Five Questions to Ask Before You Speak

bigstock-Speak-No-Evil-4964653-e1363801488317As a preacher and writer, I spend a good deal of my time thinking about words. I’ve always been a word guy, in fact, and I suppose that’s one reason I chose the profession I did.

The best and worst part of being a word person is that the things people say to me often stick to me. In contradiction to the old saying, I am not rubber and others are not glue. Instead, I am the glue. Words stick to my heart and soul, sometimes in uncomfortably painful ways.

In our digital age, words are even more permanent than they once were. Everybody now has a platform to publish their words for the world to see. And anybody who spends time on social media has seen the pain caused by unwise words tossed out in the heat of the moment. James once wrote that the tongue is a raging fire; he could say the same thing today about the computer keyboard.

The Bible approaches words from two directions: what to say and what not to say. When my wife and I talk with our kids about their words, we emphasize that every negative statement has a positive counterpart. In other words, the goal isn’t simply to avoid saying the wrong things; it’s to cultivate the art of saying the right things. For the Christian, we do this in partnership with God’s Spirit who lives in us. “No man can tame the tongue,” James tells us. But God can do it if we let Him.

In that regard, let’s hold our words up to the Light of His character. Here are some questions to ask ourselves about our words, before we open our mouths or start typing on Facebook:

1. Are these words helpful? This question is a good starting point. To be clear, helpful words are not always comfortable words. There are times when we can help another person by kindly exhorting or even rebuking him or her. The goal, though, is always to build up rather than to tear down (Eph 4:29).

Often we use words in ways that are merely careless, without considering their impact. We complain, we mouth off, we criticize, or we gossip. I think we talk sometimes simply because we’re afraid of silence. But if our words aren’t going to be helpful, it’s best just to remain quiet.

2. Are these words true? I’ll never forget my junior high classmate who seemed to lie compulsively. Exaggerations and unbelievable stories flowed out of his mouth like water from a spigot. He was so accustomed to lying that I’m not sure he even knew he was doing it anymore. He certainly didn’t seem able to stop.

Most of us lie sometimes, perhaps because we’re trying to save face, or to avoid confrontation, or to get something we want. We lie because we’re looking out for our own interests rather than the interests of others (Phil 2:4). But God never lies, and neither should we. If we are to reflect His perfect character, we need to cultivate truthfulness, even when it hurts.

3. Are these words timed correctly? My wife is a skilled communicator and she often provides helpful feedback for me about my sermons. However, she’s learned over the years that Sunday afternoon is not the ideal time to provide suggestions about my Sunday morning sermon. I’m too tired and sensitive right after I preach; the timing isn’t right, even when the suggestions are helpful.

Proverbs 15:23 says that a “word in season” is good. It’s possible to say the right thing at the wrong time. It takes supernatural wisdom to know whether a person needs to be encouraged, rebuked, or just left alone at any particular moment.

4. Are these words pure? When I was nine or ten years old, I remember one of my baseball teammates saying, “Would you like to hear a dirty joke?” Before I could answer, he said, “A white horse fell into the nasty brown mud!” Fortunately, his “dirty joke” was not as offensive as most of the ones I’ve heard through the years. All too often I’ve heard such jokes from other Christians. To my shame, I’ve occasionally laughed at them or even passed them along to others.

But Ephesians 5:4 cautions us against filthy talk and crude joking. Those types of words are not fitting for men and women who represent the purity of God. Not only that, but impure words are simply a waste of time and energy, when we should be using our words to edify and encourage.

5. Are these words kind and gracious? We all know people who consistently use “truth” as a blunt instrument with which to smack other people in the head. There’s a fine line between being direct and being unkind. Always ask yourself, “How would I want somebody to tell me what I’m about to say? Is the way I’m about to say this consistent with the forgiving and gracious character of Jesus?” If not, rethink your approach. “Speak the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).

By holding up our speech to these five questions, we can avoid most of the negative speech that Scripture warns us about: gossip, sarcasm, lying, verbal abuse, dirty jokes, and other inappropriate words.

What’s more, these questions help us speak in a way that is “seasoned with salt,” full of grace and kindness and love (Col 4:6). They help us use our words to reflect the enduring love and purity and perfection of Jesus our Savior.

So how do your words measure up? Are they helpful, true, well-timed, pure, and kind? If not, hold them up to the light and ask for the power of God’s Spirit to speak what is good.

