A Quiet Kind of Loud


Today’s readings:
Psalms 92; 149, Isaiah 25:1-9, Acts 4:13-21 (22-31), John 16:16-33

What might Peter and the disciples have meant when they prayed for God to help them “speak his word with all boldness?” The most obvious meaning of “bold” might be “courageous and daring” … a stance the disciples had struggled with in the past.

Bold can also mean “impudent.” Following Jesus required the disciples to buck convention, especially when religious authorities tried to maintain the oppressive status quo. No matter how truly a servant speaks, if the master doesn’t like the truth it can sound like insubordination.

Another definition is “beyond the limits of convention.” The disciples were asking Israel and eventually the Gentiles to turn their thinking upside down and embrace a paradoxical theology. If the first are last and the last become first… who exactly is on first?

While we are still called to speak God’s word boldly, we must also be humble. For many people, boldness means loudness, intimidation and arrogance. In our current culture many leaders choose to promote this attitude over setting examples to follow. Sheer volume can become the conversational equivalent of might making right. This is not the way to effectively spread God’s word. When someone yells or is overly forceful, the natural instinct of their target is usually either to retreat or to respond in kind. We can’t alienate someone and hope to communicate with them at the same time.

Companies with good customer service train their representatives to respond to angry customers by listening first, reflecting the customer’s feelings back to them, and then responding positively, firmly and calmly without ever raising their voices. This is bold in the sense that it goes against the natural impulses of the representative and redirects the customer. A good customer service agent defuses a tense situation and leaves the customer feeling satisfied – even when the customer is wrong.

We are not called simply to placate, but if we are to be servants to the world, our attitude must be one of service. We do not need anger and hostility to validate a just cause. A quiet truth, spoken boldly and persistently, overcomes the loudest empty noise.

If this approach smacks of “tone policing” – that is, telling someone their understandably emotional tone invalidates their otherwise reasonable argument – let’s try to remember that we are responsible for both listening and speaking with love … but we can’t control how anyone else speaks or listens. Sometimes we must choose between self-righteousness and effectiveness. Our truth remains firm, but our delivery method usually has to meet people where they are.

Comfort: Truth speaks louder than anything.

Challenge: The next time you need to make a point, don’t raise your voice; lower it.

Prayer: God of hope, teach me to be bold and humble. Amen.

Discussion: How do you react to boldness?

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No Noise is Good Noise


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 123; 146, Proverbs 15:16-33, 1 Timothy 1:18—2:15, Matthew 12:33-42

The mind of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil.

The ear that heeds wholesome admonition will lodge among the wise.

Those who ignore instruction despise themselves, but those who heed admonition gain understanding.

– Proverbs 15:28, 31, 32

The Book of Proverbs is a collection of pithy sayings, instructions, and poems from several sources. Chapters 10 through 22 are attributed to Solomon, but he probably did not author them directly. Proverbs contains many themes, and one of the most prominent is wisdom.

A lot of this wisdom centers on the idea that, frankly speaking, we should know when to keep our mouths shut.

In our culture, most conversations pretend to be exchanges of ideas, but we generally lack tolerance for the silence necessary to thoughtfully reflect on what someone is saying to us. Instead we fill “awkward” silences by speaking whatever comes to mind first. Often we are mentally formulating our response before the other person finishes talking. And too often our default response mode is rebuttal rather than reflection. This is especially true when the discussion is about a disagreement, and we are more concerned with making our case – with winning the argument – than considering what the other person might have to add to our understanding. Spirited debate can be invigorating, even fun, but how often are we listening to respond, rather than listening to learn?

When we receive constructive criticism, we don’t have to immediately reply with a defense; we can take time to mull it over. When someone is experiencing grief or pain, we don’t have to offer cliched sentiments because we feel we have to say something comforting; we can simply be with that person. When someone is telling us about their problems we don’t have to offer unsolicited solutions; we can support them better with open ears and open arms. In these situations and many more, taking time to think will improve what we have to say, or show us we needn’t say anything.

Listening without feeling a need to respond every time will make us better friends, better parents, better co-workers, and better followers of Christ. Don’t be afraid of silence; that’s when we can hear God speak.

Comfort: Being slow to respond is often a sign of depth, not ignorance.

Challenge: For the remainder of the week, whenever possible, count to five before responding – or thinking about responding – to questions, news, etc. Note how these pauses affect the conversations.

Prayer: Loving God, teach me to listen for you in the silence. Amen.

Discussion: In what situations do you find it difficult to hold your tongue, even when you know better than to speak?

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