James 1:19: “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Cats have excellent hearing. In comparison, human ears are not as well-equipped. While cats hear sounds about as low as humans, they can hear much higher pitches than we can, and their range goes even above that of dogs.

Even if we had catlike ears, the question is, would we take advantage of our enhanced hearing? Here is another question for you: How easy is it to listen? The talkers among us will probably say it’s easier to talk than to listen. But what about people who don’t like to talk? Do introverts have an advantage over extroverts when it comes to listening? Perhaps – but keeping silent doesn’t necessarily mean a person keeps listening.

I googled synonyms for the word “listen”, and here goes:

Give one’s attention to a sound, pay attention to, take heed of, heed, take notice of, take note of, mind, mark, bear in mind, take into consideration, take into account, tune into

God speaks. We know that He speaks when we seek Him out; and when our heart is open, we will receive His input. His Spirit speaks to human beings all around the world. We can drown out the Lord’s voice with our own, but we are losing our soul if we do.

Listeners promote peace. When we learn to listen to God’s voice I believe this also upgrades our listening skills in general; and listening to what others have to say, we grow a better understanding of other people. In a world that’s deeply divided with angry voices competing for our attention, listeners don’t join the angry choir but lend an unbiased ear. As a result, listeners have a far better reception when it is their turn to speak up. Paying attention always pays off.

Romans 12:10: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.”

We have our reservations when it comes to loving everybody. Jesus once had a conversation about this very topic with a teacher of the law. Discussing the specifics of loving God and particularly our neighbors, a teacher of the law spoke up and asked Jesus: “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told a story of an unnamed person who got mugged and left on the road to die. After a Priest and a Levite had passed by and conveniently ignored the victim, a despised Samaritan finally came to his rescue.

At the end of the story Jesus answered the law expert’s question with a question of His own (Luke 10:36-37):

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

According to Jesus’s story, a person who loves saves life. Love is the only answer to every problem on earth.

Love brings life. Families are physical reminders of that. God created us affectionate and capable of love, but He also knew we would make decisions that would hurt us and Him. He created us anyway. Apparently, the joy of our love outweighs the pain. We know from our own experience how love can hurt us – still, it’s all worth it according to our Creator.

So, we continue to love, even though it is difficult sometimes. Looking to Jesus, we learn from the best. His love honors and respects people regardless of status, gender and tribe. Jesus loves humans indiscriminately, always has, and always will; and His followers live by His example.

Romans 15:2: “Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, ‘How can I help?’” *Bible Translation: The Message (MSG)

When it comes to purposeful use of strength, we can learn from the horses.

In 2004, Claudia Feh raised a herd of Przewalski horses in France and reintroduced some of them to their natural habitat, the Mongolian Gobi Desert. Niobe Thompson, a Canadian anthropologist and documentary film maker, interviewed her. The following paragraph is an excerpt of the PBS show “Equus ‘Story of the Horse’-Episode 1: Origins”:

“Horses in the wild are constantly negotiating for a rung in the ladder. Each horse has its place. Hierarchy gives the herds strength and ensures only the fittest stallions get to mate. But surprisingly, it isn’t just the toughest stallions that rise to the top. [Claudia Feh, an expert on social behavior of free-living horses, observed]: ‘the dominance [of a leading horse] is not based on size, it’s not based on physical strength – it’s mental strength; it’s personality. This translates to the horse/human relationship because obviously horses are about 5 to 10 times heavier than its rider. How can we ride a horse? We are so much smaller, and yet we dominate the horse. It’s mental.’”

Interacting with these beautiful and intelligent beasts and experience their funny quirks, the ensuing bond that develops between horse and rider is very special. Horses allow us to use their strength, which is a wonderful example how strength is graciously put to service.

We too are given strengths, talents, and gifts. Our strengths are supposed to serve others, not ourselves. When strength is used to overpower, dominate and hurt, it turns into a curse. Strength-abuse has been a scourge in the world ever since there are people.

In God’s kingdom the strong serve the weak, not the other way around. Our strengths turn into a blessing when we serve a need. Not only do we bless the ones we serve; we will find that the blessing goes both ways. The ones we serve bless us also.

Service reaps multiple benefits – the greatest benefit of all is making new friends. 

Galatians 5:13: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.”

Thanks to God there is freedom. God is a freedom-lover. In His realm every creature is free. We are well-advised to approach Him to explore what freedom is all about. The first thing I noticed, to be free does not necessarily mean we are lawless.

Exploring the laws of nature we quickly become aware that every system is fine-tuned. The universe contains organized structures on different scales, from small systems like the earth and our solar system, to galaxies that contain trillions of stars, and finally extremely large structures that contain billions of galaxies. Planets of any given solar system orbit the Sun.

Thanks to the way our home planet Earth orbits the Sun, our terrestrial days are 24-hour sequences. Plants use the sunlight to synthesize foods from carbon dioxide and water to produce the lush green pigment chlorophyll while generating oxygen as a byproduct. Land mammals breathe in the oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide, which plants in turn use to synthesize foods – a beautiful partnership of vegetation and land mammals.