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Always Present, Always in Control

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(Matthew 14:22-33; Psalm 139)

There is nowhere you can go where Christ’s presence cannot follow. There is no crisis, big or small, from which He is absent.

He is always present, and He is always in control. 

You say, “I know that. I learned it as a child. God is always with me.”

Yes, of course you know. But do you forget?

On a dark and stormy night, Jesus’ own disciples forgot His presence and doubted His power. In a small boat on a small sea, the wind raged around them and the rain poured from heavens. The boat threatened to break apart and they were terrified.

When they saw the man walking on top of the water, they thought it was a ghost. Perhaps death itself had come to claim their exhausted bodies and wayward souls. They cried out in fear, until He spoke.

“Take courage. I AM. Do not be afraid.” 

The Maker of the Seas was in their presence. The King of all Creation was walking on the water. He was always present and He was always in control.

You know the rest of the story. You probably learned it as a child. Peter got out of the boat. While his eyes were on Jesus, he walked on the waves. When his eyes shifted to the wind and the waves, he fell.

And the Captain on the Storm took him by the hand, pulled him from the water, and stopped the storm cold. No more wind. No more rain. No more waves.

Jesus was always present and He was always in control.

Just as Jonah learned the hard way, and just as the Psalmist wrote so many years ago, nobody escapes His presence. 

If you fly to the highest heavens, if you descend to the depths of the earth, if you go to the east or the west, He is there. Even if you turn off all the lights, He sees you.

If you find yourself in a crisis not of your own making, He is present. If you find yourself feeling out of control, He is in control.

You can panic or you can trust. You can pretend you’re in control, or you can grab ahold of the hand of the God who is. 

And like the disciples remembered so many years ago, you’ll remember who He is. The one who conquered death will not abandon His people. The one who defeated hell itself will eventually resolve every crisis and wipe away every tear. He never leaves and He never loses.

The Maker of the Universe lives in you and me. Every place, every moment, forever. 

Always present. Always in control.

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The Prayer God Loves to Answer

Luca_Giordano_-_Dream_of_Solomon_-_WGA09004ReDiscovered Word 19

(1 Kings 3, James 1)

There is a prayer God loves to answer, a request to which He eagerly answers, “Yes.”

It is a prayer that was offered by Israel’s third king, and encouraged by the brother of Jesus Himself. It is not a prayer for good health, long life, extra money, or easy circumstances.

What is the prayer God loves to answer? It is a prayer for wisdom.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all, generously and without reproach.”

When you and I, like Solomon, ask God for wisdom, He opens His storehouse and provides. Perhaps not all at once, as He did for Solomon. And perhaps not to the same degree that He gives to another. He might not make you the wisest person in history. The Queen of Sheba will probably never sit at your feet to listen to your pearls of wisdom. (At least she’s not coming to ask me for advice! Perhaps you’re wiser than I am, though).

But God will generously give you wisdom. He will never mock your naïveté, and He will never rebuke you for coming to ask. He will give to you freely and without reproach.

We face a dizzying array of decisions each day. Some are insignificant, but others matter deeply. How should we use our limited time? How should we allocate our money? How can we respond to our spouses or roommates or kids or bosses or professors with the grace and truth of God?

All too often we worry about the right decisions, when we ought to pray for wisdom. We substitute anxiety for prayer and simply refuse to cast our cares on Him. We read articles, we ask our friends what to do, we lie awake with worry, but we seldom pray for wisdom.

But wisdom is the very thing that God is eager to give. He possesses it in infinite quantities. He never runs out, and the man or woman who asks Him for it will receive more than enough. He’s filled His Word with wisdom, and He can fill our hearts and minds with it as well. Yet for some inexplicable reason, we stubbornly refuse His help, hoping against hope that our small minds can gather enough wisdom, all alone, to make the right choices. And time and again we prove ourselves wrong, while the very Maker of Wisdom offers us bountiful wisdom beyond our wildest dreams.

Solomon’s wisdom overflowed the boundaries of his own country and made him famous throughout the whole world. God was delighted when Solomon asked for wisdom, so He gave Him more wisdom than He even imagined possible.

He’s waiting for us to ask as well. God loves to answer our prayers for wisdom. He loves to give it generously and without reproach.

The only question that remains is whether you and I, the people of God, will ask for it.

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