The Wisdom of being Quiet

This post, I honestly believe, has the potential to change the quality of your relationships at home, especially those that are strained.    It deals with the wisdom of being quiet.

The Bible is filled with exhortations to be careful with our words and the fact that when we do, it is a mark of wisdom.   As you read the following verses of Scripture note the association between being quiet and having wisdom.

“He that hath knowledge spareth his words: and a man of understanding is of an excellent spirit.  Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding.”   (Proverbs 17:27-28)

The teaching is simple, but clear.   The less you say, the wiser you are!   A closed mind and an open mouth are characteristics of a fool.    One wag put it this way, “The narrower the mind, the wider the mouth”.     Even when you are not wise, it appears so because of your being quiet when you want to respond.

The more a fool talks,  the more he proves he is a fool.   When a wise person talks, it is evident that he has understanding and insight.   I think this is one of the reasons it is so important to be a good listener.

We never learn anything while we are talking, but we learn plenty when we listen.   Someone wrote, “Folks who know the least often know it the loudest”.  

This is a powerful truth with great application to our family.    It is crucial that parents especially be good listeners to their children and that spouses listen to each other.    Our temptation is to want to explain ourselves and to be understood rather than listening to learn how the other person feels.     The Scripture above (Proverbs 17:27-28) speaks of “sparing our words”, “holding our peace” and “shutting our lips”.   This is plain talk, but necessary if we are to grow in wisdom.

The old adage is true, “Better to keep silent and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and to remove all doubt”.  

Before an Atlanta Braves game at Turner Field Jon and Jordan were selected to ask George Lombard, one of the players, some questions on the big screen. I think this was in the summer of 1998.

Here’s another related verse to the wisdom of being quiet – “Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction”.   (Proverbs 10:14)

How does a wise person “lay up knowledge”?   It is not by talking, but by actively listening.  When a fool talks he brings “destruction”.    His words hurt and destroy.   Why?   Because he failed to be quiet and learn in the past.   (Sorry for the redundancy, but it’s a repeated theme in Scripture, so we need to take heed to it).

A similar truth yet again – “The tongue of the just is as choice silver: the heart of the wicked is little worth”.   (Proverbs 10:20)    A godly man’s words are precious and valuable and worthwhile to give your attention.   A fool’s words are a dime a dozen – cheap, inconsequential and not worth your time.

Just because a person talks a lot and with great excitement doesn’t mean they have much to contribute.  I like the way Curtis Hutson expressed it, “You can’t tell by the honk of the horn how much gas is in the tank!”   

Years ago at a social setting Paula and I were seated at a table of ten and we didn’t know anyone at the table.   It was a lunch and we knew we would be there for a while and it would be appropriate to get to know those immediately around us.   However, we never got a chance to do so.

We were all held hostage by a man that talked the entire time – to all of us.   I honestly don’t think anyone else said more than three or four sentences.   It was grating to sit there and have to listen to him pontificate on whatever came to his mind.   We were his captive audience and he relished it.  The emotional spectrum of those at the table went from fascinated to incredulous to boredom to being tortured!   The minutes slowly dragged by and when we had the chance we got out of there as quickly as possible.

When we were away from the table I told Paula, “I can’t believe that guy!   Have you ever heard anyone that was so impressed with himself and dominated a conversation like that?”    After I finally quit griping about it I said, “You know, Paula, I feel most sorry for his wife and kids  – and his church”.   (The guy was a pastor!)

God drives the nail deeper again on the same subject – “…a man of understanding holdeth his peace”.   (Proverbs 11:12)    For the Lord to repeat Himself so frequently means that this is a common problem.   The words “holdeth his peace” mean to “keep silent”.   Again, note the link between wisdom and being quiet.

Listen to this convicting statement – “A wise man thinks without talking; a fool talks without thinking”. 

I have tried to make it a habit when I have a difficult conversation with someone to think through precisely what I needed to say rather than just “shoot from the hip”.   To do so is not only foolish and arrogant, but it is unbiblical.   Words means things and arouse emotions in people.  Wise people are not only careful with their words, but economical with them as well.

The Bible in seven words sums up the issue – “A fool also is full of words” (Ecclesiastes 10:14)    Notice that of the seven words that six of them are monosyllables.   Simple, but profound.   I like what one person wrote, “It would be better to leave people wondering why you didn’t talk than why you did”. 

My temperament is that of an introvert and so it is easy for me to listen.   In fact, sometimes my reticence to speak has nothing to do with me being spiritual, but just because I am wired that way.   But concerning my family it is easier for me to talk more because we know each other so well.

It is easy for me to fall into “lecture mode” at home because of this.   Much of a preacher’s life is centered around talking, by necessity.  He talks at length in the pulpit; he talks in counseling sessions; he talks in meetings; he talks on visitation; he talks on the phone.   Of course, he listens, too, but it is easy to pigeon-hole people into categories where they do not fit – and to just keep talking without listening well.

I have had to learn to take off my “preacher hat” when I am at home and listen.  I’m in my mid-50’s and am still having to learn this.   If I neglect to be a focused listener and lapse into talking , I become a foolish prattler and am not imparting wisdom or insight.

Perhaps it might be wise to ask (privately) each member of the family a question, “Do you feel like I listen to you?   Do you feel that I lecture when I talk to you?”    The answers may be surprising, but very instructive and helpful – and life changing – for your family.    (By the way, it isn’t just preachers and men, that do this.   Wives and mothers can do the same to their spouse and children).

Jon and Jordan on the big screen at Turner Field talking with George Lombard.

Occasionally when my children were young and we were alone I would ask them a question, “Is there anything about Dad that you would like for me to change…something that bothers you and you wish that I wouldn’t do?”   I encouraged them to be honest and that I wanted to listen and learn.    (I need to do this again as it has been awhile).

When I had this little talk with one of my kids they said, “Nothing, Dad.   You don’t need to change anything”.   But I had sensed a disconnect between us sometimes and wanted to know how I was irritating or provoking my child to wrath (Ephesians 6:4).  I replied, “No, I know there are some things I do that I want to change and you can help me.   I love you and I don’t want to aggravate you”.

There was a brief silence.   “No, Dad, there is nothing I can think of that bothers me”.   I again expressed that I really wanted to know and that it would help us relate better.   Finally, my child hesitantly said, “Well…..sometimes you don’t listen”.   

It struck my heart like a thunderbolt, but I knew it was true.   I sincerely apologized, sought their forgiveness and told them I would work harder at listening.   What a bummer to have a father that sometimes acted more like a fool talking incessantly (lecturing?) rather than being wise and listening to the most important people in my life.

“Oh, God, give us the wisdom that we might be quiet so that we might grow in wisdom and not be fools.   May we not hurt the ones we love the most because of our tendency to talk too much and not listen.”

“A wise man has something to say; a fool has to say something”.   

About familyencouragement

Pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Married for 41 years with seven children and nine grandchildren.
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