Chapter 4 Excerpt from "Kingdom Culture"
We had a lot in common
this guy I met last week
“Hey, how about some breakfast
down at Rusty Creek?”
I’d great anticipation
for this rendezvous,
I get a bit excited
‘bout meeting someone
At first we chatted small talk
Then he began to share
all sorts of things
(I sat silent
in my chair)
he might be lonely
for a listening ear
but after fifty minutes
I hoped to
(he subtly let me know)
he had some great opinions
he told me so).
He never thought to ask me
“What’s happening with you?”
He never paused to care
about my point of view.
Three times I interjected
something that I knew
to which he listened
for a second
He wowed me with his stories,
impressed me with his wit
told me all his history
and never quit.
His life was helping others,
but somehow he couldn’t see
that in his selfish focus,
he disregarded me.
A man of great distinction
like no one else!
a man of many syllables,
I never met.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” Dale Carnegie (location 924—HTWFAIP Do this and you’ll be welcome anywhere, page 65)
Number One of Two Incidents
Recently, I ran into a man whom Ruthie and I are very close to. He grabbed me and gave me a hug. He is an influential man and has thanked me countless times for believing in him and walking him through significant changes in his life. But today was bitter-sweet. He said, “I called my dad yesterday, simply because I needed him to ask me how things were going in my life. But, like usual, he kept on talking about all sorts of little things about himself and never asked me how things were going with me.” My friend got off the phone discouraged and disappointed. His point in telling me this was to thank me for stepping in as a father figure when his father didn’t. This younger man’s affirmation of me was priceless—humbling. So many great things are happening in this man’s life. Unfortunately, the person he wants to care about him the most, doesn’t seem to, and the one he wants to rejoice with him the most, won’t.
I tell this episode because, more and more, our society—even in the “Christian” culture—seems self-centered, and nowhere is it more evident than in what we say in conversation with people—and what we don’t say.
Ruthie and I continue to be stunned by how so many good people and leaders we meet with, are into their own agendas—their own opinions and ideas. They give testimony of themselves—even if it seems to be in the name of God and goodness. The problem is that people often don’t even think to say, “But how are things going with you?”
…and then listen to the answer.
Few people these days seem to know how to show value, care, or interest in other’s hearts and lives. Behind this I sense two things: One, some of these people are overconfident and think they deserve to talk more than others. They believe that what they say is more valuable than what others say. Or two, they feel inadequate, and their self-promotion is a stage act to compensate for their own inadequacies.
Incident Number Two
The day after incident one, above, Ruthie had breakfast with a close friend. She came home thrilled to be with her. She told me that her friend was going through a lot, and so most of the conversation was about her friend. This was not painful to Ruthie and not the least bit negative. It wasn’t out of place, because Ruthie was happy to listen to her friend, knowing that she is not in any way a self-focused person, but this was Ruthie’s turn to be a listening ear. This friend is always a giver in relationships.
But no sooner had Ruthie told me this when an email came her way:
Ruthie, I left our time together this morning feeling blessed that we could share a few hours together, and I do appreciate your interest in what’s going on in my life and heart. However, afterward, I went, “What was I thinking?” I didn’t even ask you about your experience in Haiti!! Or invited anything else on your heart you may have wanted to share with me (sad smile). So I just wanted to say, if you feel you have the time this week and desire to share about that, please feel free to call me. If not, we can catch up with that another time. But I wanted you to know that I would sometime like to hear about “your heart in Haiti” and feel badly that I took up so much of the time to share about our situation...Boo. I know you won’t hold it against me, but I just wanted to say that I desire for our times together to be give and take, not just give for you and take for me. I appreciate you and will join the “praying friends back home” as you venture out once more. Kingdom work! May God cheer your heart and supply you with strength for the journey. -Cheri
Ruthie didn’t need a reply from her friend, but that it came, affirmed the quality character and deep heart of the friendship she has with her. It also illustrates what this teaching is about—getting out of your own self focus enough to value the hearts of others.
I chose to put the topic of being a great listener in this book because…
The Truth That Helped Me the Most
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie [JS1] is a timeless classic. Much of it is both simple and profound. I am just one of the countless multitudes who have been influenced by this book. I read just two random pages again last night and was re-influenced.
One of the chapters in Dale’s book that helped me the most is titled, “Do This and You’ll Be Welcome Anywhere.” It is about being interested in others as a way of life. It is about listening to others—their stories, their endeavors, their heart. Life doesn’t work when our goal is trying to get people interested in us: “Friends, real friends,” Dale writes, “are not made that way” (pg. 56, e-book version). (I would love to copy and paste the whole chapter here. It’s that incredible! I hope you read the book. Although Mr. Carnegie doesn’t use all the same approaches and terminology I do, his book is largely about kingdom culture.)
