Can You Hear Me Now?

Second in the series called Making Good Connections.
Delivered February 8, 2004 by Rev. John Schmidt.

Theme: Principles of good communication from Proverbs

Sermon Notes are at the end.

Let’s pray. Precious God, we thank you, thank you for the opportunity to worship, we thank you for your words, words that bring us life, words that show us what life should be like. We are grateful to worship and we commit this time to you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, I would imagine all of us have seen the commercial where the guy has got the phone up to his ear and he is saying, “Can you hear me now?” He’s on the beach, he’s in the tundra, he’s in the middle of some kind of crowded place, and he’s making a connection. “Can you hear me clearly?” It’s kind of an illustration of just what our society is like now. The incredible, technological capacity we have to be in touch with any body, any time, any place. We are connected by cell phones that ring at all kinds of occasions, sometimes even during worship services. We are connected with WiFi and airports and on college campuses. Got Blue Tooth connections, and instant messaging. I can even have my computer read me my e-mail out loud if I wanted to. We have incredible technological capacity to be in touch with anybody at any time and any place. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that we communicate with one another better. We can make this connection over incredible distances, but the fact is when it comes to building relationships, building a sense of intimacy, making a connection with people, communication has always been a struggle from the very dawn of human history. And since it has been a struggle for so long, we’ve needed good advice about communication from the very start.

And so what I would like to do this morning is to look into the Book of Proverbs and pick out some things it says about communication, about building intimacy, building relationships with good communications. Now, the Book of Proverbs is not like a typical book of the Bible. Usually a Book of the Bible is a story. It has to do with people’s lives. It talks about the activities that happened, and the way they related to God about wars, about politics, about all these kinds of relationships that people have and how God was in that situation working. About 60% of the Bible is stories. The vast majority of the rest is teachings, organized communication that’s trying to convey something to us for example, like Paul’s letters where he is trying to talk to a specific church and tell them what it means to walk with Jesus Christ. And then there are prophets in the Old Testament that have these long organized communications, these speeches that they gave, and those are the vast majority of the rest of the Bible. And these stories and these letters and the prophet’s teachings are intended to be read from start to finish, but Proverbs isn’t like that. Proverbs is a loosely connected group of very short sayings and so usually the main thing you are looking at is in one or two lines, and so I am going to jump all over the Book of Proverbs and pick out things that it says about communication and relating to one another. So I would like to begin in Chapter 25 and go to verse 11 and 12.

“A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.”

I would like to read that to you in a different translation, contemporary English version. It says this; “The right word at the right time is like precious gold set in silver.” That’s what apt words are. The right word at the right time. That’s what good communication is all about. But how do we select the right word at the right time? That’s the real problem. Okay, we know that the right word at the right time is important, but what does it mean to do that in a relationship? Well, I would like to move on. How do we know what it is like and what the right words are? Let’s go to Proverbs 18 for a moment. Proverbs 18, verse 13.

“He who answers before listening that is his folly and his shame.”

Again, let me read it to you in the contemporary, the CEV version.

“It’s stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen.”

That’s good advice, isn’t it? It’s obvious, but think of how few good listeners there are out there in the world. It’s amazing how often people answer questions we are not asking and how they go to great lengths to give us information about the obvious. You know it can happen even in relationships with our kids. A young child, a four-year-old comes up and says, “Mom and dad where do dogs come from?” And so you are trying to figure out on what level of veterinarian science are you going to answer this question and then you hear their followup question. “Well, Davie’s dog came from a pet shop but ours came from a farm.” The question is really different than what you initially thought. And this happens all the time in relationships with one another. So often, we don’t listen well, and listening is so important that anybody who is in a helping ministry or in a helping occupation has to learn how to listen.