This is just a little tidbit of information illustrating there is an underlying law in everything we see. Without an underlying law there wouldn’t be a universe to begin with – and there would be no lifeforms to give freedom to.

Just as the laws of nature promote life on Earth, the law of love promotes freedom. Constantly catering to our own needs and urges is like a vortex that sucks us in. Needless to say, we won’t see the end of trying to satisfy ourselves. Our world gets smaller and smaller and we become enslaved to our own ever-growing demands. That’s the opposite of freedom, called “hell”.

God’s command “Love your neighbor as yourself” is our ticket to freedom, and we are encouraged to be super-generous with our love. Contrary to seeing our resources dwindle as we give them away, the more love we give, the more our love increases. Once we realize how invigorating it is to give, we won’t stop sharing. Serving one another is truly freeing – and it is to freedom that we all have been called.

1 Corinthians 1:10: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.”

Unity is precious, but seems elusive on a larger scale. In an attempt to unite people, we have created hierarchies and empires. This is how we rule, and it is very human to imagine that God reigns in the same fashion. However, the Lord does not run creation like an army. A prominent example: His hands-off approach with planet Earth. He gave humans the earth as an assignment and made them chief administrators (Genesis 1:28):

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

If we had fully understood our function as caretakers of this planet, this would have ruled out human greed, the seedbed of many wars and conflicts. As it is, we have taken full ownership of the earth, although the earth belongs to God, not to us.

While an institution can enforce rules of human behavior, it does have its limitations. This is why the criminal justice system is no cure for crime. Disassociated from God, all human attempts to properly rule this planet ultimately fail. Struggling especially in the area of unity, human societies without God have never known peace.

The bottom-line is that we can’t obtain unity without the Lord. God’s concept of peace took on flesh and blood with the arrival of the Prince of Peace, Jesus. He preached in His sermon on the mount (Matthew 5:9):

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Mostly unbeknownst to us, we bring peace everywhere we go when we love the Lord. The peace Jesus creates in our heart has a strong impact. Little by little we change the world – thus ushering in the Kingdom of God.

Romans 15:5-6: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

When I was young I often felt insecure. At the time I graduated from high-school, my art teacher encouraged me to pursue the fine arts professionally; however I did not take his advice to heart. In hindsight, I am not sure why I did not rally around his encouraging words. I would have lived a different life. Professionally, I ended up becoming a Jack of all trades. I did not stay too long in one profession because nothing could capture my interest the way art did. Eventually returning to painting and delving into my first art projects after decades of abstinence, it felt like meeting an old long-lost friend.

God gives us talent, but He also gives us endurance and encouragement. We can have all the talent in the world – without endurance and encouragement all our talent goes to waste. Most importantly, we must believe. One of the reasons why I did not thrive professionally was not giving credit to the input I had received from others regarding my gifts and talents. On a much more serious level, it won’t do us any good to live life without believing what God has to say.

The apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans that we need to encourage one another as Christ did. Christ does not give up on people because He cares. There is much to be said about caring. A garden minus a caring gardener is no garden. It’s a wilderness. And a planet without caring people will soon become inhabitable. To prevent the human race from extinction, we need the same attitude of mind toward other people that Christ had when He lived among us.

Jesus is the bread of life. Just as consuming carbs gives us physical energy, believing in Him is life to our soul. He vitalized this world like no other. As a result, believers around the globe praise Him with one voice and glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

James 3:17-18: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

Wisdom does not grow overnight. We have to obtain it, although there are different sources of wisdom. One type of wisdom is gained through experience; the other type of wisdom comes from heaven. The apostle James describes wisdom from heaven as “pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” – which is the kind of wisdom peacemakers bring to the table.

God understands everybody and He is the only One who can bring us together. We often use the term “one nation under God” – the Lord’s desire goes beyond that. His vision is “all nations under God”. Jesus was born in Israel, but He did not come exclusively for the Jews; He came for all the nations.

God’s peacemaking abilities are astonishing. He is truly impartial, looks at both sides of the coin and has the best interest of all parties at heart. This cannot be said of human wisdom which I would describe as “street-smart.” Based on experience, humans learn to look out for themselves and recognize an opportunity when it presents itself. A street-smart person may get ahead at the cost of his or her integrity.

As opposed to human wisdom focused on personal advantage, God’s wisdom is all-inclusive. That’s the kind of wisdom we cannot produce, regardless how many years of experience we have under our belt.  

Godly wisdom in a human’s heart is always the work of the Holy Spirit. His still small voice leads us often contrary to human wisdom. Acts of faith don’t always resonate well with mainstream thinking.

God’s wisdom comes as a gift, and we receive it through prayer. As a result we begin to see the world with different eyes. God’s wisdom revolutionizes our way of thinking and opens us up to other people – and this is how peacemakers are born.

“Jesus Christ is coming.
All the earth rejoice!
The waves of the sea
Clap their hands in glee.
Hills sing songs of joy
For the Risen Lord.
He came to change the world.
Shout and sing glory to the King!”

Songwriters: Bill and Evelyn Snyder