‘Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone.’ Colossians 4:6 NLT
Building trust and intimacy in communication requires: (1) Working to build trust. Trust is not a ‘right’: it’s a privilege you earn by proving you’re trustworthy. We pay little attention to politicians who say, ‘You can count on me,’ unless their track record supports it. Christ’s standard for trust was ‘…believe because of the work you have seen Me do.’ (John 14:11 NLT) We know from social psychology research that speaking gently and slowly can deepen the listener’s openness and respect for you. The tone of your voice matters a lot. The University of Houston did a conclusive study that found if you lower your voice and speak slowly, your listener will respond with greater openness and trust. This research has helped oncologists present bad news to patients in a more supportive way. When doctors reduced their speaking rate and pitch, patients perceived them as more caring and sympathetic. The Bible calls this ‘a soft answer’ (Proverbs 15:1 NKJV), and it will work for you too.
(2) Training your brain to really listen. Listening is hard work because we habitually focus on ourselves and our interests through constant self–talk. Studies show that the average person cuts in before the speaker finishes. Even doctors who are trained to listen for important medical information tend to cut patients off within 23 seconds—long before they have been fully heard.
Train yourself to stay focused on the other person, their words, facial expressions and body language. Within just a few weeks you can train yourself to become the kind of communicator people will trust.
‘Pleasant words are…healing…’ Proverbs 16:24 NAS
For effective communication: (1) Make use of the ‘eye–gate’. Eye contact stimulates the brain’s social–network circuits, decreasing the stress hormone and increasing the sympathy hormone. Intentionally looking at the other person enables you to quickly respond to the seven basic facial expressions—anger, fear, sadness, disgust, surprise, contempt and happiness. These are keys; use them. (2) Express appreciation. The first words you speak set the tone for the entire interaction. A single compliment can create trust. Loyola University researchers found that when people in conversation are in basic agreement, interactions between them are experienced as mutually satisfying. Alternatively, disagreement immediately creates defensiveness in the listener. So begin each conversation with a compliment, and end it with a phrase that conveys genuine appreciation. Research demonstrates that remarks made at the end of an interaction are especially effective because they linger in the hearer’s mind. ‘Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul (emotions) and healing to the bones.’ (Proverbs 16:24 NAS) (3) Keep it brief. Our conscious minds retain only a tiny bit of information, which is ‘booted out’ of our memory as new information is uploaded. So it’s better to speak a sentence or two at a time, then take a breath. ‘…let your words be few.’ (Ecclesiastes 5:2 NAS) If you think a lengthy conversation is needed, let your listener know in advance. This prepares them to focus, and ignore the intrusiveness of their own inner self–talk.
‘…say the right thing at the right time!’ Proverbs 15:23 NLT
According to ground–breaking neurological research, you can ‘train’ yourself to speak and listen in a way that stimulates sympathy and trust in the brain of the person you’re talking to. Think how valuable that is in communication!
Here are some proven principles to help you do it: (1) Breathe deeply and stretch before speaking. When you’re handling a stressful situation, remaining calm is essential. Stress generates uptightness, uptightness leads to anger, and anger shuts down your ability to get your point across. So take a few moments to breathe deeply, while counting slowly to five. It’s also been established that things like stretching your neck muscles and yawning change your brain in ways that measurably improve your communication skills. We are ‘wonderfully made’. (Psalm 139:14 KJV) (2) Think encouraging thoughts. ‘…As he thinks in his heart, so is he…’ (Proverbs 23:7 NKJV) Any negative thought you harbour can interfere with the parts of your brain used in language processing, listening, and speech, which can lead to defensiveness and distrust. Neurological studies found that thinking positive thoughts about the other person, or yourself, or the topic at hand, can help you to achieve success in your personal and business relationships. (3) Seal it with a smile. Your face reveals your feelings. ‘…Jacob noticed that Laban’s attitude toward him was not what it had been.’ (Genesis 31:2 NIV) Research shows that pleasing memories and thoughts of people you love create facial expressions that convey kindness, compassion and interest, stimulating trust and openness in others.
