by Reba Mingledorff
“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.”
“I shouldn’t have said that.” ﹘ This phrase has come to mind more times than I care to admit. The next phrase that comes in at a close second is, “I could have said that differently.” Usually those thoughts come to me in quiet moments while driving in the car, preparing to go to bed, or kneeling to pray. In those times of reflection, I may replay a conversation in my mind, but there is absolutely nothing that can be done to withdraw what may have been said. There is no way to edit the words, insert a kinder sentence, or change the subject. If we are honest, we’ve all had moments like this. We thought we were justified in making a comment or speaking our mind, but then that gnawing feeling in our gut told us that we missed it. Isn’t it funny how differently we feel about our own words once we let emotion subside and allow the quiet voice of the Lord pierce our heart? Hindsight is truly 20/20.
Why is this area of self-discipline so difficult for us? I may be speaking for myself, but I highly doubt that I’m the only one who has regretted a conversation or a passing remark. It is in our innate nature to spew out our emotion-filled opinions and defensive remarks regardless of the consequence. In typical fashion, our culture has grabbed this aspect of human nature and encouraged us to give into to it by allowing emotion to rule our reactions. The most obvious example of this is the social media phenomenon.
Even though it seems foreign to us, in days past people would have to submit an article to a journal or newspaper to have their opinions published. Today, every individual who has internet access has been given a global stage on which to voice their opinions about everything from political issues to the proper length of toenails.
Our generation, especially, is being pressured into believing that once we observe something, it is our prerogative to immediately throw our 2 cents in. If someone dares to disagree, then it is our right to be offended and we must viciously debate until our phone battery dies. This creates an atmosphere swirling with words that are generated in the heat of the moment and are weighted with emotion. Wounds are made, relationships damaged, and seeds of discord planted. No wonder James 3:8 tells us that “the tongue no man can tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” This creation can only be ruled by the Creator.
There are many scriptures found throughout the Bible that help guide us in our manner of conversation. Ephesians says that we are to let nothing that is corrupt come out of our mouths, but only say things that edify and minister grace. Proverbs contrasts the effect of soft and grievous words. James warns that the religious person who has an uncontrollable tongue is deceived and worshipping in vain. Matthew goes so far as to say that even our idle words will be held in account on the day of judgment. That, my friend, is a sobering thought.
So, now that we have established a guide for our everyday conversation, what do we do when we find ourselves on the receiving end of spiteful criticism, slander, or hurtful words? What about those times when classmates are being cruel, members of our youth group are gossiping, co-workers or bosses are mocking, or unsaved family members are degrading us? What about those comments that were posted on social media? What about when we are criticized while trying to venture out in a work for the Lord? What about when it really is not our fault, what then? Surely, He would justify us defending our pride and surely, He would understand if we blasted those individuals and set the record straight! After all, it seems that the greatest critics come out of the woodwork when we are attempting to do something for the Lord. But God in His omniscience knows that it’s in our best interest to stand still sometimes.
Please understand that I am not saying that we must be verbal punching bags or that we cannot speak out for a worthy cause. The Bible instructs us to speak for those who are speechless and to defend the rights of those who are destitute. [Proverbs 31] My point is that we must discern which battles He wants us to fight. This is a lesson that I had to learn several years ago as the only Holiness young lady in a public high school. This is one reason why it is crucial for us to seek after the baptism of the Holy Ghost. He will be that discerning power within us.
Prayerfully picking our battles is a necessity because if we stop to confront every opponent along our journey, we will never reach our destination. We must keep pursuing our purpose.
The Bible gives us many examples of the power that is accessed when reactions are fully entrusted to the Lord. Exodus 14:14 reads, “The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” This was God’s message to the Israelites when they were blocked on every side and their enemy was rushing in. None of the Israelites’ defensive strategies could have compared to the mighty way God moved. Numbers 12:1-10 is another prime example. We read of how Miriam and Aaron slandered Moses and the Lord stepped in as his Defender. We also read in the book of Esther how the Lord thwarted the plans that the evil Haman plotted against Mordechai.
The ultimate example that has been set before us, however, is that of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. I can’t imagine how He felt as the false witnesses, who He was dying to save, slandered Him. He had every right to protest, every right to get defensive and every right to explain Himself.
In the face of unrelenting interrogation and slander, He willingly held His peace. These periods of silence did not make Him appear weak or show fear, but rather it demonstrated His power and ultimate authority. He did not need to verbally defend Himself against each naysayer that criticized Him throughout His ministry because He knew WHO He was and WHY He was here. These attacks all culminated into the moment of His crucifixion where we see Him finally address His tormentors. There are no curses; there is no rage; there is only forgiveness. Even in the height of His suffering He held onto His purpose.
When we acknowledge that we cannot control our tongue on our own and that we must fully rely on the Lord to be our defense; He will step in and move His sovereign hand. Therein lies the power of our unspoken words. Surrendering our speech to God in the face of adversity is truly a testimony that we know who we are and Whose we are. With this knowledge we can boldly walk the path that God has placed before us and follow His high calling, fully pursuing our purpose.