Unfortunately, a Dunce Hat for Many!
Ruthie and I were discussing our journey in finding mentors to walk alongside us during our ministry work. We reflected back over a couple of men we thought could walk with us through life, and we tried them out. But all they wanted to do was teach us. Mentorships such as this don’t last long. You see, mentorship is more than just teaching, you must also take the time to listen to the other’s journey. Fortunately, we did find that in some.
For several years, Ruthie and I were teachers at a parent-teen seminar. In one session, I would open by showing the audience a piece of paper folded and cut into a cone shape. Then I would ask the audience to tell me what it was. Of course, only I knew the answer. I got a variety of answers: ice cream cone, funnel, dunce hat, party hat, orange traffic cone, a cake-decorating icing cone, Hershey’s kiss, unicorn horn, space craft, and cornucopia. I even heard it described as a megaphone. Then I gave the correct answer: an ear trumpet—a devise for listening—and I would proceed with my lesson on Listening to Other’s Hearts.
Ruthie and I continue to be stunned by how many leaders we meet, or chat with, are only into their own agendas, their own opinions and ideas, and give testimony only of themselves—even if it seems to be in the name of God. Unfortunately, they don’t think to show value, care, or interest to other’s hearts and lives.
A Tale of Two Pastors
Lonnie and I came to town at the same time. We were both new pastors with similar doctrines and approaches, so we decided to chat over chow every now and then. The first time we chatted, I saw Lonnie’s passion. He could crank out profound insights like the Hershey Chocolate Factory cranks out kisses. I excused his conversation-domination as excitement for God. The next time, my assistant came with me to chat and chow. He, too, noticed something about Lonnie: Hook a generator to that boy’s tongue and we could’ve lit the whole city. To say we were overwhelmed was an understatement. This happened again and again, and then the last time. We soon realized, though Lonnie loved the Lord, he didn’t care about much outside of hearing his own voice, and he was probably that way with his congregation, too. His agenda was to share his own thoughts and ideas—period.
The conversation went like this: Lonnie would share for ten minutes—suddenly a pause—I would quickly inject some of my own comments, attempting to dialogue with him, but his listening span was less than twenty seconds, then he would sabotage the dialogue and yank it back to his court. I would say the same phrases every time we got together: “Uh huh, yeah, okay, yes, uh huh,” and when someone else talked, he would promptly interrupt.
The relationship didn’t last long. Lonnie was indeed a teacher, but nobody enjoys being taught all the time!
If Lonnie was on the North Pole, Bill Nissen was on the South. When I moved to small-town Iowa, Grace, a woman I had never met, heard about Ruthie and me and visited our home. She told me (not asked) that she was taking me to Bill’s church, about an hour away. Ruthie and I went with Grace. While standing in the back of the church, pre-service, Bill (a massive, good-looking, six foot nine monstrosity) saw me and introduced himself. He then asked what I did for a living. I told him, I am a teacher, counselor, writer, blah, blah, blah. He immediately asked me to join him for a chat-and-chow on Tuesday morning.
Oh right! I thought. Good pastor—merchandise me from the beginning! Get me to go to his church and then use me to build his own agenda. Hey, Buddie, I’ve been around. I know the games, the strategies, the corrupt motives. But I’ll go along with it and see what happens.
“Sure, I’ll meet you. What time and where?”
I met Bill at Perkins for breakfast. He paid my bill. He never talked to me about coming to his church—not that time. Never did. We became friends. I came back to his church every now and then, but not regularly. When I met with Bill, MY agenda was always his focus. He always listened. Yeah, he told some about his, but he always seemed more concerned about mine and all the other people who, in the next few years, met together with us. Bill had died to churchy games and personal-platform-building long before I had met him. It freed him to go the heart of those God put in his path. You couldn’t give surface answers to Bill when he asked, “How ya doin’?” He would go deep and deeper, until he got the truth and then, he found some way to affirm or encourage you. It was hard to out-listen Bill.
Bill is a man of great authority. Somewhere along the way, however, he took some grief because he didn’t go along with the main stream of what many Christians promote. He knew that God is all about the heart and about relationships. I don’t live in Iowa any more. I don’t talk to Bill much, but every time I do, I know he still cares. He is now, in addition to being a successful pastor, a successful businessman.
