appreciate the power of God. Yes, we may pray for someone with cancer to get better, only for that person to die. But I have prayed for some with cancer to get better and they did. Gary Ogden was a loved preacher in the Tampa Bay area. Phil Roberts was a much-loved Bible professor at Florida College. In the winter of 2003, both men were diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is fatal 99.9% of the time. Many were praying for both men. And as expected, Dr. Roberts died after a little over one year. But a month later, Gary Ogden was giving one of the evening lectures at the Florida College Lectures. Two months later, his doctors pronounced him free of cancer. I have said before, I could pray for a red Camaro to be in my drive way when I get home. I do not think God will say “yes” to that prayer. But I believe He could do it if He wanted to do it.
- We are too comfortable. If being too busy is the number one hindrance to prayer, this may be a close, and closely related, number two. We have houses, cars, electricity, more than enough food, entertainment, and education. Too often, we feel that we have provided it for ourselves. Maybe we should make ourselves uncomfortable. I am not saying to go sell everything, but I do have some suggestions. Make a point to talk to a coworker about the Gospel this week – that will make you a little uncomfortable. Ask one of the elderly of your church if you can pick up their groceries for them – that might make you uncomfortable. Call and ask if someone needs a ride to church – it might make you uncomfortable. Make a decision to talk more about God to non-christians – that might make everyone uncomfortable. When we get uncomfortable, it becomes easier to pray. We need to be praying that we can do things for others and act in a way that gives God the glory (Matthew 5:16). Those kinds of things may make us uncomfortable. But it is ok, we pray when we are uncomfortable.