I remember a Bible class years ago wherein my teacher said something that sticks with me years later. He said, “Jesus never reacted; He always responded.” I’ve studied the life of Christ since that day and that saying is 100% true. Even with the Pharisees He didn’t react: He responded by teaching truth and revealing truth about His accusers. His answers and even His descriptions were meant for teaching not as a means of reaction.
I suggest that reaction leads to more reaction while response many times squelches potentially volatile times (see Proverb 15:1: a soft answer turns away wrath but a harsh answer stirs up wrath). I also suggest that reaction can start a chain of reactions and events that can lead to hard feelings, people taking things personally, people leaving your congregation, one time friends turning their backs on you or things worse.
Here are some ground rules for preventing causing reactions in others:
- Don’t be reactive yourself. No matter what is said or done, don’t react. Don’t stoop to the same unchristian behavior of others.
- Expect others to be reactive. I have found that many Christians to be some of the most reactive folks in the world. Don’t expect the majority of your brothers and sisters to respond; most will react. This is why point #1 is important.
- Before speaking, think and pray things through. I’ve written letters and later tore them up and threw them away because they were written in anger. Give yourself at least 24 hours to think something through before writing about it or talking to others about it. What if you are suddenly attacked? Granted, this is the most difficult time to not react. However, you can pray that you will not be reactionary when sudden attacks happen.
- Get counsel. Sometimes a good friend, spouse or impartial third party can listen to you and be totally objective and give good advice. Be as impartial as you can when sharing with others and do not seek sympathy; seek counsel. An impartial person can tell you if you are over reacting or if you need to forget the whole thing or how you need to respond.
- Some things just aren’t worth the time or trouble. We usually realize this if we think about it for a while. We learn that some issues aren’t worth talking about and we just need to leave them alone or deal with them later when our emotions have calmed down.
- Timing is everything. Others are under great stress and they seem to always be under a time crunch. Also, their lives are very full—in fact, most folks are overcommitted. Their fuses are short and they don’t like foolishness especially if/when they interrupt something you said, wrote or did as ‘foolish .’ When you verbalize or write on an opinion that may stir the emotions of others, take timing into consideration. I remember one older preacher suggesting that preachers preach on immodesty during the winter when people are not being immodest. Proper timing is not compromise, it is wise.
- Learn to listen. A lot of disagreements are because people don’t listen well and misunderstand others. Find out (listen and don’t interrupt until he/she is completely finished) exactly what a person’s complaint is and why and then answer that. Ask questions for clarification. Another person may not understand you, but this is no reason for you to misunderstand him/her.