In this congregation we have Stephen ministers. These are people who have committed themselves to stand alongside people in crisis, to walk through these difficult times with people and these are mature people already and yet part of their training is learning how to listen. If you are going to be a counselor or a therapist, a very large part of the education that they receive and the training they receive is on how to listen. Even pastors who basically talk a lot have to learn how to listen. Listening is that important if you are trying to live in a way that helps people, and yet it’s such a hard thing to do. Listening isn’t easy. How can we be a better listener? What does it mean for us to get better at listening? I think that the first thing we have to remember is that if we are going to be a better listener we can’t be plotting out our response the whole time that they are talking. You know how that happens, they will be talking and then your eyes glaze over and you start going, “But a, and uh” and you are trying to get into the conversation because you have already thought through what you want to say back, and you have ceased to listen to what they are saying. So, the first thing we have to do is stop planning our answers, our rebuttals, our additions while people are talking. I think the other thing that we need to do is that we’ve got to listen to not just the facts of what they are saying, but the emotions that are behind it. It’s an important part of the communication you know, are they angry about this? Are they confused? Are they frustrated? These sorts of things are important to figure out as we are communicating and that requires a little bit of extra effort.

I can remember in our early marriage that Debbie would sometimes come home from shopping, and she would say it is so hard to go shopping with these kids. And so when she would say that I would hear sort of a, you know a bit of a rebuke that she wanted me to help more and I wasn’t helping enough and so I would start thinking through how to help her do this better. And so we would even get into silly conversations about talking about how wide are the aisles and can you drive down the center so that Jonathan can’t drag things off each side. You know that isn’t at all not even close to what she wanted to talk about. What she was looking for was some sympathy. She was doing something that was hard. She was frustrated about it and she wanted me to say, “You know that’s hard and I really appreciate the fact that you will get up and grab those kids, go out and shop, come home, make a good meal.” But this is valuable and so we’ve got to listen to what’s behind what people are saying.

Another thing we need to do is if it is so hard to listen well then one of the things that we need to do is when we hear somebody say something, try to say it back to them if we are not real clear on what’s going on to respond back. This is what, is this what you are saying? You’re frustrated about this? You know, try to reflect back to them what you think they are saying and if your wrong it gives them a chance to say no, no that’s not what I mean. What I mean is this, can you hear me now? Because so often it’s not the static that’s a problem in communication, like when we are talking on the telephone. It’s all the internal static of all of the emotions we bring to communication, to our discussions with people and all the differences in our backgrounds that affect the way we interpret something. So it’s very important that we work on this issue of listening well. So we will never be good communicators if we don’t first learn to listen.

Let’s look at what else the scripture says. Let’s go to Proverbs 26 and going to go verse 28. “A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.” People desire to have a close relationship with other people. We want to build this relationship by talking to people, by communicating with them, by showing them how much this relationship is worth, and yet it is astonishing how often people think you can build that level of intimacy and trust and still lie to each other. It’s just amazing. We find this going on, you know we see situations where it happens early in relationships, when couples are trying to build a sense of being close and a sense of appreciation and so its not always a bad thing. You know the first part of that verse says if we want to say something false to hurt somebody then that’s bad, but it also says to flatter them with lies is also wrong. And so sometimes our motive is that we are trying to say something nice, but we say something that isn’t true. And so this guy and this woman were dating and one of the things that he said to her as their relationship was building is that you are a wonderful cook and then he said, you are a better cook than my mother. And she was delighted to hear this. Man you know, he likes my cooking. Boy the relationship is growing and all. But a few months later she found out that his mother was a well-known chef in New York City and at that point there was a crisis in their relationship because she knew that he was flat out lying. Where else did he lie? And what that did to their sense of closeness. Now thankfully they had built the relationship well enough that the relationship endured. But the lie came back to haunt her. And lies will do that. Sometimes we lie because we are trying to protect each other.

There was a husband and wife and they were executives and both of them were really concerned about their jobs and the insecurities of their jobs because of the change in the market. And so both of them started to fill out their resumes and even began to look occasionally for other job opportunities. But neither one would share this anxiety with each other, to protect each other, oh yeah everything is fine. Well, the husband started to spend so much extra time working on these job interviews that his wife started to worry that he had an affair. And so in order to protect her from one kind of concern, a much worse one came into their relationship and the only way this resolved is that they both saw each other at the same place; they were both going to the same place for a job interview and happen to pass each other. It’s the only way this resolved, because they were both trying to protect each other by lying.