Time and again, Ruthie and I meet with mature believers and leaders, and we leave stunned at how much people can be into their own agenda. We don’t judge, though we often sorrow, for when we point the finger, there are always three fingers pointing back at us. This is not to condemn us, but rather to remind us that most of the time, it is better to listen than to talk. As I mentioned earlier, I am constantly reminded of the quote by Theodore Roosevelt: Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.[JS2]
Chronic Flap-Jaw Syndrome
Over-talking is a plague! Many people can talk a blue streak in conversation and never notice that they failed to create dialogue, failed to draw in the other with questions, or if they asked, they didn’t listen to the full response. I have challenged Ruthie to avoid certain people simply because they will abuse her ear and are oblivious to their own motor-mouth. They hate to be interrupted, but they perpetually interrupt others.
People who understand a kingdom culture understand the art of listening. [JS3] The art of listening is not a trivial or petty point to the subject of this book, but it is a major point. So much of the kingdom culture—calling to life, going to the heart, preferring others above yourself, and basic love—all surround this one crucial skill.
Over-talking is one of the most hard-to-see blind spots for people. [JS4]
Ruthie often shares her own victory from over-active-tongue disease. Honestly, it didn’t come easy. It was years into our marriage before we crossed this pain line. I never minded Ruthie’s talking when Ruthie was talking to me, but I got to a point that I couldn’t be passive any longer when she would dominate me in social settings and in counseling. When I would address it, Ruthie was often defensive, because she felt that I was shutting her down. She would then overreact and say, “Well, then, I just won’t talk.” We would get through it, and she would sincerely ask God for eyes to see. But honestly, it was a stronghold and a blind spot, which took many confrontations.
At times, she would ask me why I was so quiet when we were with friends. I would respond, “Because you don’t pause long enough for me to get a word in edgewise. You comment on what others say faster than a speeding bullet. You interrupt my thought process before I am finished.” Obviously, this did not make Ruthie feel like she does when she is eating coffee-mocha gelato. Nonetheless, she sought God on it. She asked me to continue to point out her blind spot to her and adopted a more low-profile posture, for a while, when we were with others.
As time went on, God went to the root in Ruthie’s heart and pulled out lies that were driving her talkativeness. One was that she felt responsible for other’s social enjoyment, as well as a few other lies. Suddenly, she began noticing other people who un-blessed others with the same verbal motor. She would ask, “Was I that bad? God forbid!”
Ruthie regularly thanks me for helping her overcome this habit now that she fully understands how listening works in a kingdom culture. In private, she often points out to others what they are doing when she sees them verbally shutting down their spouse or friends. She doesn’t talk less than me, and at times, it is appropriate for her to talk much more than me. The key is, when we are together, we verbally dance with each other.
My Listening Issue
I, too, had a problem with listening. Although these were different from Ruthie’s, I was no better than her. I still have a long way to go before I have mastered the art of listening, though it is always a major priority in my life to master it. My problem is that I am a processor. Often, when people were talking with me, I would detach to process what they were saying, without even knowing I had detached. I have worked hard to overcome this reaction and learn to fully concentrate on what people are saying to me without detaching. Much of this came from my reaction growing up, having nobody to listen to me and nobody ever pursuing my heart. It took Ruthie, many times, addressing this issue with me before I was able to catch it and stop the process of processing.
As I mentioned above, I first learned about the importance and power of listening several decades ago when I read How to Win Friends and Influence People. I have had several of my children read the book. I told all of them, at one point or another, if you want to be an influencer, you must prepare to always listen more than you talk. Listeners make the kingdom culture glisten, because, most of the time, listeners are listeners because they esteem others more important than themselves as a habit.[JS5]
When you are enjoying relationship with another—your spouse, your friend, at a team meeting, in a group or social setting—ask questions that engage others to express their ideas, thoughts, feelings, opinions, observations, and then allow them to finish their thoughts, before jumping in with the million comments trying to bust out of your mind and through your tongue. Temperance and restraint are disciplines when it comes to the tongue[JS6] .
James 3:3-9 is dedicated to bridling the tongue. Read a few verses from this chapter:
Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. (James 3:5-8)
We understand through this passage that mastering the tongue is a characteristic of those who are mature[JS7] .
Over-talking is a scourge in any kind of relationship.
Conclusion: Why Trying To Stop Over-talking WON’T WORK!
Over-talking is a scourge in any kind of relationship, but trying to stop over-talking won’t solve the problem. The problem will be solved on the heart level, when you make the choice to “esteem others more important than yourself” (Phil. 2:3). It will happen when you make a sincere choice to deny your own platform building and choose to care more about others, rather than yourself. May God give us all a fresh revelation of love. And if I can leave you with a challenge: After committing yourself to His fresh love, aim as much as possible, to speak 49 percent or less of the words in most of your conversations.
The more you esteem others more important, the more they will esteem you!