Points to Ponder: Don't Shoot Yourself by Jumping the Gun

Points to Ponder
Don't Shoot Yourself by Jumping the Gun

Have you ever considered that maybe you've gotten it all wrong? You may have invested yourself in your belief that "it is what it is." But suppose it isn't? How threatened would you feel at the possibility that you are wrong? Scripture warns us,
"He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him" (Proverb 18:13)
On a positive note, we are advised thus:
"The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge" (Proverb 18:15).
Why do people jump to conclusions? Why don't they stop and question what they think they see and hear? What fires you up and stirs a reaction in you?
Lately I have had the following Proverb on my heart. It reminds me to not be so quick to judge what I'm hearing or the one from whom I'm hearing it.
"The first one to plead his cause seems right,..." (Proverb 18:17a).
Sometimes that one may seem actually wrong, based on what we've heard. Initial impressions rarely come with all the details. Sometimes just one missing, although minor, point can change the whole thing. The proverb teaches me to pay attention to the second part of the verse:
"...until his neighbor comes and examines him."
How often have you heard it said, "You didn't know because you didn't ask."?
The New Testament carries this advice further:
"So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:19-20).
The point of these scriptures in the Proverbs and in James is that examination, listening, observing, and being slow in reacting (which can become over-reacting), is key in our dealings with people. In this increasingly diverse, multi-cultural society in which so many folks "aren't from around here," we can easily misunderstand what someone means if we only take at face value what that person said.
For instance, when we first moved from Baltimore City to Washington County, one of the respected older women of the church referred to my wife as being "backward." In Baltimore, that term could have meant a number of different things; all of them not good. But here in Washington County that person simply meant that she's introverted. By choosing to just listen for a few moments, I got past my initial reaction to what I thought I heard and understood what was being said.
The Book of James says to be "swift to hear." How often do you start thinking about what you're going to say before the other person has finished their sentence? I'm trying to be swift to hear - to just shut up and take in what people say. Not just the spoken words, but what their facial expressions and tone of voice are saying as well.
You can really enjoy this if you can get past feeling threatened by the process. Sometimes you can be so vehemently for or against something that if someone actually dares to challenge your view, you will be slow to hear and swift to speak. Just try letting the person say complete sentences without interrupting them. Try asking questions, seek to understand what they're saying. Don't do this just to find weak spots you can hit with smart comebacks. Suppose, no matter how ridiculous or offensive you find that opposing view to be, that you actually understood it. Then if you understood the point, upon examination of the roots of that belief, you might understand the person. And they might understand you.
That's the "slow to wrath" part of James' instruction. If you are swift to hear out the person, and slow to defend your own (at least initially), the tension that could develop between you and an opponent settles to a level of respectful dialogue.
I wonder if we seldom see this kind of reasonable discourse between opposing viewpoints because one or both sides become defensive and judgmental. Face it, if you aren't listening to them, it's not likely they are listening to you. And if that's the case, what is the point?
I find solace in Jesus' words, because if I really want to be on the side of truth, then winning the debate is not the priority; it's the truth that must prevail. And it will.
"For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be made known" (Matthew 10:26).
The force of truth is more powerful than the force of your temper.

Points to Ponder is a series of occasional articles written by Rev. Dennis Whitmore, Pastor of Hilltop Christian Fellowship, 12624 Trinity Church Drive, Clear Spring, MD (1/4 mile east of Clear Spring on Rt. 40). Listen to Pastor Dennis on WJEJ-1240 AM, Tues and Thurs, at 10:45am and 7:50pm, both days; and every Sunday from 7:30-7:45am on "Consider This". www.hilltopchristianfellowship.com.