Friday, April 4, 2014

Like a Shepherd Nine: Training Ears and Taming Tongues

Look at these fuzzy pink ears tuned in to your every word. It's not always like this, is it? Good listening and wise use of the gift of speech are commended in scripture. Check out Proverbs 1:5;7:32;8:32 for a few references. Several times this semester we have gone to Deut.6:4 for instruction on teaching our children. Interestingly enough, this verse begins with the word hear, the Shema, the Hebrew word for hear. Hearing, listening, language and speaking are God's appointed means of communicating, both with one another, but especially with Him. He is the Word.
How can we train our children to be good listeners? Beeke says, "Listening involves much more than just hearing. It includes engaging our minds to assess accurately the message given to us and to understand the context in which it is given." Listening requires self control, humility, and diligence in thinking.
1. Self control: How many of us are thinking how we will reply while someone is still speaking? How many of us continue what we're doing instead of stopping to give respectful attention to the person speaking? Junior (and his parents) need to look others in the eye and get down on Junior's level to do so. Gentle but firm hands on Junior's little cheeks can help maintain his concentration and attention.
2. Humility: Phil.2:3,4. Listening is another expression of "my life for yours" Christian living. I care enough about you to enter into your world. Listening is also a matter of humility when correction or criticism is being given.
3. Diligence in thinking: Skilled listening requires understanding of what is being said in the context. Response is secondary to understanding. Think before you speak! We live in a noisy world filled with electronics and gizmos that keep our ears full and our minds rather empty. Bertrand Russell in his essay "Why I am Not a Christian" said, "Most Christians would rather die than think." Ouch. Of ultimate importance in hearing, listening, and thinking is that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. We want our children to be well trained in listening in order that they may hear God's words of saving faith and instructions for living, that they will meditate (chew!) on his word, receiving both its comfort and correction.
How can we train our children to listen to God as He speaks, particularly on the Lord's Day?
1. By preparing them to hear it. Pray with your children that we would all come expecting to hear God speak to us, that God would bless his word, his servants who bring it and that our hearts and minds would receive it.  Have that expectation talk with your little ones about still bodies, but active ears and minds. Our Lord's Day bulletin is accessible on Friday on the FPC website. Read the scripture and sing the hymns. Familiarity with both is a confidence builder for young worshippers.
2. By assisting them to receive it: Perhaps sitting closer to the pulpit will help minimize distractions. Young ones who are participating in Lord's Day worship services should be able to tell you at least one thing they heard, be it from the bible reading, prayers, hymn singing, the sermon, or even an announcement. One of my little girls reported she heard the preacher say, "Today's passage is a difficult one". It was. That's a start! Our children, like Jesus, are growing in wisdom, favor and stature with God and man Luke 2:52.
3. By training them to apply it: James tells us to be not only hearers, but doers of the word (1:22). The scriptures are worth talking, thinking and praying about and then certainly worth applying. This of course requires diligence, time and effort on the part of parents, but doing so is faithfulness to Deut.6. Remember that God's primary school of evangelism is the Christian home.
 
Christians are not exempt from the battle against the tongue. The book of James is the go-to lesson. Go! God is a speaking God and our speech is a gift from Him to be rightly used to praise Him and to speak wisdom, another concern of parents for children Ps 34:11-14.
James points out the danger of poorly used language. Here are some rather frightening word pictures he uses. The tongue is:
* Destructive...a fire 3:6 A few unguarded words have the power to destroy relationships.
*Defiled and defiling v6. What we say has the power to tempt others to misuse speech.
*Devilish v6. Satan love to discourage, wound and attempt to destroy God's people by the misuse of the very means of communication God has given us.
*Defiant v 7,8. James says it is a restless evil like a tiger pacing in his cage waiting to break through the bars to attack.
*Deadly v8. The tongue is full of deadly poison, able to pierce hearts and minds like a snake bite.
 
Beeke gives us four kinds of words to restrain ourselves from using:
1. Judgmental or critical words. While God calls us to be discerning, He has not called us to be the critical judge of men. There is an appropriate time and place for redemptive criticism, but habitual tearing down is neither helpful, nor biblical.
2. Profanity, obscenity and vulgarity. No examples given or needed. Our speech should be reflective of the purity and holiness of God. Culturally acceptable language may change, but God's standard for purity, wholesomeness, and holiness is a constant.
3. Outbursts of anger. Anger, while at times most appropriate and righteous, is different from lashing out with words that harm and abuse. Be careful what you say to your children. They remember.
4. Nagging, murmuring and complaining. The Israelites (and we) were highly skilled in using these kinds of words about their lot in life. This kind of language goes back to the garden and a heart that doubts God's goodness and greatness.
What's the antidote? When prone to judgment or criticism, remember the mercy of God. When criticism is needed, it is redemptive and is kindly given in the context of loving parenting. The ultimate goal is to continue to point our children to Jesus. Our words are to be spoken as if they were the very words of God 1 Pet.4:11. Are they truthful? Helpful? Appropriate? Anger needs to be communicated respectfully. If Junior hasn't gotten angry with you yet, he will. Be ready. Help him learn to express his feelings in the safe, secure, and just environment of your home. Rehearsal required! And finally, cultivate an attitude of thanksgiving. Do everything without complaining and grumbling because we belong to and are the beneficiaries of a giving, loving, merciful Heavenly Father.