You may have noticed some laminated cards on the table in the back of our church. You might have also noticed that Pastor John encourages us to read what's on them out loud when we have church meetings or discussions. These are "rules for Holy Conversations" - eight simple guidelines that we can all use in our lives to love God with all of our heart and mind and strength, and to love everyone as ourselves (Mark 12:30-31).
"Holy Conferencing" has been a tradition in the Methodist movement since the days of its founder John Wesley, and it is an important tool today for our Annual Conference and General Conference session meetings. Wesley's approach was to treat every conversation between Christians as a means of receiving and offering God's grace to one another - and to anyone who needs to be touched by Christ, whether believers or not.
While using these ground rules for conversations is an important way to treat one another in a Christ-like manner in our church, the "rules for Holy Conversations" can help you in ANY conversation that you have: at home, at work, while shopping, on the street - wherever you encounter someone, there's an opportunity to treat someone as we would want Christ to treat us.
Tips for using Holy Conversation rules
1. Every person is a child of God. God doesn't make junk! When you speak to someone, remember that they are a creation of God, and much loved by God, no matter how much they may struggle to be lovable at times - just as God tries to do for you!
2. Listen before speaking.. You probably heard this when you were growing up: "God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason." Well, it's true! If we're too busy thinking about what we want to say to others, then we may not be hearing what God is saying to us through others - especially when we need to hear how someone is in pain, or has real needs that we may overlook in our eagerness to get our needs met.
3. Strive to understand from another’s point of view. We have only two eyes that see things from one point of view. How can we respond to another's point of view until we appreciate that a child of God sees things from a different perspective, whether we agree with it or not? If we struggle to appreciate another's point of view, it could be a sign that there's something inside of us that we need to accept more deeply from God's perspective.
4. Strive to reflect accurately the views of others. When we disagree with another person's point of view, or we're upset by it, it's sometimes tempting to distort or exaggerate their point of view. If we are to love our enemies, and pray for our persecutors (Matthew 5:44), then we must accept that fear of our enemies is our greatest enemy. If we are speaking the truth with love about what they say (Ephesians 4:15), then we can help to drive out the same fear from their hearts, through God's grace working in us.
5. Disagree without being disagreeable..There is nothing wrong about not agreeing with others - in fact, sometimes it's the only way that we learn things about another point of view. We can say something about an opposing viewpoint, perhaps even clarify it once, and then know that we've had out point of view expressed, and not have to hurt others - our ourselves - with hurtful and drawn-out arguments or exchanges. Remember the old saying: "Let go, and Let God!"
6. Speak about issues; do not defame people. Someone may be right or wrong about a particular issue from your perspective, but that doesn't mean that we should make them wrong as human beings based on their viewpoint on an issue. We are all sinners in need of God's grace, and the person who we are tempted to defame might just be the one whose help we need very much to save us from falling from grace at another time. Remember Jesus' command to the adulterer who he saved from being stoned: "Go, and sin no more." (John 8:10-11). Drop you own stones, and remember God's mercy for you in Christ, first and foremost!
7. Pray, in silence or aloud, before decisions. Our thoughts AND our emotions can drive us towards a course of action based on our will, and not God's will - more often than we may think! You'll notice in the Bible that Jesus, his disciples, and may other people prayed often, and together where possible, before making important decisions (see Acts 1:21-26). I have seen many, many meetings where a moment of prayer before a final decision or a vote brought God's grace into the room, and peace to the decision makers.
8. Let prayer interrupt your busy-ness. In spite of our best efforts, we can get tired, frustrated, or pre-occupied with what we're trying to accomplish. The clock ticks - but God's time is not our time! Even in the middle of his most busy times - and, often, especially, then - Jesus made it a point to use prayer to interrupt his busy activities, so that the power of God's grace could be seen at work in him most powerfully (see Matthew 14:22-23). There are very few moments in life that cannot benefit from a moment of prayer - especially those when we think that we cannot wait for our own will to be done! A moment of prayer can allow people to heal in God's loving presence, and offer people God's grace to move forward in more peace.
Will any of us use these rules perfectly? Of course not! That's why we are God's church - we are here to grow in God's grace, a day at a time, a person at a time, as God transforms us into people who become more perfect by God's standards, not our standards. Grace is a journey, not a destination, and hopefully these simple rules can help us to grow in that journey of grace, together, in the image of God's perfect love for creation in Christ.
Pick up a card any time you visit the church - try them out, and share them with friends and family! Ask Pastor John for guidance if you need it. May they bless your conversations with everyone!
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