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Communicating to Win

Read this message transcript from the "Proven Playbook: God's Plan for Family" message series

Matt Sturdevant: Well, I, too, got to be a hero last night with our Daddy Daughter Dance. I took my four year old daughter, Kensi, but I want to share a dad-fail moment with you that’s related to communication. I did the very thing that Josh said he doesn’t want to do. My daughter was probably somewhere between two and three, and it was in the evening. I had come home from work, and we were playing in her room with something. She looks at me and says, “Daddy, roar like a lion.” I roared like a daddy lion, and the next thing I know, she’s looking at me and tears starting to come out of her eyes. She said, “No, Daddy, too loud!” So, that was a dad-fail with communication. We both had a different idea of what the right roar was supposed to be. 

Have you ever thought about communication? I mean really thought about what all is involved in communicating. It’s more than just words; there’s actually a lot going on. In fact if you study communication theory, the experts say that there are at least six different messages involved any time communication happens. I want to show you these six messages. First, there’s what you mean to say, then there’s what you actually say. Then, there’s what the other person hears. Then, there’s what the person thinks he hears and then what the other person thinks about what you said. Then you get all the way down to number six...what you think the other person said about what you said. I mean, talk about a lot of stuff going on in communication and a lot of opportunity for miscommunication and for things to get messed up.

I love this quote by George Bernard Shaw that says, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it’s actually taken place.” Anybody here who’s married ever had that illusion in your mind that you actually had communication take place? Communication is incredibly important. It’s really a skill that we need to learn and develop over time. We need to learn it just as individuals just to be productive in society, but especially in the context of family as we relate to our spouse and our children. So that if they ask you to roar, you can understand what they’re talking about. 

Communication has sort of a dark side to it, as well, and that dark side is the conflict side. Conflict can involve more than just words, but it often involves words. I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but have you ever been having what you think is a very productive conversation with your spouse? You feel like you’re really connecting, and you’re talking. Then all of a sudden, you notice an expression change on their face. That expression change is not necessarily in the positive, pleasant angle of things. Then, you start to use more words, and you realize that the more words are not helping. In fact, the more words that come out are sort of digging the hole deeper. Then you find yourself in full-blown conflict. Anybody here relate to that at all? This morning, we’re going to continue our series, The Proven Playbook: God’s Plan for Family, where we’re taking a look at what the Playbook has to say about family. Specifically we’re going to look at conflict and communication. What does communication to win look like according to the Playbook?

Really for any team to win, they have to know how to effectively communicate. You can be a football team; you can be a work team. You can be a family team, but in football, the coach has something in his mind. He has some plays that he would like the team to run so that they can put more points on the board than the other team. Somehow we’ve got to have a mechanism for what’s in the mind of the coach to get to the mind of the players, so that it actually turns into reality. We’ve got to communicate if we’re going to win. What I want to look at today is… I want to start at sort of the 35,000 foot level and take a look at what does the Bible have to say about communication. What does the Bible have to say about conflict? We see that the two are intertwined, and they help or they hurt one another depending on what the situation is. Then I want to come down from that 35,000 foot level and come in for a landing and look at some really practical tools we can use when we communicate, and perhaps the next time we find ourselves drifting towards the dark side of conflict. 

What we’re going to do today is we’re going to look at this through the lens of marriage, but every single one of us has to communicate to every other human being that we come in contact with. So we’re going to be talking specifically about marriage, but I think you’ll find universal application in what we’re going to look at. So, let’s get in the plane and get up to our cruising altitude of 35,000 feet and take a look at communication and conflict. Conflict and communication are deeply connected to a few different things. First, they’re deeply connected to our brokenness, the fact that we are sinners. King David, after he had messed up royally and had sinned with Bathsheba, in Psalm 51 is his prayer of repentance. He makes this comment in Psalm 51:5.  He says, “I have been evil from the day I was born; from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.”  Why does he say this?

