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Conversation starters, stoppers, and sustainers

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires (James 1:19).

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Col. 4:6).

For out of the overflow of a person’s heart their mouth speaks (Jesus, Luke 6:45c).

How I need to heed James’ admonition today – I who tend to respond first and repent later or, as someone said, “Give a person a piece of my mind that I can ill afford to lose.” As a follower of Jesus, I want to speak out of a heart that has stored up good things. I want my conversation to be full of grace. Yet I find myself disappointed in myself when I think back on conversations I have had during the day.

Author and educator, Marilyn McIntrye suggests, “It may be that we don’t often enough consider conversation as a form of social action, as a ministry or as a spiritual discipline.”[1] If it is true that how we carry on conversation makes a difference in our own souls, in the church and in our society then we should take the words of Scripture seriously. James, along with Paul and our Lord, encourages us to consider our conversation. Let’s think about the points that they and McIntyre are making.

Conversation as a spiritual discipline. Spiritual disciplines are designed to help us draw closer to God. How does conversation do that? Consider Jesus, sitting in the temple, among the teachers, “listening to them and asking them questions.” Luke tells us, “Everyone was amazed at his under-standing and his answers.”[2] Could it be that be that one of the activities that characterizes Jesus’ Father’s house is lively, enlightening conversation that draws us closer to the One who is the Truth.

Conversation as a ministry. Ministry is serving. After having listened carefully and asked questions, hopefully we then contribute to an ongoing, thoughtful, potentially life-changing conversation that impacts us and those with whom we are conversing. Paul told the Roman believers, “I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong – that is that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.”[3] I believe that Paul is speaking about a conversation he hoped to have in which both he and his fellow believers would be strengthened in their service. Shouldn’t such conversations happen throughout our entire lives?

Conversation as social action. What happens in conversation when we quickly become angry? Usually, anger shuts down the conversation. In that case, no one wins. We lose, the person we are conversing with loses and the ripple effects may have a far-reaching impact beyond the immediate context itself. In our polarized society, where so many of us are anxious, frustrated and often sitting on a simmering pot of our own anger, would we not do well to apply these words of Scripture? When we listen to those who differ from us, ask them questions, and seek first to understand before being understood it is more likely to lead to the change God wants than blasting away self-righteously.

Rather than argumentative, rigid, and closed-minded, let us Christians become known as those who are initiators, contributors and sustainers of life-giving authentic conversation that leads to the kind of persons, kind of church and kind of society that God desires we become!

[1]Marilyn McIntyre, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2021), 88-89. [2]Luke 2:46,47. [3][3]Romans 1:11-12

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