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Help for Communicating: Green Light, Yellow Light, Red Light

It's a familiar verse to most Christ-followers: For the Word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and Spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Hebrews 4:12

What I find amazing about the truth of that verse is that the Holy Spirit gives us insight into His Word that we may not have understood the last time we read that verse. Or the Spirit gives another Christ-follower insight from a verse that I did not see or understand. Let me share an example of how that happened recently for me.

I was listening to a Through the Word teaching on James chapter 1, and the Lord allowed me to understand James 1:19 in a new and very practical way. Here is what James shares with us in that verse: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. James 1:19

Kris Langham, one of the teachers on Through the Word, shared that this verse can help you and your spouse’s communication – especially in trials and difficulties. Kris refers to James 1:19 as “your traffic light”. Here is what he shares:

Someone is speaking. Green Light: Quick to listen. Quick means attentive. Trials are complicated. You ask God for wisdom. Now listen when others speak, especially those who think differently. Get some perspective. Don’t accept or agree blindly, but listen.

You have something to say. Yellow Light: Slow to speak. Think first. Measure the cost of your words - you won't get them back. In the heat of trials, words can be weapons. Check your words: Are they graceful? Are they humble? Will they build up or tear down? Don't just say it because you feel it. Slow down. If you're not sure about saying it. sleep on it. You'll save a ton of heartache.

But what if they say something and it hurts? Red Light: Slow to Anger. Stop the car and look at the road ahead. What is it about anger that makes you want to hit the gas pedal? But this is an intersection. Your anger can send you into oncoming traffic. (1)

This traffic light analogy really hit home with me. When my spouse is speaking, and we are working through a trial or difficulty, I have a green light to be attentive and focus on listening.

And humbly listening with the goal of gaining understanding. Proverbs 18:2 reminds us that “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion”. We would do better in trials to keep our focus on seeking understanding rather than just trying to express our opinion or get our point across. Humbly listening also puts my spouse's needs and desires before my own.

Next, Kris reminds us that when I have something to say, I have a yellow light, which means I need to think through my words carefully before saying them. As Kris reminds us with the three questions he shares, that our words can be build up or tear down. James tells us this later in Chapter 3: “Sometimes it (our tongue) praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!” James 3:9-10 The words that come out of our mouths are our responsibility. Let’s speak our words slowly and thoughtfully.

And finally, we get to the red light. Here’s where I really need help! Something has been said by my spouse that really hurts. We feel the sting. How do we respond? I must take Kris’ warning seriously: “Your anger can send you into oncoming traffic”. Let your hurt be God’s message to stop you from pressing the gas pedal and heading into oncoming traffic! James 1:20 warns us of this: “Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires.” My natural response to the hurt - hurting back, withdrawing, criticizing - will only cause more relational damage.

So as a Christ-follower, when I find myself in these green light, yellow light, red light situations, I must constantly ask the Holy Spirit alone to lead and empower me. There is a battle going on in my heart about who will rule – my selfish flesh and its desires, or the Holy Spirit and the fruit that is produced when He fills and controls me. This is not just about “trying harder”. This is about taking steps of faith and obedience to follow what the Bible tells us and what the Spirit of God directs me to do.

Practically, in the green and yellow light situations, I really just need to focus on listening well, seeking understanding, and speaking words that build up. This is something all of us can grow in, but we must be intentional in consistently keeping our focus right in those situations.

And in red light situations, two practical things to consider, especially given that those situations will also be accompanied by raised emotions. First suggestion: tell your spouse you need a few minutes by yourself to process what has been shared. This is not avoiding the subject or conversation. This time apart can allow your emotions to calm down, as well as providing time for you to talk to God about the situation. Second suggestion: When you come back together, take time as a couple to pray for God’s help and His patience. Doing these two things can help both of you work through a red light situation in a way that actually can help you grow as a couple and connect on a deeper level.

So I encourage you and your spouse to take this simple stoplight analogy and begin to put it into practice in your marriage relationship. It is a simple but powerful way to grow your connection as a couple and give you a growing confidence in working through hard issues in the future!

Questions to Ponder:

1) How do you think the green light, yellow light, red light insight from Kris Langham can help change the way you and your spouse work through a trial or difficulty?

2) Out of the three different “lights”, which one do you think will be the most challenging for you to live out? Why? What is one step you can take today to grow in that?

Written by Glen Solberg, Abiding Marriage, 2023. Send comments or questions to

SOURCE: (1) Kris Langham – Bible Teacher and Founder of Through the Word Ministry. Excerpt from the “Through the Word” teaching on James, Chapter 1.

Photo by Davis Sánchez on Pexels


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