He says this because after God created the first two humans and they chose to rebel against Him and do what He said not to do, that’s the moment that sin entered into this world. Every single person born after that was born into this world a sinner. Because they are sinners, they sin. Guess what? We do a really good job at sinning. If you’re sitting here this morning and thinking, “I’m pretty good,” well, the Playbook has a specific word for you. It says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Now you don’t have to be a Greek scholar to understand that that word, “all,” means all, means everyone. In fact, 1 John 1:8 tells us, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” 

Family life is sort of this wonderful, messy mix of broken people living together in community 24/7 who get to experience the broken messiness of each other. Now we can put on nice clothes, and we can go to a fancy restaurant. And we can use our “please” and “thank you’s” and smile, and we can kind of fool the waiter and the people in the restaurant near our table for a couple of hours. We can also go to work and play nice and be on our best behavior. And we can even, regardless of what happened in the car on the way here this morning... we can put on our smile and walk in and say, “Good morning,” and shake a hand. But, your family knows the real score. They know what’s really going on with you because we experience this as we live together. What family and marriage does is that it puts this gigantic mirror in front of us. We can actually see our sin and our brokenness for what it really is, not for what we hope it’s not. We can see the mess.

Because of that mess, there’s conflict. Here’s the really good thing. What I’ve discovered in the last 18 years of looking in that gigantic mirror as I’ve related first to my wife, Jessica, and now as I’m relating to my children, is this. Once I’m aware of it, however ugly it is, then God actually has given me something I can work on. Over time, I can experience change and growth. Conflict and communication are deeply connected to our brokenness, and they’re also deeply connected to our identity as men and women. It’s part of our core essence of who we are.

Society right now is in this weird place where we think that we’re just generic humans who just wake up in the morning and decide to put on a male coat or a female coat or some other type of coat. But our identity and our sexuality are tied together at the core, and that’s the way God made us. That’s the way He designed us. If we look in the Playbook, the 27th verse in the Playbook in Genesis chapter one, it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” According to the Playbook, there’s only two genders; there’s male, and there’s female. Both men and women are equal in reflecting the image of God, and we both have equal value before God. But at the very core of who we are, we’re different. That’s a really good thing, the fact that we are different. But the fact that we’re is also the source of a lot of the conflict that we experience and a lot of the communication challenges that we experience. 

I was trying to think about how we can best sum up what this difference looks like, and I was reminded of this video clip that I’m going to show you now. Take a look at this… What God intended to complement, we often turn into conflict. That’s where our challenges and our problems begin. Once we understand these differences and understand that once we’re in the midst of a conflict or feel ourselves drifting towards it, then we can actually do something about it if we realize what’s going on. Conflict and communication are deeply tied to our brokenness and our identity, but what’s the root of conflict? Where does it come from?

As we check the Playbook, go to the book of James. James is going to actually tell us what the root of conflict is. He says, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this…” Get ready; he’s going to tell us. “...that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.” What James is telling us is that the root of the conflict that we experience with one another is two things. It’s unmet expectations and/or blocked goals. Think about the last conflict that you had...yesterday, last week, in the car on the way here as you were pulling in. Whenever that conflict was, it had its root in unmet expectations or blocked goals. In fact experts will tell you there is sort of a “Big 5” when it comes to conflict and fighting…five big categories of things that couples have the most conflict over. Those are money, sex, work, parenting, and housework. So statistically, one of your last disagreements or conflicts was related to one of those five things, but what was behind that was your unmet expectations or blocked goals. You expected your spouse to do something that they didn’t do, or you wanted to do something that you didn’t get to do. Unmet expectations or blocked goals…

Your specific conflict may have a whole lot more goals, but this is the root of it...unmet expectations or blocked goals. If that’s the root, what’s the root of that? What’s the root of the root? Where does it really come from? If we understand the root of the root, then we can do something about it. Rather than just treating the symptoms, we can go after the cause if we know what the root of the root is. If we know what that is, we can find an incredible amount of hope, hope that the future can look different from the present or what the past looked like. So, let’s find the root of the root. 

