What Did You Say?
by Rachel Hauck
A couple dozen years ago, I was sitting at a dinner table with good friends, all couples who worked in youth ministry.
The Lord was doing a unique thing among us: knitting our hearts and ministries together. We were a lively group who loved Jesus, teens, each other and laughter. In fact, we often vacationed with one of the other couples. My husband and I didn’t have children, but our friends had three little ones.
We enjoyed them a lot but, as any childless couple will tell you, a week with wee-ones when you’re not used to it has its moments.
Still, we were looking forward to our week together in the mountains. Right before vacation, our little youth pastors club had gone out for pie after a youth event. Of course, we started talking about our vacation.
My friend—let’s call him Steve—leaned toward me and asked, “So, how long should we stay at the cabin?”
I quickly replied, “Depends on how long it takes for you to get on my nerves.”
Spontaneous laughter burst from everyone around the table.
Good one, Rach.
Why, thank you. It was rather quippy, wasn’t it?
I was proud of my quick-witted response.
However, God was not.
Later, I woke up in the middle of the night, shaking. I’ve had encounters with random-attacks-of-anxiety before and battled it by doing what Jesus did in the wilderness: I quoted the Word out loud. Peace always came.
But this time? The more I prayed and quoted, the more I shook. What was going on?
My husband prayed quietly beside me. “Babe, I think it’s what you said to Steve tonight.”
“Really? Why? It was funny.”
“It was kind of cutting.”
And that’s when the Lord gently spoke to me: “You cannot tear down who I’m trying to build up. If you want your words of exhortation and encouragement to have power when you speak for Me, then they will have to count all the time.”
I wasn’t laughing anymore. I was humbled. Embarrassed. And I knew every word He spoke to my heart was true. My Father’s correction was sobering as well as inspiring.
You see, words were a source of life and love for my friend. He was an affirmation guy. When he asked about our vacation stay, he was excited to spend this time with us. He wanted to connect with me in the love of the Lord and friendship.
But my funny quip cut him down.
Lying in the darkness, as I repented before the Lord, the shaking eased. Peace came.
The next day, I called Steve and asked his forgiveness. I also called the other couples who’d been with us. I wanted to learn my lesson and remember what my Father was teaching me.
While there is always room for humor, the Lord was teaching me to discern the thoughts and intentions of my own heart. I had to recognize there was a bit of truth in my comment (Luke 6:45). More than I cared to admit.
I also had to care more about my relationship with a person than my ability to be funny.
The Lord has been gracious to me over the years. He’s told me I’ve done well in my watch-my-words effort. I’ve grown up a bit, made a lot of apologies along the way, but still have a way to go.
In this current season with a strange virus and political unrest, it’s easy to spew our fears and criticisms, our negativity and accusations, without much forethought.
But when we do, even if our expression is valid, whose side are we choosing? Who is listening? Are we doing more harm than good?
This verse from Revelation 12:10 is sobering.
Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night.
Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He stands before God, witnessing against us day and night. How often do we, in our weaknesses, stand beside him with a hearty, “Yea! What he said.”
My comment to my friend so many years ago might not have been out-right accusatory, but I’d communicated to his heart, “You’re only good to me as long as I enjoy you.”
I implied my friendship and love for him had limits. And I killed the joy he showed about our vacation together.
It’s one thing for Satan to stand before God and accuse people—God will deal with him. But it’s another for me, a friend of God’s, to do the same. I don’t want any part of it.
This life is hard enough without us tearing each other down. I’d rather speak words of power and affirmation. So even when I need to confront someone and “speak the truth in love,” it’s with kindness and hope.
In today’s world, our words must include what we post on social media. Are we building up or tearing down?
While evil does triumph when good men do nothing, evil also triumphs when we stand across from each other and sling accusations. When we shout. When we refuse to listen.
More and more my prayer is, “Lord, set a guard over my mouth that I might not sin against you.”
Here’s what David said.
“Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).
James, the Lord’s brother, taught us this: “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:19, 20 and 26).
During this unsettled season, my ambition is to listen more and speak less. I want to be aware of the critical and cutting words, the hyperbole, that pass through my lips.
“For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Mathew 12:34).
I feel called to be quiet. To listen more and speak less. To bring my cares to the Lord. To let Him purge my lips and heart, and then speak when He says, “Speak.”
And when I do, may those words be life-giving and testify of Jesus.
Rachel Hauck is a New York Times, USA Today and Publisher’s Weekly bestselling author. She lives in central Florida with her husband and ornery cat.
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