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Have you ever walked out of a situation wanting to kick yourself over your careless words? More often than I would like to admit, I leave a situation shaking my head, wondering where those words came from. Why did I feel the need to shred that person to pieces behind their back? Why did I brag about my latest accomplishment? Why did I think it was okay to make a joke at some else’s expense?
We justify speaking carelessly, using phrases like, “I’m verbal processer,” or “I don’t want to say anything bad about this person but…”. We use prayer requests as a weapon to eviscerate others while gaining support for our victim status and to satisfy our need for vindication.
We have these images of this picture-perfect Proverbs 31 woman who exemplifies the fruits of the spirit and we wonder HOW ON EARTH DOES SHE DO IT? It seems like every time we decide not gossip or brag, we last about twelve hours before we blow it.
Is guarding your tongue unattainable? Can we actually live lives where our words are full of grace, wisdom, and life? Where we can walk away from conversations full peace and without remorse?
Have you ever met those people who seem to glow with godliness? Where every word seems to radiate with God’s presence? My grandma is a person who gives me hope that reigning in my reckless tongue is possible for anyone. She is a woman who speaks with wisdom, generosity, bringing peace and life into every conversation. You walk away encouraged, inspired, peaceful and hungry for more of God.
So, let’s talk practically about how we can love others well through our speech.
1. Interior Chaos
2. Words of Life
3. Helpful Tools
1. Interior Chaos
Before we can talk about how, we need to talk about why. Why do we so often speak death over others instead of life? It could be any number of reasons but some of them might be:
1. The need to make ourselves look good
2.The need to be considered valuable
3. The need to convince others that we are right
We are filled with this interior chaos because we don’t know or truly believe where our true identity is as children of God.
“Chatter crowds out inward conversation with God.” -Jan Johnson
I experienced this myself a couple of years ago, while I was on a retreat, I was invited to participate in an exercise. From 9pm to 10am, we were to have a time of silence as a way to be present with God, with limited distractions.
I thought, “How hard could it be?” I never realized how much time I spend talking; trying to advocate for my desires, and trying to manage other people’s impressions of me.
The next morning was equally illuminating when I discovered that it is hard to have breakfast in a cafeteria in silence. We are programmed from infancy to exchange pleasantries. I wasn’t sure whether to acknowledge other people or totally ignore them.
It was awkward, humbling, and in a way, freeing. I could sit there and just rest in God’s presence, stripped of my ability to manage others impressions or expectations of me.
I would encourage you to pause and reflect. Bring to mind a recent conversation where you walked away feeling remorse, where you were uncomfortable, or stirred up inside. Remember that God is with you in this moment. Talk to him about your answers to these questions:
1. Why did I say what I said?
2. Why was I so stirred by their comments?
3. Why do I care what others think of me?
4. Why do I feel the need to prove my worth to others?
2. Words of Life
My father always told me that the mouth always gets you into trouble, and boy is he (and the Bible) spot on. I love the Message translation of Eph. 4:29 it says, “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.”
We can all remember situations in our past where someone’s careless words devasted us. Can you imagine if we brought the idea that each word is a gift into every conversation? Understanding that our words can bring death or life to others? That our very way of speaking is an act of love to others?
When we are intentional in what we say, it cuts out the noise and allows us to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice. He has a lot to say about the importance of guarding our tongues. I would encourage you to spend some time with these Biblical passages.
Invite God and ask him to speak to you. Understand that he is with you in this moment. Choose a passage and read it over slowly. Ask God to highlight a word or phrase. Then spend some time in conversation with God.
Proverbs 10:20, “The speech of a good person is worth waiting for; the blabber of the wicked is worthless.”
Proverbs 10:32, “The speech of a good person clears the air; the words of the wicked pollute it.”
Proverbs 12:6, “The words of the wicked kill; the speech of the upright saves.”
Matthew 5:33-37, “And don’t say anything you don’t mean. This counsel is embedded deep in our traditions. You only make things worse when you lay down a smoke screen of pious talk, saying, ‘I’ll pray for you,’ and never doing it, or saying, ‘God be with you,’ and not meaning it. You don’t make your words true by embellishing them with religious lace. In making your speech sound more religious, it becomes less true. Just say ‘yes’ and ‘no.’ When you manipulate words to get your own way, you go wrong.“
3. Helpful Tools
So how do normal people walk this out in reality? This is where spiritual practices and partnering with the Holy Spirit come into play. Spiritual practices are not some magic formula, they are a way of actively participating in the Holy Spirit’s work in your life.
The beauty of spiritual practices is that they give us a practical structure to actively work with the Holy Spirit in the transformation of our souls. We have to be intentional. An example of that would be to set reminders on our phones, to remind us to be present.
It can also be helpful to blow our cover to a spiritual friend. God designed us to grow in relationship with him, in community with others. It can be encouraging and helpful to discuss how God has been moving in your life.
One caveat that we need to be aware of is the temptation to fall into spiritual pride. Be mindful of your heart motives as you talk about Gods invitation to you to practice a specific discipline.
Shower yourself with God’s grace. This experience will be challenging, and at times discouraging. You will fail, again, and again, and again. And that’s okay. Ask God for grace, and perseverance to get back up and try again today (never tomorrow).
If you are feeling drawn to submit your speech to God, then I would encourage you to pick one (maybe two) practice(s) to engage with at a time.
Spend some time in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to lead you to practical practices. Understanding that you are not committing to use these practices for the rest of your life, but for this season.
The goal is surrender, not perfection. Spiritual practices help us surrender our will to the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives. When we are intentional in what we say, it cuts out the noise and allows us to hear to God’s voice. When choosing a practice, simple is best.
There is an amazing story about Dallas Willard, a famous theologian and professor who gives us a practical picture of surrendering his speech to God even when it hurts.
“In one of his classes, a student challenged him with statements that were both offensive and incorrect. Dallas paused and told the class that that was a good place to end their discussion. Somebody asked Dallas afterward why he had not countered the students’ argument and put him in his place. “I’m practicing the discipline of not having to have the last word.”-John Orteberg
Here are some ideas that might help get your wheels turning:
1. Start your day with prayer surrendering your speech to God. Asking him for his grace when you blow it and perseverance to try again.
2. Practice not interrupting others.
3. Practice being present by truly listening to what others are saying.
4. Be Succinct in order to remove the clutter.
5. Post cards around the house with favorite memory verses or phrases.
6. Try practicing the discipline of silence.
7. Take a note from Dallas and refuse to have the last word in a conversation.
8. Carry something tactile (a paperclip, hairband, small cross) in your pocket (or purse). Every time you place your hand in your pocket it let it serve as a reminder to surrender your speech to God.
9. Refuse to gossip.
10. In the evening, reflect back over your day. Ask God for his grace and forgiveness when you spoke out of turn. Celebrate the moments where you listened to the Holy Spirit and surrender your will.
Hopefully, these ideas will be a great jumping off place for your own practices. I pray that as you reflect over your motives, surrender to Jesus and actively work with the Holy Spirit that God will help you to love others well through your words.
If you want to know how to get started in living a deep life with God; grab our Deeper Life Beginners Guide (below). And join our community of moms who are hungry for more Jesus in their lives and in the lives of their families.
What about you? What is your #1 issue when it comes to watching what you say to others ? Leave a comment, and don’t forget to follow Most Important Work on Pinterest!
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