Actually, the root of the root lies in our hearts. When we look at what the Playbook says about our hearts and when the Playbook talks about our hearts, it’s talking about the real us, the core of where we make our decisions and who we are. It’s not just the thing in our chest that delivers blood throughout our body. Our hearts are this. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) “...the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts…” (Ecclesiastes 9:3) Then listen to what Jesus says about our hearts. He says in Mark chapter seven, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.”

According to our Playbook, according to the Bible, because of our rebellion and our sin against God, our hearts are not what they are supposed to be. We have these things in our heart that cause us all kinds of problems. This is what causes the conflict. This is the root behind the root. In our heart we find this; one is that we’re selfish. There are things that we want, and we just want them when we want them. We’re also arrogant. We feel that we deserve more and better than other people around us. We also have the ability to be damaging to others to get the thing that we want that we feel we deserve. Here’s where the real problem comes in. You have a selfish, arrogant and damaging husband and a selfish, arrogant and damaging wife. That’s like ready to light the dynamite, right? You have two selfish, arrogant and damaging people, and that’s where we get into conflict with one another. 

Here’s the thing. Trouble starts within us. When we let the selfishness and the arrogance and the damaging rule us, we start to set wrong goals. Pressure starts to build within because we’re going after the wrong goal. Then we choose the wrong path to get after the wrong goals. Then maybe once we realize we’re on the wrong path, we start to cop some attitude, and we’re not teachable to other people. Then we start to put up these walls in our relationships because people see that we’re not teachable and that we’re not doing good in our relationships. Because we have no one to turn to, we start to make bad decisions. Then we’re just in a world and a mess of trouble. It comes from deep within our heart. 

Last week we looked at parenting and family, and we talked about the fact that we have to discipline our children. As parents we have to decide on the form of discipline, but the Playbook is really clear that we have to use discipline with our children because they’re born with these SAD hearts. We have to train and develop that out of them, so that they don’t cause major problems for themselves and others as they grow into adulthood. Here’s the thing though. If you find yourself in the middle of conflict, conflict is normal because we all have these SAD hearts. God has called us to deal with conflict in a different way. For those of us who are Christ followers, He calls us to a different way. He actually provides an antidote for us. Here’s the antidote; the antidote is love and forgiveness. Love and forgiveness...and it’s love and forgiveness from two different angles. 

First, it’s from the angle of receiving it from God. Our Playbook tells us that, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Because of this rebellion that we have inside of us, the fact that we are sinners and that we sin, we are separated from God for eternity. There’s nothing we can do on our own to be reconnected to God, so God had to step in. God had to provide a way for us to be reconnected with Him. That way is through Jesus Christ. If we receive Jesus Christ, if we put our hope and our trust in Him, then we can have a new kind of life. We can have a different life. 

Each one of us are faced with the choice of what to do with Jesus. We can realize the need that we have because of our rebellion, the need that we have for forgiveness. Then, we can repent of our sin. Repentance is simply that we’ve been going along in one direction, and we realize it. We stop; we turn from our direction to God’s direction, and we begin walking in God’s direction. That’s repentance, the change that we need. Then we need to verbalize our desire for Jesus to be our Boss, for Him to be the One to lead our lives into the future. 

I’m so excited to be your lead pastor elect and to get to have the awesome and humbling privilege of being the next pastor of Hope Church, of being your next pastor. Someone recently asked me, “Matt, what is it that you want?” I thought about it for a little while, and here’s my answer to that. Here’s what I want as your next pastor of Hope Church. I want for every single person who walks through those doors, I want for all of you to realize the fact that God loves so much more than you will ever really comprehend on this side of eternity. Because He loves you that much, He sent His Son to this planet to die for you, to die the horrible death that you should have died and that I should have died. Because of Christ’s death and what He did on the cross, we can be reconnected to God. We can have a new life through Jesus Christ. Because Jesus paid the price, we get to have a new life if we choose to. 

