In our Facebook Bible Reading group, we just finished doing a plan called the 10 Day Word Fast. It’s been challenging! The idea was that for 10 days, we would identify and seek to eliminate certain kinds of negative talk from our lives. Specifically, the author identified five often overlapping areas of negative words and attitudes to rid ourselves of: Complaining, Criticizing, Judging, Sarcasm, and Gossip.
As we worked through these devotions, many of us - myself included - shared that they were a bit surprised at how often this kind of negative talk cropped up in our daily lives. More than once during this past week I’ve had people tell me, “I blew it today, I knew it as soon as I said it.” And my response has been, “Well, that’s good!” No, it’s not good that we said something we shouldn’t have, but it IS good that we’re becoming more aware of it.
Our culture has become so negative that I don’t think we realize how much of this way of thinking permeates our lives. Our entertainment is full of it. Our news is full of it. And even worse, our culture isn’t just tolerant of negativity - it glorifies it! But negativity has a way of dulling us to the presence of God. Complaining, criticizing, judging, being sarcastic and gossiping can desensitize us to the preciousness of His presence.
Now I know that theologically God is "omnipresent" which is a fancy word that means "always present" or everywhere. But God's presence is sometimes extra special. We've experienced that in worship, which makes sense because the Bible says that God inhabits the praises of His people. But that makes me wonder who - or what - inhabits our criticism?
Could this be why we feel spiritually dull and dry? Could this be the source of our spiritual malaise? If complaining is a lack of faith in God's goodness and sovereignty, and without faith it is impossible to please God, then complaining is not pleasing to God. And isn't it our desire to be pleasing to God?
And if we want to please God… how did we wind up in such a negative place? I've become increasingly convinced that the key to so many of our problems is deep-seated insecurity. No matter the root cause, insecurity manifests itself through over-compensation, judgmental attitude, haughtiness, and, yes, criticism. All of these are an attempt to mask the sense of inadequacy we feel, to try to make ourselves feel “bigger” and “better” by cutting down others.
We might even try to convince ourselves that our negativity isn’t sin at all, but based on “righteous indignation” or “discernment.” And while there are certainly times when we are called to make judgments and discern things, we need to watch our hearts. We need to be honest about our motivations.
If we’re complaining or criticizing, is it just to find fault, or are we genuinely trying to make things better? When we make a judgement about someone, is it so we can dismiss them, or are we trying to understand them? Is our sarcasm just an attempt to hurt others under the guise of humor? When we share something we know about someone else, is it out of genuine desire to help - or to put them down?
In everything we do, it wouldn’t hurt to ask ourselves, are we serving God… or playing God? I don't know about you, but I know my rear doesn’t fit well on God's throne! And I don't think He takes kindly to me trying to take His seat! How deceived must I be to think that I know better than God and can adequately assess someone else’s heart or worth!
We need to be more aware of our words and thought patterns. But there’s also a danger in focusing too much on what NOT to say: it can get discouraging. Because we WILL blow it. Because focusing on our negativity can drag us down into even MORE negativity. Because our human nature will just find ways to get around the legalistic boundaries that we set for ourselves. We need so much more than a behavioral adjustment. We need healing for our hearts.
The good news is that there's no medicine like the cross! When we fully surrender everything to Jesus, warts and all, confessing even our insecurities (and our attempts to compensate for them), we can find healing and wholeness. Then we won't be looking for things to criticize to make ourselves feel better. Our observations will be helpful and constructive, full of the same grace we've received. Our speech will be "seasoned with grace."
The way we communicate reveals a lot about us. As the devo writer said, "When you listen to a person speak, you almost immediately know their country of origin. Our words reveal which kingdom we live in – the world or Christ’s kingdom."
My prayer is that my speech will demonstrate I'm a citizen of heaven. The things I try NOT to say are a part of that demonstration - but even moreso, the things that I DO say let people know who I am and WHOSE I am. So I want to leave you with some of the positive things that should be characteristic of our speech as Christians. Negative words are not profitable. But positive words are! These are things we should be looking for opportunities to say.
The Apostle Paul spoke words that were for the benefit of the hearer. In I Corinthians 7:35 he writes, “I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.“ Paul wasn’t puffing them up or trying to smooth talk them. But he was looking out for their welfare.
What kinds of words are profitable words? Sharing the gospel is profitable for saving the lost. This includes but isn’t limited to evangelism. When we talk about God and what He’s done for us, we’re encouraging and building up one another - but you also never know who else is listening. Our coworkers, friends, and family members are watching us. Profitable words bring glory to God.
Profitable words also strengthen the weak. We don’t know what other people are going through. Negative words assume the worst about others. Positive words assume the best. And profitable words will never break a bruised reed.
In Luke 6:45 Jesus tells us that the mouth speaks from that which fills the heart. My prayer is that my speech will demonstrate I'm a citizen of heaven. So I pray with the sweet psalmist of Israel: "Set a guard, O Lord , over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips." (Psalms 141:3 NASB) Will you pray that prayer with me?
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