Cooling That Hot Button: Prayer to Set a Watch on Our Lips

Hot Button“My heart burned with a fire within me,
    and my thoughts eventually boiled over
    until they finally came rolling out of my mouth.”  (Psalm 39:3 – The Passion Translation)

If the devil put people in Jesus’ path to try and trip Him up and cause Him to #speak in haste, don’t be so surprised that you and I have to guard our #words as well. I was just thinking today of times when I’ve been vulnerable over the years, and some lessons hard-learned. At times I still have to go back to retraining. 😉

There are people out there who will solicit your opinion about a matter or about another person and then later use your words against you. I wish it only happened in situations where the other person is an outright enemy; but folks, we know that sometimes it unfortunately happens among those we care about and trust. Even more unfortunate when it happens in the Church. Most of these situations you can steer out of if you’ll listen to the Holy Spirit; and other times you may be accused falsely and just have to trust Him to clear your name. Stick tight…this isn’t going in a negative direction…it has a positive conclusion that will hopefully help and encourage you!

When I was young, I had a person in my life who’d routinely bait me. That person knew when I was aggravated or under stress and how to push my buttons. When I couldn’t take any more and I’d speak my mind, it would come back to bite me in the way of trouble. I would also get pulled into conversations I didn’t want to be part of and get included just by being in the room, only to hear that my name was dropped in a collective, “Well, it’s like when Lisa and I were talking the other day, and WE feel that____.” Many times all I did was just stand in silence while the other person rattled off, but then I’d get named as an opinion accomplice to something I didn’t agree with at all! Sound familiar? It took a while for Miss Naive to pick up on this, but God used what was a bad situation to teach me a little wisdom. The Lord even helped me to forgive that person, even feel pity, but to be wary of the pitfalls of getting too close in conversation.

The people who bait you may or may not even realize that they’re doing it; and they may do it just to serve their own agendas with no malice intended against you. Others definitely do it on purpose and with wrongful intent. We see it happening all the time on TV–reporters asking a minister or leader his/her stance on hot-button sensitive questions of our current culture, so that the reporter or network or special-interest group can later brand the person a homophobe, racist, chauvinist, hypocrite, charlatan, heretic, etc., etc. The person in the crosshairs stands to then get accusation flung from both sides: one side accusing him/her of compromise or being too cowardly to speak the truth; then the other side accusing him/her with any kind of label that might destroy one’s livelihood and reputation. Entrapment. Sure, that’s the extreme instance of it, but we see that happening more and more as the public gets increasingly bloodthirsty for a good brawl. When it happens to a fellow member in the Body of Christ, oh how sad that we all gang up on the one who’s down and kick that person in the ribs! Peter knew there’d be times like this…and he urged us this way, “If you suffer, however, it must not be for murder, stealing, making trouble, or prying into other people’s affairs.” (1 Pet 4:15) And folks, we need to honestly speak with caution when we get BAITED into commentary by these “news” articles on the Internet and begin to judge one another unfairly. I’m trying a lot harder to avoid them entirely! I keep reminding myself of the times when the Bible says, “And Jesus answered them not a word!” or, “He was reviled, yet reviled not again.”

Either way, while we can’t go through life distrusting everybody, we can be, as the Word says, “Wise as serpents, harmless as doves.” (Matthew 10:16) I have friends who’ve taken some serious hits against their personal and professional lives, accused wrongly, even some convicted without cause. While I’m sorry that’s happened to you, I know full well that it could happen to any of us but for the grace of God.

I don’t know why all this comes to mind today, because I’m not in a situation like this right now; except perhaps the Lord wants that to be a focus in our place of prayer. An admonishment for days ahead as we deal with culture, with school, with workplace, community, church and home. You and I may have encounters in the future where we’re going to have to bow out of a conversation and just walk away if there’s no tactful way to say, “I’m sorry but I will not be part of this.”

