Be A Barnabas

"Peace and Love" - Photographed by my granddaughter,  Shiloh Boivin when she was 5 years old

A few days ago I read a very sad article posted on a news website about some Mexican tourists who were shot accidentally by the Egyptian military.  Apparently, these military men thought the tourists were terrorists.  As troubling as that was to read what I found  shocking on top of this news item was the response of readers in the comment section below the article. 

The article itself was written sympathetically which, for me, made the responses even more startling.  There were over 200 comments making jokes and spewing racial hatred about the victims of this accidental shooting.  Truly, I was so shocked I could hardly believe my eyes.  Just when I think nothing could surprise me in terms of the fallen nature of this world something comes along and takes my breath away.

Words.....it's just words, right?

No.  It's far more.  It speaks of what's in the heart and conscience.  "Whatever is in your heart determines what you say."  Luke 6:45 (NLT)  So naturally, it follows that when a heart is full of the fruit of the Spirit the mouth will speak words of love and kindness, words that are gentle, expressions of faith and patience and will have the wisdom to use self-control.   Of course the opposite is also true and if a heart is filled with envy or jealousy, anger or bitterness, uncleanness or lewdness, these things too will find their way to the surface in the form of words.

We have all spoken carelessly at times and if our hearts are God-ward we find ourselves repenting very quickly.  We know that words have, and are, LIFE and we must use them to communicate, build up and bless others.

Many years ago I heard a woman named Betty Maltz talk about her experience of dying and seeing heaven.  I have never forgotten hearing and meeting her.  All these years later I clearly recall her sweet spirit and the presence of the Holy Spirit while she was speaking.  She said one of the things she saw in heaven was the prayers of God's people and the words themselves were three dimensional -- the words were living entities.

Since that time I have on a number of occasions been made truly aware that all our words have life.....or death.  "Life and death are in the power of the tongue." Proverbs 18:21  We either speak life into someone's life or into a situation or we speak death because words have power. Kind and encouraging words are like a soft hand soothing a fevered brow whereas cruel words are like claws that shred a person's back.  Nice Christian people would never consider shredding the skin of someone's back literally but think it's nothing more than a guilty pleasure to have a 'good gossip.'

We all know that from the way people's words have hurt us in our lives or the way a stinging insult can stay with us for years and subsequently affect how we make decisions because words have a long term effect.  If you were hurt badly by a cruel comment perhaps it's created fear that has prevented you from confidently progressing or even shut you down.   

Think of an example of the child who is constantly told he is stupid.   Does the child progress as he could have?  Does he feel he's too stupid to apply for further education?  Did the world just lose a fine doctor or scientist?   That's only one possible example of how words can speak 'death'.

We really need to understand our words are a very big deal to God and that includes what we say about others and what we say about Him.

Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, 
and the Lord listened to what they said.  
In His presence, a scroll of remembrance was written
to record the names of those who feared
 Him and loved to think about Him.
Malachi 3: 16   

Did you read that?  The Lord is listening to what you're saying!!  Surely you already knew that but perhaps you need this reminder.  We all need a reminder and quite regularly.  If you were to walk through your day with the following verse on a post-it note stuck to your nose how would you change your speech?

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account
for every careless word they speak
Matthew 12:36

Does it make you cringe to consider that?

If we think of everything we've said being recorded to hear played back to us in eternity it's enough to make us clap our hands over our mouths isn't it?  I know when I look back over my own life there have been times when I've said things that now embarrass me horribly.  Perhaps because I've learned (and continue to learn) this lesson the hard way I'm writing with such earnestness.  I want you to avoid the painful consequences.

A number of years ago I had a lovely friend and both of us were in an exciting time when the Lord was revealing wonderful things to us from His Word.  We would get on the phone most mornings and share with great enthusiasm what He'd been showing us.  However, at times the conversation would turn to things that were happening at church and then devolve from there into gossip.  We recognized this and made a pact that the moment either one of us would find the conversation descending into such negative territory we would say 'Gossip!' and instantly stop.  We were training ourselves to recognize what we were doing and to stop doing so immediately.  It was a life-changing  training exercise and one that continues to stay with me. 


But there's more. 

Jesus said, "If you call someone an idiot you are in danger of being brought before the high council.  And if you curse someone you are in danger of the fires of hell."  Matthew 5: 22 (NLT)

People don't curse other people these days do they?  Certainly, they do.  The example of the child who grew up thinking he was too stupid was, in essence, living with a curse because his belief about himself was so greatly affected by words.

And what about the dreadful racial slurs I read on that website article?  Are racial slurs  not cursing?  What in the world are people thinking when they say these horrible things?

How many times have I heard it said with a prideful attitude, 'well I just have to speak what's on my mind."

Why?!?   

Just because you have a negative opinion doesn't mean you should necessarily offer it.  In fact, for the sake of blessing in your own life you'd be a lot safer learning to control your tongue.

Okay....this is beginning to sound like a rant but only in the hope of making a point and that point is that we all have  power to bless or curse with the words we use. 

Look at what happened with Ezekiel and the dry bones in Chapter 37.  The Lord only told him to speak to the wind in order to breathe life into them again. When Jesus was healing people often He would speak words of life and they were healed.  It was the Lord Himself who spoke the world into being.  Words have, and are, life.

We say to young children who are frustrated and on the point of a tantrum, 'use your words.'  We want the child to express what she's feeling so we can help her through her emotions as well as learn to communicate.  However, she's only a very small child and is in the process of learning HOW to use her words.  As adults we should have learned by now not only how to communicate well but also to do so with empathy--even when we're frustrated. 

Christians are very quick to speak of the abomination of sins in the lives of others but what about this verse from Proverbs 6:

There are six things that the Lord hates,
seven that are an abomination to Him:
haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers. 
Proverbs 6

Three of these things listed involve the tongue and it says that not only does God hate them but they are an abomination.  We simply must be honest with ourselves more often and recognize that we all have times when our words betray the darkness that still resides in our hearts.


So perhaps I need to turn the searchlight inward on myself with this post.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, 
we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, 
into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together 
by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is 
working properly, makes the body grow 
so that it builds itself up in love.
Ephesians 4: 15

Am I writing in love?  This question is vital. I know what I'm feeling as I write this is a kind of desperation to say that we all need to be aware of the power we wield when we speak because it's so important to the Lord.  However, if I search my heart and find I'm speaking what could be considered a rebuke and I'm not doing it with genuine love then I'm no better than a self-righteous  hypocrite.  We need to remember to ask ourselves that question when we feel the urge to 'speak out.'

Use your imagination for a moment and think of ways that your words can build others up. Think of the ways you can speak blessing and hope into their lives, the way your words can breathe life into a troubled soul with encouragement. Think of ways you can speak life over a situation you see as a problem.  Cultivate an attitude of mercy and speak in a merciful way.

Be a 'Son of Encouragement'

Be a Barnabas.
  
The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Proverbs 16: 23