We’ve got to remember that in a Christian view of communication there is always a moral aspect. It’s very important what we communicate so it’s got to be true. Let’s go on and take a look at something else about what we chose to say. Let’s go to Chapter 17, verse 9. “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Again the CEV says, “You will keep your friends if you forgive them, but you will lose your friends if you keep talking about what they did wrong.” Gossip. Good communication is always the right words, at the right time, and gossip is always the wrong words at the wrong time. On reality shows I think some of the appeal of that is to watch two people in a room and say blatant lies to each other and then afterwards they have these little interviews on the side in a separate room and that’s when they say what they really think and that’s not shown until the whole thing is over. It’s gossip and millions of us chose to watch it. Worse than that, we do it. Somebody does something that hurts us or aggravates us and instead of trying to find a constructive way of talking to them about it, instead we try to find somebody else that is willing to listen to us and talk about them.

God created communication to build relationships. God created this capacity in us in order to build a depth of relationship between people and gossip is always destructive. It destroys those relationships, so God takes it very seriously. Gossip is wrong because it’s destructive. Another destructive pattern in relationships is talking in anger, blowing up all over people. Let’s go to Chapter 17 the 27th verse. “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered.” Now I will talk more about this next week when we talk about fighting fair, but the fact is if relationships are built on trust, on that sense of safety that we have with one another, to explode all over them in anger, yelling and saying things that are not true or maybe saying things that are true, but not in love. This sort of thing immediately starts to erode that sense of security and trust. And so we can’t be people who explode in anger and be people who are good communicators.

I struggled with this particularly when our son was between about 9 and 13 years old. He would come, and he would make complaints about situations and all and I would hear him for a little while and I would pick out the fact, the problem in it, and I would say, “You’ve got to shape up. You got to change.” And good or bad, the problem was that he would get a little upset and I would get a little more upset and it would all escalate, and finally I would explode in anger. Now, Debbie kind of saw that this pattern wasn’t really productive for our family life, so she talked to me about it, and we realized that this was a problem, and we planned out strategies for me not to escalate this. He was acting immature. He didn’t realize his responsibility and all, and that was true, but there was other ways of me handling it and thankfully because of those changes I believe I have a pretty good relationship with my son now, and you know he has matured. He doesn’t act in those silly ways and make those silly accusations about other people and all like he used to, but more importantly I grew up too. It’s not amazing if a nine-year-old is not mature, but if an older person is not mature that’s a problem. And so, we grow and we learn how to handle those issues with anger. So anger is another destructive thing we do in relationships.

Now I would like to go on to Chapter 27, verses 1 and 2. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth. Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips.” Another good principle of communication has to do with our subject matter. To boast about yourself or more broadly speaking, to talk constantly about yourself is a bad principle of communication. You know we talked last year about in the 40 days of Purpose, Life with a Purpose, one of the things that we realized is that in worship and in the purpose of the church it’s not all about us. Well, that’s true in communication too. We’ve got to avoid that black hole sort of thing where everything that is mentioned around us gets sucked in and becomes part of our story that we have to tell others about ourselves.

I was in a classroom one time with a guy and it seemed like no matter what the subject matter was, when he would contribute to the class and he often raised his hand first, it would always end up being quite a long story about his own life, and so we learned all kinds of things about his family lineage and where he grew up and this and that and all, but it didn’t always have to do with what we were dealing with in the class. He was a nice guy, but he wasn’t a good communicator, because he always ended up talking about himself. And this is a struggle, you know it’s a natural thing for us, you know if somebody says,” Oh I am struggling with my exercise routine” for us to respond, “Yeah, I am struggling too and this is what I do.” This is all natural. But there is a point where it becomes too much and if we have a tendency to do this, then its important that we get some feedback, that we cultivate an accountability with someone, where they can give us some feedback about that and maybe if we have to say something, maybe we can learn to ask questions and that way we will hear more about the other person rather than sharing more about ourselves. So we can still say something, but we say something that furthers the process of communication.

