I was with a young friend, reading a story about a squirrel who stole Christmas bulbs from a string of outside lights.
As we read, he was getting wigglier and gigglier.
I finally asked him what was going on.
He said, “Bulbs…” (giggle, giggle, blush…)
I said, “There is nothing wrong with the word bulbs. It’s not a bad word.”
He said, “Well, it is not a nice word!”
I said, “What do you think it means?”
And he said, “You know, these…” as he gestured to his chest… “on girls.”
And the lightbulb finally went off for me!
“I think you mean “boobs”. Not the same word, my friend…”
And just like that, communication became twisted.
What he thought he heard was not what I was actually saying.
He framed it in his understanding of the world and we were off to the races of misunderstanding.
It took me stopping and clarifying for us to be able to continue maturely.
“Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]…” wrote James to all Christ-followers.
Because our enemy, Satan, wants just the opposite.
“How dare he say that! You better jump on that and set the record straight!”
“How dare she post that! I thought she was a better person than that! Unfollow!”
“I can’t believe they would say that! I know when I’m not wanted…I’m out of here!”
He prods us with our emotions.
Our past wounds.
Our perception of the world.
And then he tempts:
“Be QUICK to speak! Stop listening and say your piece! You have the right to be mad! You better get in there!”, he hisses.
Because that is his primary goal.
His fellowship with God got broken because of his pride.
He was cast out of heaven and out of communion with God.
So now he is on the prowl, like a lion searching for prey, according to Peter.
But here’s the thing about prowling lions.
They are pretty subtle at first.
They don’t announce their presence to the happily munching gazelle until it is too late.
And our enemy is a master at subtlety.
Because he knows that if he can pit Christ-follower against Christ-follower then he does not have to worry about those who are lost being found.
If he can shut down our communication within the Church, we will not be proclaiming Christ outside of it.
He is slick.
And he is on the job.
He uses all sort of things to do it, too.
Everything from furniture to worship styles.
What should be worn and what must not be said.
Who is in charge and where the money should go.
Styles of communication, personalities, race and gender all get pulled into the fray.
He really could care less which hot-button he pushes to divide us.
As long as we are divided.
And we get so caught up in the heat of the moment that we entirely miss the fact that we are fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong war for the wrong cause.
And more than that, we forget that the real enemy has already been defeated at the cross.
His fate is sealed.
But for a little while he has the freedom to mess with us.
Not because God is powerless.
But because He is merciful, “not wanting any to perish”.
He has given this world time to choose.
And entrusted us as one of the ways to present that Truth to a dying world.
But we get caught up in communication wars with each other instead.
Instead of praying for you, I talk about you.
Instead of choosing to listen, I choose to shout.
Instead of coming together as a beautiful bride for the coming King, we split into factions, into “us” and “them”.
And while we are busy miscommunicating, thousands of people by the minute slip through the portal of death into a Christ-less eternity.
And Satan wins a soul.
So wrong! So sad! Because we have “all that we need for life and godliness” at our disposal. (2 Peter 1)
The “full armor of God” given to us to not “wrestle with flesh and blood” but with “the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this [present] darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly (supernatural) places.”
The power of prayer. (Ephesians 6)
The same power that raised Jesus from the dead at work in us. (Ephesians 1, Romans 8)
But we fight the wrong enemy all the time.
And the person who does not know Christ says, “He’s no different than me. Why do I need what he’s offering?”
It is why one of the last prayers Jesus offered on earth was for us.
It was while he was with his disciples in the borrowed room, celebrating the Passover.
After he had washed their feet.
After he had given new meaning to a very old celebration.
And after Judas had slipped away to betray him.
Before he faced his humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Before he told the Father, “I don’t want to do this. But I want your way more than my own.”
Before that, he prayed for you.
First he prayed for those in the room.
But then he said to His Father,
“I do not pray for these alone [it is not for their sake only that I make this request], but also for [all] those who [will ever] believe and trust in Me through their message, that they all may be one; just as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be one in Us, so that the world may believe [without any doubt] that You sent Me.” (John 17)
“That they may all be one…”
One message for a dying world.
One Body to be the hands and feet of Jesus to the hurting.
And when we don’t, fixing it.
Genuinely loving each other.
So that the world will know we are His disciples by our love for one another.
“…SO THAT the world may believe.”
I plead with you (and with myself) today.
Be quick to listen.
Hear the other person out.
Listen to their heart behind the words.
Pray for discernment.
Put a lid on your emotional response, whatever it may be.
Be slow to speak.
Even when you are firmly in the right.
Even when they are firmly in the wrong.
Even when it is killing you to tame your tongue.
Even when you hate every word they just said.
Even when they attack your character.
Slow to speak, even while “speaking the Truth in love.”
Slow to speak, even when giving correction or rebuke.
Slow to speak, even when you are in complete agreement.
And slow to become angry.
Yes, you will become angry.
Yes, communication is hard work.
Yes, you are two sinners bumping up against each other.
Yes, we are all deeply flawed.
But we are all deeply loved.
Designed by God.
Built for His purpose.
With plenty of Kingdom work to do that does not involve attacking each other.
And all the tools we need at our disposal to fight the right enemy.
Be quick to listen.
Slow to speak.
And slow to become angry.
Because eternal lives are at stake.
Not ours as Christ-followers.
But those who are not.
For their sake.