Pause: “Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips.”
Psalm 141 : 3
Ecclesiastes 6 : 7 – 12 “Everyone’s toil is for their mouth, yet their appetite is never satisfied. What advantage have the wise over fools? What do the poor gain by knowing how to conduct themselves before others? Better what the eye sees than the roving of the appetite. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. Whatever exists has already been named, and what humanity is has been known; no-one can contend with someone who is stronger.
The more the words, the less the meaning, and how does that profit anyone?”
The verse that I have emphasised above is one I find quite sobering, having been both a teacher and a preacher for many years. In “The Message” this verse reads: “The more words that are spoken, the more smoke there is in the air. And who is any better off?”
As I was thinking about this verse, I was reminded of two churches that I was involved with in the past. The first time that I spoke in one of them I was told quite firmly that my sermon should not take more than ten minutes; the other church, that I was involved with for a number of years, expected a minimum of forty-five minutes, otherwise they felt short-changed! I’m not sure which of my sermons were the most helpful!
Lesson preparation, sermon preparation, reflection preparation, all take up good chunks of one’s time, but that preparation is vital if what we say or write is to be of any use to anyone else. For a preacher, or teacher, I would also have the temerity to add that the choice of words is also very important; there is no point trying to dazzle folk with words which have little or no meaning for those listening!
But it isn’t only teachers and preachers who should take note of what is being said in this verse. Words are our main means of communication, so the words that we say, and the way that we say them, is really important. As children we used to say that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” We all know that that is just not true; words can be devastating if used to hurt or even destroy another. However, the right words can really lift the spirits, encouraging and blessing the recipient.
Our example should, of course, be our Lord Jesus. His teaching was always to the point, economical with words and yet full of meaning for the hearers. That is why the parables, and his other words, still resonate today some 2000 years later. Yes, he did speak out strongly against wrongdoing and about the ill-treatment of others, and so should we. However, more than anything else his words sought to encourage and bless others, and that is the example we should follow.
Heavenly Father, as the Psalmist said, set a guard over my mouth and keep watch over the door of my lips, that my words may be a blessing and encouragement to all. Amen