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Critical Conversations

Do you ever find yourself dreading an upcoming conversation that you know will be extremely difficult? I’ve had plenty such conversations, and although they are anything but fun, there are some key principles that can help us face and move through these conversations with grace, truth and healthy outcomes. Whether you have to confront your spouse, child, co-worker, fellow church member or boss, I hope these principles will help you prepare for these conversations in a way that honors Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person” (Colossians 4:6).

  • Keep the end in mind. What is the purpose of your conversation? What do you hope will be the result of your talk? What do you want to gain from it, and how do you hope this conversation will help the other party and your relationship? If you keep the end in mind, it will help you stop playing the “what if game.” (What if he says this? What if she does that?) When you play the “what if game,” it consumes your thoughts and freezes your motivation to move forward with the planned conversation. I don’t know about you, but I spend way too much energy on dreading potential negative outcomes of the upcoming conversation rather than focusing on what I hope to accomplish and the best way for me to enter a healthy dialogue to move in that direction.

  • Dialogue is a two-way street. When you enter into the difficult conversation, do your best to create common ground, a mutual purpose, and show respect. And then…listen. Dean Rusk once wrote, “One of the best ways to persuade others is with your ears—by listening to them.” James reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak” (James 1:19). When I jump into a critical conversation with an accusatory tone and words that attack, the person to whom I’m speaking understandably moves to the defensive and then begins fighting back. I need to check my own heart and motives, and make sure I’m staying on track with the purpose of my conversation (remember: keep the end in mind), and then pause to listen to what the other person has to say. In critical conversations we need to be genuine in looking “not only to [our] own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4).

  • Don’t chase rabbit trails. It’s so easy in the “heat of the battle” to get sidetracked. For example, let’s say you’ve wanted to talk to your spouse about his attitude regarding your mother, and the next thing you know you’re in an argument over your sixteen-year-old’s curfew. When you feel your conversation going in a different direction, bring it back to the main point by saying something like, “You know, we do need to talk about Johnny’s curfew, and let’s agree to do that, but for right now, is it o.k. if we continue to work through what I perceive to be your attitude regarding Mother?”

  • Guard your heart. Recognize your tendencies to either move toward silence or violence. If things don’t go the way you want in the conversation, do you find yourself shutting down or heating up? Become self-aware so that when you begin to feel either of those extremes rising up, you can pray, calm yourself, and re-engage in the dialogue in healthy ways. Ambrose Bierce wisely said, “Speak when you are angry, and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” The Bible exhorts us to be “slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19b-20).

  • Move to action. It’s one thing to have a difficult conversation. It’s another thing to come to an agreement on where you are going from there. Just speaking your mind doesn’t mean you have communicated. “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place” (George Bernard Shaw). Communication leads to a direction towards the goal (keep the end in mind) or away from the goal. In preaching, a sermon should not just end with, “Here’s the information. Thanks for listening. God bless you.” A good sermon will end with some practical steps of how we can apply what we’ve heard from God’s Word. Likewise, in critical conversations, we should end with a commitment either to continue the dialogue at a later time (agreement #1) or to implement certain actions and attitudes (agreement #2). If we don’t come to some form of agreement, even if it’s an agreement to continue the dialogue, we find ourselves at an impasse and the wall between you and the other party looms even larger.

Most importantly, seek the Lord’s direction and trust in Him. As the Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). If you know you have a difficult conversation coming up, ask the Lord to be a part of it, prepare your heart and mind, and enter the dialogue with a goal to honor the Lord Jesus Christ in all that is said and done.

Life Lessons Learned from the Colts’ Victory

This past Saturday night, my sons and I had the opportunity to attend the Colts' playoff game against the Kansas City Chiefs. At halftime, the score was 31-10 in favor of the Chiefs, and so I asked my boys "Are you guys ready to go yet?" I didn't want to watch anymore of the blowout, and I knew there was no way the Colts could come back. No way. But my boys wanted to stay, and so we did, even though the deficit increased to 38-10 at the beginning of the second half. In what seemed to be the improbability of the improbable, slowly, but surely, the Colts chipped away at the deficit. As the home crowd was going wild, near the end of the fourth quarter, Luck and the Colts went ahead 45-44. The Chiefs had the ball with only 2:00 minutes left to go, and Alex Smith, the Chiefs' quarterback threw a long pass which would have set them up nicely for a go-ahead field goal, but the receiver caught the ball out of bounds. The Chiefs then turned the ball over on downs, and all Andrew Luck needed to do was take a knee and run out the clock. The Colts’ victory was the second-largest comeback in NFL playoff history. Lucas Oil Stadium was electric with celebration, cheers, noise, and pandemonium. When we left the stadium, my boys asked me, "Dad, aren't you glad we stayed?"

I try not to be too ‘preacherly’ with my children and use our life circumstances for sermon illustrations and blog entries, but this time I couldn't resist. On our drive home after the game, I commended my sons for not giving up on the Colts, even though it seemed like an impossible deficit to overcome. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Colts had just a .9% chance to come back and win the game. I told them they taught me a lesson that sometimes when the odds seem stacked against you, if you stay the course and don't panic, you can still overcome. Even when it seems impossible. Here are a few more life lessons I learned from Luck and the Colts this past Saturday night.

1. Stop looking at the scoreboard. When things aren't going that well, whatever the circumstances may be, stop focusing on how far behind you are, and keep focusing on what you need to do next. Hebrews 12:1-2 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." We learn from the example of our Lord to set aside everything that holds us back, and that includes a sense of despair that we will never find a way out of the hole we're in. We also look to Jesus, the One who has been there before. He faced far greater circumstances of persecution and suffering than we ever have or will face, and yet He found a joy set before Him to endure the cross.

2. Run one play at a time. That sounds obvious, of course, but too often when we are behind, discouraged, and ready to give up, we just want to throw "hail Mary's" and hope for the best. The Colts ran their offense one play at a time. They kept chipping away at the lead. And they didn't expect a turn-around to come in one offensive series. The same thing applies to us. When you're facing a situation where you're down and almost out, stop looking for the magic wand to whisk away all your problems. There is no such thing as "lottery Christianity." Being a Christian is a daily process of denying ourselves, taking up our cross and following Him (Mark 8:34).

3. Keep playing defense. As the Colts offense started to flourish, they still would never have reclaimed the lead if the defense got down, discouraged, and gave up. The defense tightened up, and that fueled the offense’s hopes that maybe, just maybe, they could turn the game around. Likewise, if we’re ever going to get ahead in life, marriage, family, faith, work, etc., we not only run our offense, but we have to keep playing defense. In the famous passage about spiritual warfare, of all the battle implements listed by the Apostle Paul, only one of them is for offense, and the rest are for defense. We have the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17), and through this offensive weapon we can bring down our enemy’s strongholds and usher in God’s marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9). But as we wield the weapon of grace and truth, we also defend ourselves so that we might “be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). With the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our shoes fit with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, and the helmet of salvation, we are equipped to wage war regardless of the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces set up against us.

Be encouraged. Do not be dismayed. Regardless of how far behind you may be, know that God has not given up, and you shouldn’t either. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

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