“Compel yourselves in silence, the mother of all godly virtues. Keep silent, in order to say the Prayer; for, when someone speaks, how is he able to escape idle talk, from which comes every evil word, which weighs the soul down by the responsibility for it.” –Ephraim of Philotheou
Since I am a preacher and a pastor, I traffic a lot in words. Maybe because of that, many people have commented to me over the years that they have a hard time being articulate. Perhaps you often struggle to put into words what you think or feel. You are not alone. But I have good news for you.
God does not accept us based upon our many words.
He approves of us because of his grace and the state of our hearts. He delights in our awkward efforts toward a relationship with Jesus. He sees your real lived experience of hearing the Master’s words and the effort of putting them into practice.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Words are very much important. They are powerful. As an avid reader, I have had my life changed by other’s words. Yet, you and I need to be honest with the truth that words have limits. If you think about it, words are not themselves real at all. Words are only letters put together like a jigsaw puzzle. They are merely signs and symbols that point to reality.
Ideally, carefully crafted words are transmitted from one person to another, carefully internalized, and faithfully translated into actual real live experience. And if you did not follow a thing I just said, then I have just demonstrated the crazy limitations of words.
How about if you picture this: You want to learn a different language. What will you do? Well, you will most definitely work with words. But in what way? Yes, you will do rote exercises in memorizing words and learning grammar and syntax and all the language stuff there is to do. But that will not get you to really learning the language, because language is not all about words.
Language is far more dynamic. It is a stimulating and exciting exchange of ideas and thoughts. We call this “relationship.” Ah, now you are getting somewhere! There is no substitute for the actual struggle to communicate with another person, whether it is with a person in a foreign language, or your spouse, or your kids, or your boss, or that crazy fundamentalist nut at church.
You see, it is the loving person who enters the struggle. You seek to reach out and touch another. You crave connection and to care. Jesus, the most loving person who ever lived, told us with his words and with his actions that we must love one another through compassionate acts of service (John 13:1-20).
You will find nowhere in Holy Scripture where you have been called to be a talker. Instead, you will find a lot of references on the calling to be a servant.
In fact, the people who talked the most in the New Testament were the Pharisees. I’m not sure you want to be in their company of constant words. It doesn’t get any more plain-speaking than this from Jesus:
“When you pray, don’t talk on and on as people who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Don’t be like them” (Matthew 6:7-8).
What a concept! God is not looking for you to be an eloquent talker. God is looking for you to be silent (yay! introverts!). Perhaps God wants you to come to Him and just be still and silent, so that He can get a listening (yay! Holy Spirit!). Maybe your spouse wants you to put a piece of duct-tape on your mouth, so that he/she can get a word in edgewise (yay! Red Green!). You know the kids want the lecture of many words to stop, so that they can approach you in the future without fear and/or boredom (yay! Jesus! let the children come to me!).
I like being both a consumer and a producer of words. But God doesn’t like me because of that. He likes you and me when we are quiet and listen closely to Him. Words are important, but are overrated:
“Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” (Proverbs 10:19)
You don’t need to get God’s attention; you already have it.
But, does He have your attention? Practice just 5 minutes of silence today. Find a secluded spot, and, simply say, “Speak, Lord, for I am listening.” And be silent. The next day, go for 10 minutes, beginning with the simple phrase to God. Eventually, and over time, work up to 30 minutes, even an hour. If your thoughts distract you, keep a notepad handy and jot the thought down and keep up the silence. I would suggest using an old school kitchen timer until silence becomes a regular part of your life.
You can do this (yay! extroverts! I believe in you!). You will find that this is such a rewarding practice, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without it. Ready… set… stop talking….