As we reconnect with God, life changes. We can actually experience love, forgiveness, hope; we have a purpose in life. For those of us who have already made that choice, who have already made that decision, we know that the life of the Christ follower is not a perfect life. Sometimes it’s not an easy life, but I can tell you that it’s a better life. What you find in Jesus is that life is going to be so much better than what you experienced without Him. I want everyone who walks through those doors and I want all of you to understand and to experience the transformation that I myself have experienced and that I’m continuing to experience as I walk with Jesus each and every day. 

Actually, that’s not enough. I don’t just want everyone who walks through these doors and every one of you to know about God’s love for us. I actually want all of our friends and our family and our neighbors and our co-workers, people in our community, people in our city, people in our county… I want each and every one of them to have the same opportunity to hear about the love of God, to discover and experience God’s ways, and then have the opportunity to say “yes” to Jesus. That’s what I want. That’s what I want for you; that’s what I want for everyone who comes through these doors. I want you to be able to experience the antidote.

Part of the antidote is experiencing the love and forgiveness that we can find from God receiving that, but the other part of the antidote is giving it to others. This is not just something that we’re supposed to keep and hold to ourselves, but we actually are to give it to others in our lives. In fact, love is sort of a meaningless word today. I love my spouse. I love my dog. I love pizza. I feel love. It’s just a feeling that comes and goes, but in the Playbook, it’s so much more than that. Love has action behind it, and we treat people we love differently. I think the best place to find this definition of love, a great start, is 1 Corinthians 13...the love chapter. We’re going to look at specifically verses 16 & 17. Listen to this, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

For me personally in my own time that I spend with God, last month He directed me to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, and He said, “Matt, here’s something I think you need to work on.” If God says that to you, then you want to listen. He challenged me in the fact that I need to work on love. What does it really mean to love? I made a choice. I started last month, and I’m going to do it as long as I need to. That is to read 1 Corinthians 13 everyday. Now, I read it in many different forms, in many different translations. The ESV is my standard bible, but I’ve read it in the Message. I’ve read it in the Easy-to-Read version. I’ve listened to it in varied, different forms, because this is something that I feel God is challenging me on personally. That is to better, love more like Christ loved, love like the Playbook says to love. That’s one of the reasons why I listed that as a next step because I’ve personally found benefit in every morning reminding myself of what love is. There’s some things that I’m working on there. 

Also, we don’t just give love. We also give forgiveness. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Comparatively speaking, God has forgiven us so much more than any one of us can do to one another. He tells us to forgive one another as God in Christ forgave you. Not only do we need to receive love and forgiveness from God, but we also need to give it to others in our lives, especially our spouse, especially our children. We’ve looked at the root and the root of the root. We’ve looked at the antidote. Now what I’m going to do is I’m going to bring our plane down in for a landing here, and I want to look at just some practical ways we can deal with conflict and we can deal with communication.

In fact as you read Proverbs, it says so much about our words. I don’t know about you, but my words are sometimes the things that get me into trouble. There’s things that I’ve said, that I’ve let come past my lips, that I shouldn’t have. Then, that can sometimes lead to conflict. Anybody ever experienced that? Let’s take a look at a couple of Proverbs really quick, then we’re going to look at our list of tools. Proverbs 10:19 says, “You will say the wrong thing if you talk too much--so be sensible and watch what you say.” I love this one; “It’s stupid and embarrassing to give an answer before you listen.” How often do we know the answer before we’ve actually listened to what is being said. The, “Watching what you say can save you a lot of trouble.” These are some good reminders from Proverbs. 

Here are some tools for you. Think the best of each other. When you’re in the middle of conflict and you feel it starting to come on, choose to think the best of your spouse. Remember that this is the person that you love, the person that you married, the person that you’ve gone on vacation with, the person you’ve made all these wonderful memories with, the person that is the mother or the father of your children. Then, in that moment when you feel it welling up inside of you and you’re ready to just let them have it, just think the best of them. This is why we need to spend time with one another and continue to build those good memories. Because if the last memory that you have is from years and years ago, then it’s a little harder to remember that one. If I remember last week or two weeks ago we were out together and enjoying one another’s company, then it’s easier for me to settle down. “Alright, I’m going to think the best of her right now.

