We are in the midst of monsoon season in Arizona, bringing strong winds, sheeting rains, and all the damage these two create. Coming home the other night was a little challenging as I found myself dodging downed trees, broken tree limbs, and lots of debris in the roadway. I had to call the township to report the damage on two of the streets I traveled, hoping all other motorists would be able to navigate past these downed objects before they could get them cleared. It would soon be dark and the damage was significant all around our area. There were even downed street signs - some larger than life ones which mark the turn off on the freeways. Now, that took some mighty strong wind to sheer them off at the base of their posts! What happened to all those people counting on those signs to let them know they were at an intersection which required them to turn, or take a new path to get safely to their destination? The signs served a purpose, but they were impeded by the storm. As long as we have the right "postings" at the intersections of our lives, we are less likely to be confused about the direction we might take. As soon as the storms disrupt our "postings", all things can go awry!
Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage. In simple humility, let our gardener, God, landscape you with the Word, making a salvation-garden of your life. (James 1:19-21 MSG)
There are times when we just need to rely upon what we know as other "landmarks" in our lives - especially when the storms might have disturbed the normal "signs" we would count on to guide us safely to our destination. In fact, we probably rely upon landmarks on our way to and from most of our destinations more than we think. I know when I see the cell towers disguised as palm trees on the left of the freeway, I am nearing my turn-off for home. I also know when I see the large sign with a blue heart on it on my way to work, I am at the turn-off to get me to work. I don't need the street signs to guide me because I have come to trust the landmarks. If someone were to remove the cell tower or the hospital sign, I wonder what other landmarks might stand out in my memory? We probably have way more committed to memory than we realize.
This might just be what our writer had in mind when he instructs us to keep these teachings / lessons "posted at all the intersections" of our life. I don't think he was referring to literal "sign-posts" bearing these words, but the remembrance of these principles as we are challenged by life's ups and downs. The first "sign" we are to "heed" is that of listening. It is the idea of not always needing to be the one heard, but to be willing to be the one doing the listening. Not just for the words which might be spoken, but learning to listen with all our senses. Did you ever stop to consider just how little is said in our words and how much is conveyed in our tone of voice, posture, actions, and the like? If we solely rely upon what is said, we'd miss so much. "Lead with your ears" is a change in our "normal" way of responding in life - because we want to lead with our words. Instead, we are asked to be quiet, taking in what it is we are hearing and then allowing our senses to be in tune with what is being said.
The other night in the storm, the house was very quiet. As mom prepared for bed, I sat alone in the living room. Before long, I could hear a little bit of a dripping sound. To my surprise, I found my windows had leaked! That faint dripping was an indication the winds had been so strong as to allow water back in behind the vinyl facing and it was making small puddles on the windowsill. It was only because I used my senses to guide me to the spot of these leaks that I discovered this potentially damaging issue. They will all be sealed on Friday when the installers come back out to take care of the issue, but I would never have discovered this if I had not been silent long enough to hear. I wonder what we miss because we lead with our voices rather than our ears? Voice comes second to hearing - for it is only in hearing that we are able to reliably respond.
If we did a little more listening, a little less speaking, and a whole lot less "reacting" to what we think we heard, I wonder what this world might be like? Maybe there would be less strife in homes and more peace at the dinner table. Maybe kids wouldn't struggle so with their self-esteem, but would feel loved, appreciated, and valued in their homes, schools, and peer groups. Maybe competing forces would see the needs of the "other side" and find ways to compromise a little here and there so everyone could "win" a little. There is such potential to these instructions, if we'd just embrace them with our whole hearts.
To sum it all up, we are reminded the place anger and bitterness is to find in our lives - trailing far, far behind! Maybe this is possible when we learn to listen first, speak second (and only after a great deal of thought has gone into it), and then reveal by our actions that we have heard what has been said. In consideration of how it is we might learn to put anger and bitterness in "last place" in our lives, we need to allow the word of God to cultivate the soil of our hearts. As soil is cultivated, it is turned over. Sometimes when things within our hearts are finally "turned over" a little, we can see just how much the soil of our hearts needed the cultivating! There might be all kinds of rocks, acting as stumbling places; perhaps undermining roots, giving us more than a little bit of a strangle-hold; or even just plain old rock-solid hardness, untouched for so long that the coldness just exudes.
Regardless of the soil, God's word has the potential to cultivate it into richness and fruitfulness - but it is only through cultivation that this occurs. If you haven't seen a farmer turn the soil, maybe you should Google it! It is is a process, to be sure! One in which the soil doesn't come out looking the same as it did! One in which large dirt masses soon become smaller, manageable, and yielded soil. In the process, barren places become "growth-worthy". Just sayin!
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