Thursday, May 31, 2007

Heart Work

Ok, so the Lord has really been showing me a lot of stuff this week about myself. Hard stuff. Yucky stuff. But I am glad He's opening my eyes to some things. One of them is the area of needing to tame my tongue. There's someone in my life that I've always known and have always recognized that person's tendency to be very critical of others, and I didn't want to be that way. Although this isn't the first time God has brought up this issue with me, I am realizing anew my own tendencies to have a critical nature, and I hate it. He's brought conviction to my heart concerning this issue, but He's also given Truth to help combat sin. These are a few that I am clinging to this week, praying for God to make a reality in my life:

Proverbs 13:3 - He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.

I want to be more conscious and careful of the words that come out of my mouth, being intentional in refusing words that are of a negative, critical, or condescending tone. Or just idle. My words should always have a purpose whose source is God, or they shouldn't come out of my mouth.

Colossians 4:6 - Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Key word: always. Not just when people aren't bugging me. =) I've realized that when encountering negative, complaining people, I tend to respond by complaining about their complaining! Crazy. Sometimes it's just in my head. Other times, it is in words. Either way, it's not from the Lord. It makes no sense why I do that! I need desperately to learn to respond to complainers with positivity and grace. (Side note: a book that I plan to read soon is Living With Eeyore, How to Positively Love the Negative People In Your Life. I'll let you know how that one is.)

Ephesians 4:29 - Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

How often I neglect the latter part of that verse, which commands us to only say what will edify others and help meet their needs. What need do we all have? We all need Christ. Thus, my words should only point others to Him. What would happen if every word out of my mouth was focused on building others up in Christ? Can you imagine the kind of ministry we'd each have if we really lived with an intentional purpose of using our words to help others know more of intimacy with God and more of His personal, healing touch? Wow. I am disgusted by living purposelessly in so many areas of life, but it's so easy to think that my tongue belongs to me and I can use my words however I'd like. Not the case. God has a purpose for them. He has given them amazing power to play a role in others' spiritual progress. What a gift and privilege to get to participate with Him in something like that. I just need to train myself to stay focused on the purpose of my speech.

Philippians 2:14-15 - Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.

Again, another way our speech plays a role in something big that God wants to do. He wants to use us in a compelling way with unbelievers and make us stand out to them, shining like stars in the universe. This verse has everything to do with God's desire to make us look different, for a reason. Not because of what rules we follow but absolutely because of our attitudes. If anything will capture their notice or help them to know more of Him because of how we live, it's our joy. Words are one of the biggest tools we have at our disposal to communicate our joy. Complaining, arguing, and as one translation puts it - "grumbling" will rob us of the ability to demonstrate that joy, rendering us ineffective in God's plan to make us "shine" in such a way that He gets more glory and more people's love. I must keep careful watch over my words to guard against a complaining spirit. For me, it's so addictive. Once I let myself complain about one thing, it's so hard not to complain about a whole lot! I must stop it at the very first sign of complaining. Lord, help me.

Proverbs 31:26 - She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.

This description of the famously virtuous "Proverbs 31 woman" has really caught my attention this week in a different way than it ever has before. I am reminded that the way "she speaks" does not have an on/off switch. It is a characteristic of her that remains constant throughout daily life and is not just reserved for certain people whose spiritual gift is teaching or women who are teaching a Bible study or speaking up in one. It is for all of us, all of the time. As one who happens to have been given opportunities and passion for teaching God's Word to other women, this personally speaks to me concerning my consistency with wisdom-speech. I really believe that I will only be as effective in leading or teaching a Bible study as I am with my everyday speech with friends, family, or anyone that God brings my way anytime. I pray to stay motivated by that truth.

Proverbs 16:23-24 - A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction. Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

I love the thought of words being sweet to the soul and to the bones, though I'm not sure if that means to the soul and bones of the word-giver or the word-receiver! I'll have to look that one up later. Perhaps it's both. But anyway, the first part of the verse has been a perfect reminder of the source of wise speech. It has everything to do with the heart. I know that's where words originate. So if I want to have a radical change in my word-habits, then I must embrace the very necessary heart activity that must be done first. And what does that look like? It means sitting at the feet of Jesus more often. It includes reflecting on the grace He's given me and cultivating a heart of gratitude for what He has done on my undeserving soul's behalf. If I stay in that place long enough, my words will be words of life. I so want them to be. If I am swimming in His grace for me, then it will be so natural to think about others through the lens of grace as well. I will not be critical or judgmental or merciless towards others, because I will be thinking about how amazing His grace is for both me and them. I want to be in that place.

I spent some time recently being very unfocused in time with the Lord. Studying His Word was not a priority, I lived in a cloud of emptiness and just plain blahness for a few weeks. Halfheartedness never works. And I stayed there too long. I am so thankful for His grace that begs me back and once again makes intimacy with Him such a fabulous thing. It's been so good to be back in the game this week, and I am overwhelmed by all of the things He's pouring into me, even the lessons that are hard to learn like this one. So, this is the journey I'm on right now, aiming to stay walking in grace with Him so that it will be reflected in guarded, purposeful, edifying, life-giving speech. I welcome accountability.