We’ve become painfully aware of abusive kinds of Christian talk. We’re familiar with the celebrity pastor who seeks the stage, the judgmental Christian who speaks without listening, the overly-zealous evangelist who does the hard sell. We feel how inappropriate these power plays are for people who follow Jesus—the One who gives himself away.
And we know passages like James 1:26;
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.
So we stop talking. It’s safer not to speak—better to say nothing than risk saying the wrong thing.
But maybe we’ve gone a little too far. There are sins of omission, passivity, disobedience. I’m reminded of the confession we say every Sunday:
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
What words of life have died in our mouths? What Spirit promptings have we swallowed under the guise of not wanting to overstep? The Bible doesn’t say “Speak truth…unless you feel awkward.” The Bible doesn’t say 'Speak truth...unless you feel awkward.' What words of life have died in our mouths under the guise of not wanting to overstep? Click To Tweet
As much as they’ve been abused and as uncomfortable as they make us feel, there are (at least) six ways we are still called to speak and in so doing, we’ll redeem these ancient kinds of Christian speech:
1. Speaking Against Darkness
There are powers which would like to keep us small, afraid and silent. And these powers want to be sure no Christian ever names them or binds them. It feels like stepping into a cheesy horror movie but it’s scriptural to speak against such things. And since we really don’t understand that realm, it helps to humbly acknowledge what we don’t know, and that the power is not our own: “If there are any forces of darkness, confusion, accusation, dissension, (etc) we pray against them in Jesus’ name.”
2. Speaking Words of Encouragement
When it avoids flattery, encouragement is spiritual warfare. Just this week, after a tiring month, my prayer group decided to hold an intervention for me. But not the usual kind. It was an intervention against discouragement. They each took turns speaking words like: “Your work makes a difference” and “You help me believe God loves me.” There’s a reason why Paul begs his readers to encourage one another and spur one another on to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10). When it sends a fellow laborer back to their work with renewed strength, how can we hold our tongues?
3. Speaking Proclamation
As David Fitch puts it in Faithful Presence, “Proclamation is description. It is like painting a picture. The proclaimer describes the world as it is under Jesus as Lord and then always invites the person into it.” This week I got a call from a woman who, after an incredibly trying year, just discovered she has cancer. After taking time to comfort her, I felt called to proclaim truth over her. I said, “You will be tempted to believe God isn’t good, that he’s punishing you, that he doesn’t exist. I want to remind you of your story. Jesus promises us that in this world we will have trouble and says ‘Take heart. I have overcome the world.’ Even if you don’t feel it right now, God is with you and loves you.”
4. Speaking the Name “Jesus” in Otherwise Normal Conversations
Evangelism can feel more like brow-beating or corporate take-over or colonization than Good News. Since these power moves don’t express the self-giving way of Jesus, it’s right that we’re troubled by them. But the fact that it’s been done wrong is not an excuse to stop to trying. How can we obey simple prompts to mention Jesus in passing, even acknowledging it’s weird? Is it so hard to say, “Can I ask who you say Jesus is?,” and leave it at that? How can we give him the credit for whatever goodness others see in us since he is the source of whatever creativity or kindness they’re watching at work? We bemoan the fact that the culture doesn’t have an accurate understanding of our faith (and we don’t want to be associated with the extreme caricatures some folks have of Christians) but how can we ever expect the world to know who our faith truly represents if we’re not willing to show other models of Christianity? They might be surprised to find how many seemingly normal folks in their lives claim Jesus! If only we actually would claim him, both in deed and in word.
5. Speaking Our Stories
I often ask folks to share their testimony and almost every time it brings serious anxiety. It regularly ignites imposter syndrome and “Who am I?” thinking. It reminds me of Jonah and Esther and Moses and Jeremiah—all saying “I can’t speak for you, God.” As deeply personal as it is, we’re mistaken if we think the story of God’s work in our lives is ours to keep to ourselves. And it’s good to remember how God responds to “who am I?” hesitations throughout Scripture. His eyes (unlike ours) are on the Source of all things. So when His people claim they’re unqualified to share His story, He says things like: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, I set you apart, I appointed you. I am with you, I put words in your mouth, I am sending you, I will rescue you.”
6. Speaking Words of Invitation, Humility, and Repentance
Yes, there are some in the Church who need to be warned not to seek the spotlight. But there are just as many who need to be drawn out and told their words speak new realities into existence. Many women and minorities hear these concerns about over-speaking and get the message that any desire to speak always comes from pursuit of power. And even for those of us from the majority, who are aware of the ways we (or people like us) have abused power, can’t we learn new ways to speak which are self-effacing, repentant, humble? How can we be sure that our silent reaction to this abuse of power doesn’t just become an overcorrection which misses a chance to heal those very abuses of power?
How might our silence be holding back words of freedom, truth and transformation?
What goodness longs to be spoken through us?
Obedience to the call to speak on God’s behalf will present us with many opportunities to heal old, abusive ways.
Openness to give voice to prompts from the Spirit will teach us to speak with a selfless kind of authority.
So that we sound like Jesus again.
Obedience to the call to speak on God’s behalf will present us with many opportunities to heal old, abusive ways. Here's 6 ways God may be calling you to do just that! Click To Tweet
Like a wolf at midnight howls, you use your voice in darkest hours
To break the silence and the power, holding back the others from their glory.
Josh Garrells, White Owl