‘…do not reject the Lord’s discipline…’ Proverbs 3:11 NCV
The Bible says, ‘Do not reject the Lord’s discipline, and don’t get angry when He corrects you. The Lord corrects those He loves, just as parents correct the child they delight in.’ (Proverbs 3:11–12 NCV) Because God loves you, when He sees things in your life that could potentially damage you and other people, He deals with them. Paul writes, ‘Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God…’ (Romans 11:22 NKJV) God will deal with you gently, but if you don’t listen He may have to deal with you severely. That’s because He has too much invested in you to let you fail.
Not only does God confront us, He expects us to confront one another when we’re in the wrong. Paul stood up to Peter, his fellow leader, in front of Jewish and Gentile believers because the issue was important to their mission’s success (Galatians 2:14).
Healthy confrontation results in six things: (1) Clarification. You get a better understanding of the person and what happened. (2) Change. Hopefully improvement will come from it—and the improvement may be in you! (3) An improved relationship. Handled correctly, confrontation will deepen your relationship with the other person. (4) Purity. As word gets out, the organisation will be purified and sobered. (5) Respect. People will appreciate and respect your leadership even more. (6) Security. They’ll feel safe knowing that you’re strong enough to take a stand when it counts. People want a leader who says, ‘When there’s a problem I’ll deal with it directly, promptly, and respectfully. I’ll help correct the situation and get us back on track.’
‘God’s Spirit makes us…self-controlled…’ Galatians 5:22-23 CEV
Is self–discipline difficult and demanding? Yes. However, instead of focusing on its demands, think about its benefits. When you begin to understand the power, liberty, joy and victory that self–discipline brings, you’ll want to have it. A disciplined mind makes the difference between a happy life and a miserable one; between a life of self–defeating habits and a life of freedom in God. Discipline is your friend, something to be embraced daily. It’s a tool given by God to help you reach your goals.
One reason why disciplining your mind is so important is that the condition of your mind can change so quickly. One day you can be calm, peaceful, sure of yourself and confident in God. Yet the next day you can hardly recognise yourself; you’re anxious, angry, negative, and full of doubt. Why? Because your thinking affects your emotions. Here’s something else you need to know: just as the airwaves around you are filled with signals that can be picked up by any radio or TV, there are spiritual forces around you that seek to mould your mind and influence your thinking. So ask God to help you, and refuse to allow your mind to think about whatever it pleases.
Begin to control your thoughts and keep your mind on the right things. Breaking old habits and forming new ones takes time, so keep practising. Developing self–discipline isn’t easy, but it’s worth it in the end. When you win the battle for your mind you’ll be much more decisive, confident and focused. You’ll also be a more effective and successful person.
‘…He made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter…’ Jeremiah 18:4 NKJV
While you are on the Potter’s wheel, consider these two things: (1) The Potter’s plan and pleasure are what matter. He has the right to make you into anything He chooses. What matters most is that His plan for your life be fulfilled and His pleasure in you be realised. Can you imagine a potter discussing with the clay what it would prefer to become? No. Only he has the wisdom to make that decision. So instead of struggling with the will of God, rejoice that ‘…God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.’ (Philippians 2:13 NLT)
(2) The Potter will not stop until the job is done. God’s job would be simple if we were just inanimate lumps of clay. But we’re clay animated by self-will and ‘we want what we want, when we want it.’ However, rather than giving in to us, or giving up on us, the Potter keeps working and reworking the clay, day after day, until we gradually begin to take on a shape He can use for His glory. This sometimes calls for radical action on His part: ‘But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over again.’ (Jeremiah 18:4 NLT) God is so committed to His objective in your life that He won’t quit – even though it means allowing you to be crushed and starting the process over again.
So be patient and stay on the wheel; what God has in mind for you is worth it.
