It’s easier to talk than it is to hold your words. And the more we talk, the more we tend to say things we regret. If we want to keep from saying things that hurt people then we are going to have to have a plan. It is not going to happen by wishful thinking. Someone wrote, “Hope is not a strategy”.
The answer to this problem is found in the Bible. Here is a three-fold approach that will help you to check your words.
First, the Bible tells us to think before we speak. In Proverbs 15:28 we are told that, “The heart of the righteous studieth to answer…” A godly person doesn’t respond haphazardly, but “studies” how he will answer.
The word “studieth” means to muse or meditate. It has the idea of carefully thinking before responding. It includes our response to a question or even being verbally assaulted.
Whenever we take the time to ponder what we say the content will be richer, wiser, and our perspective will be more complete. When we talk off the top of our heads, typically the words are shallow, lack insight, and have a short-sighted perspective.
Here’s another text on pausing before speaking – “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright…” (Proverbs 15:2)
This is a very interesting truth. The words “useth…aright” mean “to have skill and have the ability to do something well”. When we think before talking our words have more impact and power because they are better-chosen. A wise person doesn’t give irrelevant answers, but has the skill to only give the cream.
One more verse on thinking before speaking – “Wise men lay up knowledge…” (Proverbs 10:14) To “lay up” means “to store up for the right occasion”. It has the idea of discretion. If you have been learning God’s principles every day they accumulate and your wisdom compounds over time. The occasion will come when you can use wisdom that has been stored in your heart – as you pause and allow God to bring those truths to your mind.
To have maximum influence requires that we evaluate the proper and best time to speak. A lack of consideration before talking is a double liability; not only does it not have the depth of insight it might have, but when responding in difficult situations it often leads to harsh words and regrets.
This is one of the reasons that I frequently respond in counseling settings to someone that needs help, “Let me think about that”. I don’t want to give a hasty, slip shod answer to someone facing an important issue. They need wisdom, not mediocre direction that is not helpful.
Here’s a good summary on this principle, “Think twice before you speak; it will do no harm if you keep thinking while you speak”.
Second, we are to pray before we speak. Prayer is an expression of my utter dependence upon God for His help and wisdom. Oh, how I need His help with my words, especially to my children. I need His wisdom as I train them and His promptings to tell me when to be quiet.
God’s Word says, “I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue: I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.” (Psalm 39:1) A bridle is joined to a bit in a horse’s mouth. Attached to the bit are the reins which the rider uses to direct and to stop the horse.
What is the bridle this verse speaks of for the believer? It is a metaphor for the Spirit of God speaking to you before you speak! He has prompted me many times, even daily, to both direct and to stop my words. If we would but pray before talking our words would not harm others, but rather be useful and edifying. Remember, He will talk to you if you are listening to Him.
Here is the prayer of the Psalmist, “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3) What an appropriate request for us to have of the Lord! It is a prayer of surrender and supplication – “Lord, guard what I say; I yield my mouth to You”.
The word “watch” means to guard, like a night watchman being on alert to anything or anyone that would do wrong. The “watch” guard of our mouth is God Himself. He will warn us and speak to us if we would but ask Him to do so. Far better to pray for direction and protection beforehand than for help cleaning up a mess afterward.
A third key to checking our words is to ask three questions before we talk. These are not new questions and you are very familiar with them, but the sheer amount of conflicts caused by our words shows that we do not use them.
Here are the three questions that would save us a boatload of trouble if we would think about them before speaking – is it kind, is it true, and is it necessary?
If the answer to any of these questions is no then we should not express what is in our heart because it is going to cause a mess. Certainly truth is the primary measuring stick for our speech, but not not the only one!
We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). It was said of our Lord Jesus that He spoke “gracious words” (Luke 4:22). He was not abrasive and caustic, but kind when He spoke truth.
“Truth without love is brutality and love without truth is hypocrisy”, said Keith Miller. It isn’t either/or, but both/and! We need truth and love together in our words.
Also, some things that are true are unnecessary to be repeated because they are not edifying (Ephesians 4:29). Because of my profession I know things about people that are true, but should never be repeated because they are hurtful and damaging.
Someone wisely wrote, “Think twice before saying an unkind word, then don’t say it”. If it isn’t helpful, encouraging and constructive it is best not to say it.
Perhaps you are like me, too often you speak without thinking. One of the greatest lessons we will ever learn is to think before we speak and to ask the Lord to guide our words. It would save us so much trouble in our families, churches, at school, behind the backstop watching a game, and in the workplace.
Many Christians have a life verse. This a text of Scripture that is meaningful to them in a very special way. Many years ago my wife, Paula, and I were in the kitchen sitting at the table and she said, “Rick, I don’t have a life verse. I’m going to find one for me”.
I forgot about the conversation, but several weeks later she told me that she had found her life verse. Paula is a sanguine – fun, expressive and joyful. Sometimes extroverts speak too quickly and say things they wish they hadn’t. Here is her verse, and one that all of us should quote every morning before we start the day as a prayer to the Lord. It would truly help us to guard what we say.
“Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)
Someone wrote, “Lord, fill my mouth with worthwhile stuff and nudge me when I’ve said enough”. Amen!