And so that brings up a related struggle. Let’s go to Chapter 10, verse 19. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.” Let me give it to you now in the CEV version. “You will say the wrong thing if you talk too much, so be sensible and watch what you say.” It’s good advice. You know some of us talk too much. I am definitely one of those people. When I was growing up in grammar school, I got pretty good grades, but there was always a bad grade on every report card and it was in the area of behavior and it was always the same thing, John is talking too much. And so then the teacher would move me to another place in the classroom. John is talking to people across the classroom. John is talking to me too much in the middle of the lesson. I mean it didn’t matter. I talk too much. God knew that and one of the ways that I confronted this in my life was when we went to Japan and for the first two years there, I couldn’t speak Japanese. Serious problems require serious solutions. For two years I would be in these long faculty meetings, two hours long and I barely understood a word of what was being said and I couldn’t say a single word back and so in that period of time I started to learn to really listen closely to find those few words that I did know and write them down and figure out what they meant, maybe the topic. Oh, we are talking about students right now, you know and I would write that down. And you know, I didn’t say anything of substance. I didn’t say anything just about at all in those meetings for two years and the school went on just fine without my input. I don’t recommend that you do something that drastic, but it is important that we get a sense for whether we over-contribute, whether we talk a little bit too much, because sometimes saying nothing is the best communication. There is somebody in this church who as he walked out the last service, he showed to me a stack of cards that he has Bible verses and wise sayings and things like that and the top card was, it’s almost never wrong to keep your mouth shut. He knows if it’s a problem maybe in his life and he’s got it right up there. It’s a good card for me. So, another problem in communication is sometimes we just talk too much.

And that brings the final thing that I would just like to mention today about good communication. And I would like to go to the 19th Chapter of the 20th verse for that. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise.” Good communication starts with someone who listens carefully and then it ends up with someone listening carefully. It takes two people who are working at this for communication to really happen. It doesn’t matter if you have the best broadcast studio for radio in the country, if nobody has radios. And so there has got to be a receiver. There has to be somebody out there who is listening. Sometimes we don’t make a good connection. It doesn’t work. Our communication seems to fail and it’s our fault because we chose the wrong words at the wrong time. But there are other times that we have done the right thing and it still doesn’t connect and that’s because the other person wasn’t willing to hear and that’s particularly important when it’s an area of disagreement or advice or a rebuke. Now we can’t change them, but we can change ourselves, and for us to accept the responsibility that we need to be good listeners.

Communication is an amazing thing. God created us in his image and part of being made in the image of God is our capacity to communicate, so God can have a relationship with us and God builds that relationship with us through the use of words. It’s an amazing thing. And then He has given us the capacity to build relationships with one another and again so much of what we use to build those relationships are words. It’s an important thing. It’s an extremely powerful thing and that’s why God takes it so seriously. God takes communication so seriously that there are people, most people will never hear about God unless someone tells them.

We’ve got this candle that we put on the side of the table now. This is a return to an old tradition of this church. It’s the evangelism candle. On days that this candle is lit, it’s because the office has found out that through the ministry of people in this congregation someone has come to know Jesus Christ, through our witness. That’s how serious this issue of communication is. God reveals himself to others through our words. It’s a matter of choosing the right word at the right time.

Let’s pray. Gracious God we thank you. We thank you that you love us enough to want to have a relationship with us. We thank you too that you have entrusted us this incredible responsibility to build loving relationships with other people. And then as part of that, is the incredible privilege of sharing with other people the good news that you love them as well and so God help us to take whatever the next step is forward in our own skill in communication. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Sermon Outline Notes:

Apt words:

Require listening first
Are truthful
Are never gossip
Are not said in anger
Are not all about you
Are not too many
Require a willing hearer