We have often discussed paying attention to stuff which is repeated in scripture on multiple occasions, simply because God doesn't "waste" words - if he says it more than once, it must be important for us to "get". Words are one of those topics we find much advice about in scripture and this is probably because of the ability of our words to bring cheer, diminish fear, build up one in times of weakness, or the potential for the words we speak to do exactly the opposite. The other thing I believe plays into this continual reminder about our words is this idea of words being out of our mouth and then between us and the hearer, the words don't always arrive at the "target" quite in the same way we'd hoped they would. In other words, we say one thing, not so sure of how it will be "interpreted" by the hearer, only to find out they interpret it quite differently than we intended. This could either be good or bad, depending on how they receive them. I think we have all experienced that at one time or another - even being on the receiving end of some words spoken which were never intended to "do" to us what they did. The way we perceived the "meaning" of those words made all the difference, didn't it? So, words are more than something for which the speaker has responsibility for - they also have some responsibility with the receiver, as well.
A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire. Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim. Perceptive words spread knowledge; fools are hollow—there’s nothing to them. (Proverbs 15:2, 4, 7 MSG)
There is something "in the air" which I think might just happen to our words - like they are somehow "tweaked". Now, this may be a little far-fetched to some, but hear me out. If Satan is the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:1-2), then isn't it possible he could be doing a little "tweaking" of our words as they go from our lips to the ears of the hearer? WE may say one thing, but as those words "filter through" the air toward the ears of the intended hearer, is it possible the "filters" they go through change the tenor of those words? If you have ever said one thing to have it heard entirely in a manner you never intended, then maybe you have experienced this. Add to this the issue of the hearer's "perception filters" which are operational at the moment you send those words their way and it is possible to have our words totally received in a different way than spoken.
So, with these two factors in mind, let us consider how we are to speak. First and foremost, our words are to be kind. God never says, "Let yours words be cutting, sarcastic, or belittling". In fact, he often speaks about the words we speak as being "tempered" with grace, love, and encouragement. They are to be "gentle" - another word for kind. There is this tendency in communication to be "caught up" in the emotion of the moment. When our words are spoken, the other person perceives their intent. How they perceive our words is often directly related to their own emotional "stability" at the moment. If they have had a particularly taxing day already, even the most well-intended words which point out something which would not otherwise get any "negative reaction" may just set things in motion for an argument to be brewing. We aren't responsible for the perception of the other, but we are responsible to "read" our hearer - even before we speak the words. You probably remember me saying, "Think all you speak, but don't speak all you think". In so doing, you are taking into consideration the readiness of the hearer to receive the message you need to send. It may not be the right time - gentle words will help you judge if it is.
We are to speak healing words. A word of caution here: There are times when our silence speaks more than our words do. These are times when just being there alongside someone makes all the difference. I have had those moments when on the inside I am melting down and my best friend just sits with me in silence. She could make light of my emotional crash, but she doesn't. She could try to speak all kinds of cheerful words, but she knows they will be like empty words because I am not ready to receive them. So, she sits in silence. There is more healing in her giving me time to diffuse my emotions than in just launching right into words.
Another tendency some might have is to bring in all kinds of what I will refer to as "spiritual talk" when someone is hurting, down in the mouth about something, or just plain frustrated. Here is where you need to know your audience - being able to speak "perceptive words". Sometimes we don't respond well to this kind of "spiritual talk" when life is spiraling out of control or our emotions are at full tilt - even though we are children of God and love him with all our heart. What we do respond well to is the simplicity of knowing someone cares - that they are there for us. We don't need someone saying, "Well, God never brings us into something this hard without a purpose or a plan to bring us out". What we need is more like, "This is harder than it looks and I can see why you are so frustrated right now." We need someone to acknowledge our feelings and then to come alongside. The idea of perceptive words is this "sensing" of where the other person is at and then meeting them there.
Words are challenging for a whole lot of reasons, but probably the two biggest reasons is this idea of timing and perception. The timing makes all the difference - for the right words spoken at the wrong time can set a forest on fire in relationships. Perception is based upon where the other person is right now emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Tired, cranky people don't do as well receiving words as well-rested and emotionally rejuvenated ones do. This idea "speaking" is harder than it might appear - for there are factors both within and without our control which influence what is heard. We need to control what we can, be sensitive to what we cannot, and be always aware of our own emotional, spiritual, and physical "stability" when we are about to speak. Tired people speak words they don't really mean - simply because their own fatigue "perceives" matters differently than they are. So, even our own "self" plays a huge part in how our words will be received by the hearer. We certainly need God's help in this matter of "speaking", don't we? No wonder he gives us so much advice on how and when to speak. When in doubt, the best means of communication is to let the Holy Spirit give us the words to speak! Just sayin!
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