All of my problems are relationship problems. Usually they revolve around how I use my words. A CIU alumnus, Paul Tripp, offers great insights on our words in his weekly devotional.
“There’s an amazing proverb that Eugene Peterson translates: “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.“ (Proverbs 18:21, The Message)
How do you use words to “give life“ to your friendship? Does it mean that you quote Scripture incessantly? Should you continuously point out the sin in others? Are you allowed to talk about sports or the weather?
There’s probably no better guide about how to talk with friends than Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (ESV)
This verse, and all of Scripture, doesn’t give us a pre-approved vocabulary list to use or avoid; instead, it teaches us how to speak with a biblical agenda. There are three aspects of that agenda:
Consider The Person
“…only such as is good for building up…”
Gospel-centered communication is always other-centered communication. The Apostle Paul says I should never say anything to a friend that is not helpful for them. My words must not be spoken from a self-centered agenda where I am seeking to establish my will in the friendship, but spoken from an ambassadorial agenda, where I seek to be part of what the King is doing in the life of my friend.
Consider The Problem
“…as fits the occasion…”
Before I speak, I must think about what my friend is struggling with and what they most need at the moment. Do they need encouragement, comfort, hope, direction, wisdom, courage, rebuke, warning, forgiveness, patience, teaching, correction, thanks, insight, a job description, or something else? My words must be shaped by an awareness of their need.
Consider The Process
…that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Gospel-centered communication is not just about the content of my words, but how they are spoken. Often I choose to say the right thing, but in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Confronting a teenager five minutes before they leave for school is not helpful, even if the content is accurate. Rebuking a friend for an offense in front of others is not beneficial, even if they need to be confronted. Asking your spouse to consider how they hurt you as they are trying to get to sleep might not be the best time, even if you do need to reconcile.
Here is what we all must remember: God has a bigger agenda for our friendships than we do. These relationships are designed to be workrooms for redemption, not shelters for human happiness.
What do your words reveal? Are you settling for your own definition of personal happiness when God’s purpose is nothing short of conforming us to the image of Christ?
If we are ever going to give grace when we talk, we need grace to free us from our bondage to ourselves so that our words may be liberated to be used by God.”
Will I live with a daily awareness of how potent God has created my words to be? He uses words to create our world, and communicate his heart and truth to us. Jesus is logos “the Word”. We bear God’s image as word empowered creation.
I have two types of words — internal (my inside talk in my head) and my external words (using my physical vocal organs to spew words into the world). Both types need to be under the rule of God’s Spirit. Godly words come from a humble surrender to hold my words, think before I speak, restrain the timing, and examine my motive behind my words.
HOW IS GOD RESHAPING YOU BY RESHAPING HOW YOU USE WORDS? LET ME HEAR FROM YOU.
Around the first of the year you mentioned a challenge you were facing of desiring to be more consistent in your witness to the good news of Jesus. What a great growth goal! I also seek to grow as a witness as well. I have prayed over your desire the last few months for both of us. Here are some thoughts and actions that are helping me and I thought they might have some value to you in your quest.
Thanks for being vulnerable and open in our friendship. May this year be a year of greater boldness, greater love of others, and greater open doors for us to share how Jesus can take away death and fill the future with eternal life in God’s presence.
WHAT I PRAY ABOUT IS WHAT I DO. Praying passionately for God to fill us with boldness and help us see each person as he does and causes being a witness to move up as a priority for me. My priorities are what will get a share of my time, money and other ways I can give.
Begin to pray with another person regularly as soon as you put something like a trip, cruise or opportunity to be an influence with others.
Pray for eyes to see as God sees, spiritual ears to listen for promptings of the Spirit, and wisdom to know how to mix grace and truth as you begin conversations.
WITNESS IS ABOUT GIVING AWAY WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN TO ME. Go through the day watching and listening. Lean into learning about others. To listen in an engaged fully present manner is a great act of love. Ask questions. Listen more. Look for a way to serve and/or give to the person. We are perhaps most like God when we give generously from open hands…”For God so loved HE GAVE…”
LISTEN FOR WAYS THE GOOD NEWS CONNECTS TO THEIR SPECIFIC BAD NEWS. The love of Jesus has relevance to every area of life from time management to parenting to crisis. Listen for the bridge.
THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO NEED WHAT GOD HAS GIVEN TO YOU. There are folks who can greatly benefit from the wisdom and life experience God has led you through. Johnny Miller told me years ago, “Don’t try to fit into someone else’s approach to evangelism — use who you are.” He went on to share that since he was a teacher evangelism for him used that gifting. What has God shaped you to be and offer to others in his name? Financial advice and counsel; Business with integrity, Planned giving, Long Term Care — what is in your treasure box? Remember in the Bible witness is a noun not a verb. That means it is part of my identity and an activity I stick into my life. If I see an accident I AM A WITNESS, I do not go out witnessing?
WE NEVER SEEK TO CONTROL THE RESULT. “Evangelism is simply sharing Christ, in the power of God’s Spirit, and leaving the results to God.” — Bill Bright
I focus on the inputs and let God worry about the outputs. I focus on depth and let God be in control of the breadth. Each of these familiar statements remind us of a tension. There is our obedience, as we step out in faith, and there is God’s part that involves the surgical loving hand of the Spirit bringing a new birth. I heard Robertson respond to a question about our part and God’s part that has been a clear guide for me. I will paraphrase what has stuck from his words.
How do we know the difference between natural strengths or talents and gifting of the Spirit? Scripture gives no clear demarcation. If you have it use it! He probably leaves it fuzzy so we will participate humbly and not be showing off our offering.
How do we know if an inner prompting or “whisper of the Spirit” is of God or just my thoughts? Well if it aligns with God’s truth we know it is not deceit from the dark forces. So — it is either a direct conversation by the Spirit with our spirit. Remember, the Spirit operates with us in our daily life more like a tour guide and not a travel agent. He makes the trip with us and doesn’t just hand us tickets and a itinerary. If it is from my own thinking, instead of the Spirit, I view it as a His work in making me less consumed with myself and being directed more from a sanctified way of feeling and thinking. So — either source, and I will probably never know which, is the work of God in me. Go for it!
Feel free to give me a call and we can pray together and add to these ideas with what God is teaching you.
Pandora is one of my best wise counselors. During our time in Egypt we were discussing some opportunities to serve with some other ministries. We both agreed the new open doors fit in our focus for this chapter of our life. She shared with me, “Roy God does not do rabbit trails. We need to look for the convergence; how God is fitting these puzzle pieces together.”
That wisdom has set me reflecting before the Lord for his perspective on our life. Where do we sense God’s converging work? I see it as the Lord mixing baking dough. As he dusts the dough with a new ingredient he gently works the dough with his hands until it is consistently worked through.
For us the dough seems to have two primary ingredients; individual people and ideas. In the past month I have spent time with four different leaders in churches and ministries. After our time they would share how helpful the time was and how they had greater clarity for moving forward. YES! The Spirit showed up and used me to deliver some of what they needed. It is fun to deliver God’s mail.
The doors opening for Pandora use her rich background in special education but often branch off in other life on life conversations and burdens to pray for others.
In recent months I have received encouragement and opportunities to do some additional writing projects. Pandora is creating new presentations and also developing tools for consulting. It seems God is letting us share ideas from what we are learning here and overseas with the people who share our journey.
So — Convergence for us is quality time with individuals and capturing, distilling and sharing ideas.
How about you? What does convergence look like for your life? What needs to be pruned or started?
I just returned from spending most of August overseas with Pandora. We served the church in the North Africa region working with children, youth and adults from Egypt and Sudan.
We experienced delay on our flights home that resulted with arriving in Myrtle Beach a day late. Just a few days later I left for Tennessee to assist my parents who are living in daily uncertainty in a nursing home. Near the end of the visit news of hurricane Florence came out and I rushed home (8 hour drive) to help Pandora prepare our home for the storm. Now we are evacuated with our two dogs to be sit out the storm with our family in Columbia.