‘…as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand…’ Jeremiah 18:6 NKJV
In the good times it’s easy to see that we’re making progress, but in the tough times we are prone to feel like we’re not making any progress at all. We react to pain, loss and adversity by consulting our feelings instead of God’s faithfulness. Please understand this: at all times you are securely in God’s hands! ‘…as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand…’ (Jeremiah 18:6 NKJV) You’re a work in progress and the crucial thing isn’t your circumstances or feelings, but the Potter’s commitment to finish what He began. ‘…He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.’ (Philippians 1:6 NKJV)
Here are two things you must remember while you’re spinning on the Potter’s wheel: (1) The Potter has the right to mould you as He sees fit. Nothing can prevent Him from making you into what He wants you to become. He is an expert at turning lumps of clay into objects of value and usefulness. ‘Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the …lump to make one vessel for honour…?’ (Romans 9:21 NKJV) Your job is to stay on the wheel and let God make you into what He desires you to be. (2) The Potter has an individual plan for each lump of clay. The Potter, not the clay, determines the end-product in the same way that the Holy Spirit determines your place and role in the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:18).
So discover the Potter’s plan and submit to Him!
‘…if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.’ 1 John 5:14 NIV
While you are waiting for God’s Word to be fulfilled in your life, do these three things:
(1) Verbalise it. The most effective way to pray is to speak God’s Word. The patriarchs, prophets and psalmists regularly reminded God of His promises in prayer, confident He would keep them. The surest indicator of God’s will is His Word. ‘This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us…we know that we have what we asked of Him.‘ (1 John 5:14-15 NIV) God always responds to His Word, always!
(2) Obey it. God’s plan for us is not just to speak His Word, vital as this is, but that we obey it (James 1:22). The hymn-writer said: ‘When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, what a glory He sheds on our way; while we do His good will, He abides with us still, and with all who will trust and obey.’ Obedience – faith in action – aligns us with God and He responds by fulfilling His promise to us.
(3) Share it. Parents and grandparents, ‘Take to heart these words that I give you today. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re at home or away, when you lie down or get up.’ (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 GWT) You needn’t be a qualified teacher, just a sincere teller. Sharing God’s Word will produce fruit in the lives of your family, friends, relatives, business associates and neighbours, and also increase your own grasp and understanding of it.
‘Let Christ’s word…live in you.’ Colossians 3:16 GWT
Making the right decisions and choosing the right actions are the crux of living successfully. If you are the source of your own wisdom, or you’re looking to others, your odds are not good. Paul writes, ‘Let Christ’s word with all its wisdom and richness live in you.’ If you do, you’ll have the winning strategy for your life.
But you must: (1) Read it. You don’t have to understand it all; it’s not an intellectual exercise. Reading it prayerfully brings power and wisdom because ‘…the Word that God speaks is alive and active… [penetrating] to the place where soul and spirit meet.’ (Hebrews 4:12 PHPS) (2) Meditate on it. That means ‘chew on’ it. Let your spiritual digestive juices process God’s Word until its nutrients become part of you: strengthening, energising and directing you. (3) Believe it. ‘My Word…always produces… It will accomplish all I want it to.’ (Isaiah 55:11 NLT) There’s only one thing that can short-circuit God’s Word – unbelief. ‘The message…did them no good, because they only heard and did not believe as well.’ (Hebrews 4:2 PHPS). ‘Hearing’ opens the door; ‘believing’ walks through it and activates the promise. (4) Receive it. No matter how strongly you believe in God’s promises and His intention to give them to you, they’re not yours until you receive them by faith. ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’ (Mark 11:24 NIV) So believe your answer is on the way, and keep your faith strong until it arrives.
‘…we have the mind of Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 2:16 NLT
When your mind is not open to the Holy Spirit, you cannot understand God’s Word. So if you find reading the Bible unrewarding, try this: before you open your Bible, open your heart and pray, ‘Holy Spirit, show me what I don’t see and teach me what I don’t know.’
Paul writes: ‘…it was to us that God revealed these things by His Spirit. For His Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom…we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths. But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths… It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means. Those who are spiritual can evaluate all things, but they themselves cannot be evaluated by others. For, Who can know the Lord’s thoughts? Who knows enough to teach Him? But we understand these things, for we have the mind of Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 2:10-16 NLT)
The Bible isn’t like any other book. Its words are God-breathed; therefore when you approach the Bible, you must ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and give you understanding. He will!