Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Shut Me Up!

Do you ever leave an event and find yourself rehashing a conversation, wishing you could take back some of those things you said? Maybe it was something foolish or silly. Maybe it was something unkind or thoughtless. Maybe your words revealed a negative attitude or bitter spirit you were hoping to hide.

One friend told me a story years ago of an interaction with her roommate and good friend. The roommate had been working hard to lose weight and came home excitedly announcing that she had dropped several jeans sizes. My friend, who worked at that particular store, said without thinking, "yeah, they keep adjusting the sizes. What used to be a four they're now labeling a two." Yikes! She was mortified to have said it out loud. Open mouth, insert foot, right?!?

A few times I've even found myself years later recalling a conversation that revealed my immaturity, selfishness, ignorance or whatever else and actually prayed that the other person would NEVER ever remember the conversation!

Its easy to see why the Bible has so much to say about our words and the tongue. I read through Proverbs a few weeks ago and was overwhelmed by all the wisdom regarding our words. Here are just a few examples:
"There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing" (12:18).
"Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin" (13:3).
"A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger" (15:1).
"A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit" (15:4).
"The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things" (15:28).
"Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends" (17:9).
"Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit" (18:21).
"She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue" (31:26).
The tongue is hard to tame, as James 3 clearly points out. In fact, "no man can tame the tongue" according to James 3:8. That tiny little body part is way beyond our human ability to control. Only God Himself can tame our tongues, and its only by the power of the Holy Spirit of God in us that we can have any control over the things we say.

Its this kind of Holy Spirit power that has been amazing me lately as I'm reading through the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel was a prophet during the time of the Babylonian invasion of Judah. Ezekiel went to Babylon with the second group of exiles just a few years before the final destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple. God called Ezekiel to show the Israelites exactly what was going to happen in the next few years as His judgment would be poured out on His people and their holy city.

Ok, stick with me...even if you aren't into history, this is still REALLY interesting! When God called Ezekiel to be His prophet (1:2), God literally made him mute. Seriously. For seven years Ezekiel COULD NOT SPEAK. The only time he was able to talk during those seven years was to relay GOD'S SPECIFIC WORDS to the people.
"And I will make your tongue cling to the roof of your mouth, so that you shall be mute...but when I speak with you, I will open your mouth, and you shall say to them, 'Thus says the Lord God.'" (Ezekiel 3:26-27)
My initial reaction was "Wow! How awful! I can't imagine not being able to say what I want or express what I'm thinking for seven years." But then I realized that this mute state was really a gift of great grace. Think about the freedom of this! Ezekiel didn't have to wonder if he was being too harsh or too blunt. He didn't have to apologize for an unkind or gossipy remark. He didn't have the regret of saying something foolish. He could say NOTHING but the specific words the Lord had given him. He gets his voice back after Jerusalem is destroyed according to Ezekiel 24:27 and 33:22. But until that day, he could be absolutely confident that every word he said was God-ordained and God-honoring.

And it made me think...this is exactly what we should be praying for! "We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us" (2 Cor. 5:20). We have been given "the ministry of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:18). This means that our purpose in ministry is to reveal Christ to others so that they can be reconciled (or brought into a right relationship) with Him. Our mouths should be speaking truth at all times! As Christians our words should reveal the character of Christ and exalt the name of Christ. Each word should be honoring to Him. There is no room for "filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking" (Ephesians 5:4). There is no room for slander or gossip or thoughtless speech.

While Ezekiel's mute state might seem extreme, I think its exactly what I need! I need my mouth to be shut up so that I only speak words of encouragement, affirmation and godly wisdom. I need my mouth to be shut up to frivolous conversation or self-centered speech. I need to pray with the psalmist "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14).

Now, don't get me wrong. There is certainly a place for small talk or clean jokes. But even those must be motivated by a desire to glorify God and reveal Christ in every word we say. Even when I meet someone for the first time and engage in conversation about something insignificant like the weather, my goal should be to show this person the kindness and love of God. When I talk to a friend about something funny my kids did, my words should still reveal God's grace and work in my life. When I discuss politics or something going on in the news my words should bring glory to God and pour from a heart that longs to see sinners changed by His amazing grace!

And so, while we don't all have the luxury of God silencing our tongues like Ezekiel, we do have the power of His Holy Spirit to SHUT OUR MOUTHS when necessary. Let's surrender our tongues to Him!

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God" (Colossians 3:16).     

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