I struggle with uncertainty and not being sure when we will be back on a normal schedule for a few days. And yet I just came from a region of the world where everyone I walked with lived with much greater uncertainty than I ever encounter.
Some live in a war zone and hate to hear a gunshot or a plane fly overhead.
Some live in an area of contamination of the water and a shortage of food.
Many live with only have a paying job one day at a time.
Everyone lived with currency devaluation and extreme price increases. It is not unusual for prices to go up 3 to 4x the starting price in less than a year.
And yet — they sing. They worship. They serve with great energy and passion. They keep moving forward with the Gospel. They are filled with joy and peace most of the time. They struggle but do not focus on it. They expect this life to be a struggle and live for the hope in Christ.
UNCERTAINTY HUMBLES ME — AND I FIND MOST OF THE TIME I STRUGGLE WITH BENDING MY KNEES AND TRUSTING IN MY GOD. THANK GOD FOR HIS MERCY!
In June I celebrated the 46 year anniversary since my spiritual birth which God did at a conference of 85,000 people in Dallas TX — known as Explo 72.
I will use my story to seek to underline the ESSENTIAL and SIMPLE core of making disciples. How did God take a teen who thought he was a Christian because he occasionally attended a church and change his life forever?
#1 — Bud and Peggy Pettigrew acted on what seemed like a good idea at the time to help the youth group in the church they attended in Tennessee, raise funds to go to a conference in Texas. Out of that conference several of us became Christians and gave our lives to Jesus to “Come Help Change the World”.
#2 — About a month later two young adults, Esther Cowan and Billy McCoy, made a 2 hour drive to encourage us with the Bible and prayer to go to a follow up conference for those who had attended Explo. Several of the youth and leaders went and many of us began a consistent daily journey of walking with Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit.
I will stop here with these two examples. As I have been giving thanks over what happened 46 years ago there are many, many more stories.
How do these actions focus us on the ESSENTIAL CORE of making disciples?
People who were Jesus followers:
Were aware God had entrusted them with some life changing truth in Jesus.
Opened letters and read about an opportunity to give what God had entrusted with them.
A letter sent in 1971 described a conference in Dallas and it became a dream, a goal burning in Bud and Peggy’s heart.
A letter sent in June 1972, right after the conference, contained the addresses of some of the Explo attendees. It was delivered to the Campus Crusade workers asking them to make a visit.
Stepped out by faith, invested some of their time taking what God had given to them, and offered it to us.
Filled with the love of Jesus, they planted seeds into the soil of others’ hearts.
God gave the growth!
Let’s not make disciple making too complex. Here are some questions to revisit continually as you go through a day.
What has God entrusted to me? What can I say, “I cannot imagine facing life without this grace, this truth, THIS life I have received through Jesus.” NAME some of the specific blessings.
What is God doing around me right now? What hearts has God given me some access to, some influence over, some opportunity, so I may offer to share what has given me life.
Ask God for the faith to step over any fear, the hope to endure, and the love of generous sacrifice to sow the seed.
Know that your God will give the growth.
You may or may not get to see the fruit that comes from your seed but sow it anyway.
It may not seem to be warmly valued and received in the moment but sow it anyway.
You may feel very uncertain where this step will lead to tomorrow but sow it anyway.
You may feel unqualified, and can think of others who would be better suited for the task, but sow it anyway.
SOW THE SEED GOD HAS GIVEN TO YOU AND LET HIM GIVE THE GROWTH!
It is a glorious freeing, joyful and scary way to live but you will see the final result of the work of God, that included your small seed, when you are with Jesus.
“Lord, Thanks for the sleep. By your indwelling Spirit open my eyes and ears to see and hear answers to prayer as I go through my day. A phone call, email, mail or conversation may reveal an answer to one of my prayers. Or, perhaps one of these moments contains the gift of answering someone else’s prayer! Please help me to be present and alert to your touch on my life. Amen.”