Another thing is seek to understand rather than be understood. So often we just want to be understood; we don’t want to understand the other people, especially our spouse. Remember, men and women are different. Right? They’re different. Ladies, if you haven’t figured this out, your husband thinks a lot differently than you do. He just wanted to fix the nail. Guys, your wife thinks differently. She doesn’t care about the nail; she wants you to listen. She wants you to understand where she’s coming from. Everyone does what makes sense to them, so try to understand the other person. When we do this, I love this anonymous quote that I found. It says, “There are three words that can save your marriage, and they’re not ‘I love you.’ They’re ‘Maybe you’re right.’” Maybe you’re right. If you actually seek to understand your spouse, understand where they’re coming from, understand what’s going on, then they just might be right. Guys, I’m going to lay my pride aside for a moment and tell you there’s been times where my wife has been right, and I need to listen. I need to seek to understand rather than be understood.

Commit to clean up when you mess up. Don’t attempt to read each other’s minds. We’re not very successful mind readers. Often that just increases the conflict and causes more problems when you try to read the mind. Stop it; don’t do that. Ask questions. Here’s a big one that I think if we were to be talking about this years ago it probably wouldn’t even be on the list, but put the devices down. We live in such a distracted world, and distractions keep us from communicating and connecting. We’ve got to eliminate the distractions so that we can actually communicate with our spouse. Sometimes...and I’m guilty of this, too...sometimes we spend more time with the people not in the room via social media or email or texting or whatever it is than we do with the people right in front of us. We’ve got to put the devices down. 

In fact, I found some interesting statistics. Americans check their phones on average every 12 minutes, 80 or more times a day, and if you’re younger, that number goes up. Many struggle to go more than 10 minutes without checking their phone. There’s this urge. I’ve got to check my phone! A couple, several, months ago I came across an artist who had some really interesting images. He took images of people doing all kinds of different things, and then he removed the phone from them. Then, you get pictures like this. Isn’t that strange looking? This couple is together; they’re on the couch. They look like they’re snuggled up, but they’re just looking at their hands. They’re there in the room with each other, but they’re not there with each other. 

I’m not saying that our phones or our devices are the devil. I’m not saying that technology is bad. All I’m saying is that if we want to have more effective communication and we want to work at eliminating the conflict, there’s a time when we need to put the device down and actually interact with each other. Part of that is making eye contact. Isn’t it kind of weird if somebody makes eye contact with you? I mean, it can be uncomfortable, right, when someone’s making eye contact. Here’s a homework assignment that I want everybody to do. Go home; if you’re married, grab your spouse by the hands, and just look them in the eyes for 60 whole seconds. 60 seconds! For some of you, it’s going to go by like that (snap of the fingers), and 10 or 20 minutes later you’ll still be gazing in each other’s eyes. For others of you, it’s going to feel like an eternity! You’re going to have to check your phone to see how much time has gone by. If you really want to connect and communicate with people, you’ve got to look them in the eye. 

Here’s another one, too, for guys. We’ve got to be vulnerable; share your thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. Our wives just do this more naturally, but guys, we’ve got to work on this. Guys, if you’ve ever complained that she just doesn’t understand the pressure that I’m under. She just doesn’t understand how hard it is for me right now. Dude, she’s never going to know unless you tell her. She’s not a mind reader either. Sometimes she thinks she is, but she’s not, just like you’re not. We actually have to communicate, share what’s going on, and here’s the wonderful thing about it. Vulnerability begets vulnerability. I’m not talking about being this vulnerable with just anybody that you meet. I’m not asking you to find someone in the room that you don’t know and be that vulnerable with them. I’m talking about your spouse. I’m talking about the person that you’re married to, the person that you’re doing life with, the person that you’re teaming together with in marriage and raising children. You’ve got to be vulnerable with them. You’ve got to talk about and share your thoughts and feelings, your hopes and dreams. 

