Life is full of tests. Have you noticed that? Whether believer or not, we all encounter tests of integrity, strength, endurance, knowledge, patience. It’s the way things are under the sun.
I am a writer, a teacher, a counselor—in short, a communicator. I’ve often observed that my life is an endless chain of conversations, interspersed with brief periods of dog-walking. Therefore, one of the ways I am tested is in how, when, and why I use words. What is the right timing to speak or otherwise communicate in words, and how do I discern this? A daily prayer is, “Lord, lead me today to speak only when you want me to speak, and otherwise, to keep my mouth shut.” This is my daily challenge. You see, I sincerely do not want to displease the Lord. He’s been so incredibly kind to me. The last thing I want is to grieve him in any way.
I see in Scripture and in my own life that it is how I use words that makes me capable of positive impact, and it is also in words that I am most prone to damage others and displease God. Wise people across the ages have known this. I’ve come across several Scriptural illustrations of how the Lord hears and judges our words.
Did you know that we can wear the Lord out through our words? The prophet Malachi declares,
“You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?” (Mal 2:17, NIV).
Our Lord becomes weary when we attribute to him ignorance, injustice, or cruelty. If you have raised children, you probably have heard them say at some point, “It’s not fair!” Isn’t it wearying to hear that, when we know we are disciplining them for their own good? Sometimes we’ve withheld something that might cause harm to them, because we know more than they do and love them enough to protect them. And we get no credit for it! It is wearying to have our motives questioned. Think about how our endlessly merciful God feels when we project this very limited earthly attribution onto him.
Jesus warns us also not to go on endlessly with formulaic prayers as if the Lord needs to hear us spell out our needs and submit them in triplicate. He says this is what idol- worshipers do, not Christ-followers. Instead, he implies that we are to keep our prayers simple and faith-filled, because we are assured that he already knows what we need before we ask. Imagine if your children were to keep begging you to meet their needs. Worse, imagine that they did this with lengthy, elaborate speeches designed to impress us into taking care of them. Absurd and insulting.
The Wisdom literature of the Bible is full of admonitions about the words of the wicked, and how they are used to entice, flatter, deceive, trap, and to destroy. The root of this is pride (see Ps. 55:21,59:7). The thief comes to steal, kill and destroy (Jn. 10:10), and as in the garden with Eve, he often does this with cunning words. May we never be among those who intentionally use our words to injure anyone, even our enemies. Especially our enemies. Ouch….
Subtler than this is the danger of uttering empty, idle words (Matt. 12:36; Eph. 5:6). Because words are so powerful, we mustn’t dispense them indiscriminately. We must use them wisely and sparingly. We are commanded to be good stewards of our speech. (I guess it’s a benefit that I’ve never been very good at the small talk anyway.)
Here is a favorite: “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Eccl. 5:2). This one always reminds me of the Woody Allen quip, “God is silent. Now if we could just get man to shut up!”
But Woody is a bit off. God is sometimes silent, but not always. God says to let my words be few, because he’s God, and I’m not. Maybe I need to spend more time listening to him than talking at him. Even when he is silent. If I quiet myself, perhaps he will speak in ways I have not expected.
Speak to me through the trees
Through the leaves already fallen
And those yet to fall
Speak to my reflection in the puddles
And by the muck that sticks to my shoes
Speak to me
In the sound of the small creatures
Scurrying away unseen
Speak from the heavens
White blue and gray
In the birdsong
Speak through the solitude
Though I’m not alone
I am ready to listen.
I bless your words, my friends, and I bless your silences. Thank you Jesus, we call you Lord over our words.