FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Know When to Stop Talking

There is an old saying, “Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut.”

It’s good advice.

As an educator, I talk.  As a good friend, I talk.  As a professional learning consultant, I talk.  I was even paid – quite well – for this last one!  As a matter of fact, I remember taking my mother with me when I had to facilitate a two-hour session with teachers, principals and district administrators.  Mom had never seen me at work.  While eating dinner after the session mom asked, “Is this what you do for a living – talk?”  Laughing (and knowing it would be a challenge to really explain my job to her), I simply said, “Yes, and Mom, they pay me well to do it!”  She and I both laughed.

I know that I am not alone in liking to talk.  My postmaster often asks me how to help her get her second grader to stop talking.  Seems that almost every day the teacher sends a note home about Amber’s talking.  I know a lot of teachers who send notes about students they have labeled over talkative.  And while I have mixed feelings about talkative students (for the most part I say, let ’em talk!!!), we do need to know when to stop talking!

James wrote, “You must understand this, my dear brothers.  Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak…”  (James 1:19 ISV)

Many consider the book of James to be a New Testament version of the Old Testament Proverbs – practical wisdom for a life of faith as a child of God.  And like Proverbs, James does not offer suggestions but, rather, commands.  Directives.  Imperatives.  “You must understand!”  There are no options.  “Everyone!”

Probably more than any other New Testament book, James provides the clarity that we need to live our faith.  In the every day.  In all our actions and interactions – including our speech and including knowing when to stop talking.

Look at teaching from two other books of wisdom – Proverbs and Ecclesiastes:

“When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”  ~Proverbs 10:19

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise…”  ~Proverbs 17:28

“Be not rash with your mouth…Therefore let your words be few.”  ~Ecclesiastes 5:2

“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.”  ~Proverbs 18:2

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.”  ~Proverbs 13:3

What’s the big deal about talking?  James sums it up best:

“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.

How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.   For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?” (James 3:2-11 ESV)

The Message translation of these same Scriptures makes it even clearer – “We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths.  By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it.  This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer.  This can’t go on!”

Indeed, it can’t go on.  Rather, we should aspire to live quietly (1 Thessalonians 4:11 ESV) perhaps taking Job as an example.  He begged, “Teach me, and I will be silent.” (Job 6:24 ESV)  Apparently Job knew that the talker is not learning.  It is in stillness, silence and a posture of listening that we learn.  And when we learn…  Wow!


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Loose Lips

“Once upon a time, there was a village called Smoldering Pines.  Smoldering Pines… lay at the foot of the great sleeping volcano, Mt. Discordia.  Spoken words in Smoldering Pines take on a physical form.  Whenever people talk, their words appear in the air and then fall haphazardly to the ground.  Homeowners then rake their discarded words into piles at the edge of their property.  Over time, these piles…become fences.  Thoughts, like words, can become visible, too.  Granted the town does like dangerously close to a volcano.  But this isn’t a concern for the residents.  After all, Mt. Discordia has been dormant for hundreds of years.”

Bet you can guess the rest of David Hutchens’ story.  Listening to the Volcano is a marvelously funny yet thought-provoking fable about many things including the power of our words.

Research says that women speak about 20,000 words a day – some 13,000 more than the average man.  That alone ought to caution us because Proverbs 10:19 (ESV) says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”   Admittedly, I have to agree.  Somewhere among that many words we are bound to find some that would have best been kept behind the teeth.

In Hutchens’ fable, spoken words actually materialize into wooden placards and fall to the ground.  They mound up into piles and form fences around the speaker.  Likewise their thoughts.  Guess what?  In reality our words and thoughts form fences, too.  We do not see them as readily as in Listening to the Volcano, but it might be a good thing if we did because they would be a very visible reminder to us.  How powerful if we actually saw that hateful thought, that sarcastic word, that vengeful or vindictive contemplation and that spiteful, spirit-killing word – materialized and lying right before us at our feet.  I can’t help but believe we might have some pause before speaking again and that we might be more obedient to 2 Corinthians 2:5 and actually take captive our thoughts.

As wedding presents my maternal grandmother gave me gifts of her wisdom.  One tidbit I remember is, “Choose your words very carefully.  All the “I’m sorries” in the world cannot take them back.  Even if your husband tells you he forgives you, he will remember what you said.”  That was good advice for me as a newlywed, and it is good advice for anyone.   We can say we’re sorry, that we didn’t mean it or that we weren’t thinking.  We can offer a ton of other excuses about not feeling well, misunderstanding and being confused.  But once a word is spoken, it’s out there, and you cannot take it back.  No one can ever misunderstand a word not spoken!  Proverbs 21:23 (ESV) says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”  Another way to think about it might be as my grandmother put it.  “The Lord gave you two ears and one mouth; that ought to tell you something!”  Practice listening and speaking proportionately.

Sometimes we feel pressured to speak.  Someone angers us, falsely accuses us, slanders us.  This is one that I have struggled with.  As a retired school administrator, I’ve had more than my fair share of false accusations – some, stretches of the truth; others, just out right lies.  Proverbs 26:4 (ESV) teaches us, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself,” but I had a friend that summarized this lesson with his own adage, “When you argue with a fool, you become the fool.”  Ecclesiastes 5:6a (ESV) says, “Let not your mouth lead you into sin,” and Proverbs 17:27 (ESV) adds, “Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”  Proverbs 21:23 (ESV) goes further, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.”  When I taught Junior High School (where there were a lot of hot, angry, teenage tongues) I posted an African proverb on one of my bulletin boards, “Must you turn around and look at every dog that barks at you?”  It was a good reminder for my students to ignore the lies, accusations and gossip their classmates spread.  More than 25 years later, that is still good advice.

Finally, we sometimes get caught up in conversations and dialogue because we are around others who talk too much.  I am convinced that a loose tongue can be caught – something like a cold or the flu!   Do you work with colleagues who tell “off color” jokes?  Do you have family members that curse like sailors or girlfriends that should be on gossip television?  Perhaps you have friends that are super negative – every spoken word is a complaint or a put down; they see (and point out) only what is wrong; their throats are open graves and their mouths are full of curses and bitterness (Romans 3:13-14 ESV).  We do not have to be unfriendly, and we need never act superior to others, but 2 Timothy 2:16 (ESV) teaches us to “Avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness.”   You need only remember this childhood ditty, “Loose lips, sink ships.”  They will sink you, too.  When we dwell in the presence of these individuals, it is often not long before we sink to their level – we repeat the jokes, begin cursing and spread the gossip.

Words are powerful. Consider the following Scriptures understanding that there are at least a dozen more found in the pages of the Bible.  God’s word is never in vain. It always achieves its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).  Surely there is purpose in so many Scriptures addressing our tongues and our words.

“Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV) 

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV) 

“Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.”  (Proverbs 17:9, ESV)

“By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”   (Matthew 12:37, ESV) 

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”  (Proverbs 29:20, ESV) 

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”  (Ephesians 4:39, ESV)

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.”  (Matthew 15:18, ESV)

THIS WEEK, observe your speech and consider your words.  Are you talking more than listening?  Do your words heal or thrust as a sword?    When you speak, are you building up or tearing down?  What do your words reveal about your heart?

Remember, “On the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”  (Matthew 12:36, ESV)  Don’t you want to stand before our Lord knowing your words restored, built up and made better?