Don’t wait; make the first move. So often we’re just waiting for the other person to take the initiative. Be that one who takes the initiative. Get help when you need it. We think it’s anti-American, anti-individual to admit when you don’t know something, to admit when you need help. But there are people drowning in life, drowning in their marriages, when there’s someone they could ask to get some help from. Humble yourself; ask for help. If there’s someone that you know and you think, “Hey, they’ve got a pretty good marriage; they must be doing something right,” ask them. “What’s the secret of your marriage? How is it that you communicate so well, and you have such a perfect marriage?” If they’re honest, they’ll tell you that they don’t have a perfect marriage. Then, they might be able to share some tips with you. Also, this is why we’re bringing Dr. Nathan Lewis back next month to lead us in a marriage seminar, Teaming in Marriage. I want to invite you; make this a priority to be there for this time. 

The last one I mentioned last week in the context of family, and that is Heart Attitudes one through four. I can tell you that these have made the single biggest difference in my marriage and in my family because 18 years ago when we got married, we committed that these were going to be the relational values of our family. I highly recommend it; I highly encourage you to do the same. They give us boundaries on how to relate to one another, but they also give us a framework to deal with conflict when it comes up. Each week we’ve been taking a look at a game changer. A game changer is when you get towards the end of the game and you need to get some points on the board. You need to run some plays that are going to give you maximum impact. 

Here’s your game changers for this week when it comes to communication and conflict. What do you think number one is? Pray! I told you it’s going to be the same one every week. Pray, pray, pray. If you don’t know what to do, pray. Even if you think you know what to do, pray. Ask God for help, for wisdom, for insight. Ask Him to shut your mouth right now, so you don’t say the wrong thing. Ask Him to help you with number two, which is actively listen. This is not what we normally do throughout our days when someone is talking to us. We’re.. “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. Oh, yeah. Wow. Great.” (All while looking at our phones) That’s not active listening. Active listening is listening with all of your senses, with your whole being. It’s leaning in, giving the person the nonverbal cues...smiling. If your spouse is sitting across from you trying to be vulnerable and you’re sitting there like this (arms crossed, scowling), I don’t think that’s going to open them up to share. You want to lean in and smile and give some verbal cues. Don’t overdo it, but some “Uh-huh, yeah, wow. Really?” Let them know you’re actually listening to what they’re saying. 

Then, you ask questions. That’s number three. Because we come from different perspectives, we see things differently. If they say that thing that you think, “What in the world are you talking about?,” you can come back with, “That’s interesting. Tell me more.” Don’t tell them how crazy they are. Just say, “That’s interesting. Tell me more,” so you can understand where they’re coming from. Then, guess what? She might be right. We want to pray, actively listen, ask questions, and then the last one is repeat what steps one through three as often as needed. Rather than this sort of downward spiral that we can get into with communication and conflict, this actually gives us a productive loop of pray, listen, ask. Pray, listen, ask. These are some game changers that I’ve used in my life and my marriage, and I want to give them to you. 

Here’s the thing; conflict, again, is totally normally because we all have SAD hearts. That’s part of life, but conflict doesn’t have to be as hard as it often is if we will read the Playbook, if we will listen to the plays of our Head Coach, and then actually run His plays when we find ourselves in conflict or drifting towards conflict. God is for your marriage, and He’s for your family. He’s given us what we need, so that we can communicate to win.

Let’s pray. Father, thank You that You are for our families and that You’re for our marriages. Thank You for Your love and for Your forgiveness that we can find in and through Jesus. Please help us to love and forgive each other, especially our spouses and our children. I pray, Father, that You would bring peace and unity in our marriages, that You would give us healthy, constructive ways to deal with disagreements and conflicts when they occur. Thank You for giving us Your Word, our Playbook, as a means of knowing what You think, what You want us to do, and how we are to relate. We pray for Your help and Your blessing in our family. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.