Father, David talked in various Psalms about those who lay in wait to ambush him. There are many of us who’ve suffered by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, like Joseph. Others of us have taken the bait and sinned with our mouths, or at the very least, made some commentary we’d like to retract but cannot. Help us to remember that our battle isn’t at ground level, person against person, but a more diabolical force is at work to entrap us. We purpose today to set a guard on our lips. We will listen for You and trust You to order our steps. If someone were to ask our opinion about a matter or about another person, we will answer with our ears aimed heavenward. We will garrison up our minds and beware of our vulnerabilities when tired, stressed, aggravated–and we will give no place to the devil to use our words against us either in the court of heaven or down here on earth exchanged between those who gossip and manipulate.

Father, we likewise commit to pure motives in all we say and do; and just as we don’t want others drawing us into discussions we’ve no business being part of, we will not do that to other people either. We will not gossip. We will not spread innuendo or allow others to be misled by ambiguity on our part. We will let our yes be yes, our no be no, and we won’t be caught up in evil by all the tricky layers in-between. We will not betray confidences or look for opportunities to embarrass, demean, demote, or discredit others…not even when it’s to our perceived advantage to do so.

We confess Colossians 4:6 over our lives: “Let your speech at all times be gracious and pleasant, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how to answer each one [who questions you].” We will no longer say of ourselves, “Well, I was just mad, irritated, upset, having a bad day,” as a poor excuse to let our words run untethered. And we plead Your grace over the situations we’re still dealing with where in previous times we have spoken amiss and loosed hardship on ourselves. We draw on our heritage as servants of the Lord and we invoke Isaiah 54:17: “But in that coming day, no weapon turned against you shall succeed, and you will have justice against every courtroom lie. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord. This is the blessing I have given you, says the Lord.” Thank You for mercy, for helping us to hear from heaven when we are treading in gray areas. Help us learn from past misjudgments, that we may people of integrity, not weakened by having undisciplined speech.

Finally, Lord, we release and forgive those who’ve ever used our words as weapons against us. We forgive those who’ve lied on us, twisted our words, taken advantage of us, and “pushed our buttons” to cause us to say and do wrong things. As we release them, we look to You to release and forgive us. We will let You vindicate us of false accusations, and we will trust You to restore multiplied favor for what was taken away by the enemy. You are always good. Always fair. We can trust You to keep us, so we plant ourselves firmly in the palm of Your hand and we refuse to budge from there!

We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Can You Hear Me Now?

phonebooth“But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”  Hebrews 13:16

Depending on which translation you use, this Scripture gets pretty broad!  Many of the translations leave it simply at “communicate,” while others signify a transference, such as giving.  I want to address it for the simpler version–just plain good communication–and attempt to show you why I believe God is pleased when His children don’t neglect to interact properly with others.

One of the greatest weapons the enemy has against the body of Christ is one of our own making, and that is neglect to communicate.  We can spew out our colorful cliches and not be short on humor, metaphor, and empty words–just like the world–but we can get pretty tongue-tied when it comes to using our words to show respect and common courtesy.  I have been in church for an entire lifetime; and I’ve seen withheld communication destroy, wound, divide, and offend just as thoroughly and just as often as backbiting and gossip!

Why do we have such a hard time with extending this gesture, when we ourselves hate to be on the lack-of-receiving end of communication?  I don’t know about you, but I feel my tension levels rise and grind away at my peace whenever I’m waiting on an acknowledgment, and I know someone is choosing just not to respond.  Having been there many, many times over the years, it’s help me be more aware of how much more careful I need to be when dealing with others who are waiting on me.

Did you know that you don’t have to have the problem solved in order to communicate?  There’s not a thing wrong with, “Just getting back with you to let you know that even though I don’t have such-and-such ready yet, I did receive your request and I’m working on it;” or, “I’m really sorry, but I just can’t be there on Tuesday evening this time.  Maybe next time.”  We need to be more thoughtful of others in this way!  When someone is counting on us to be at our designated post–whether serving as a volunteer coach for the soccer team, a church usher, or even showing up for work–it is a good reflection on our Father when we are tenacious enough to contact our leaders or the person whom we’re serving whenever we cannot do what we have committed to do.  I would go so far as to say, when we know ahead of time that we cannot follow through, we should always consider what the other person may have to do in order to fill our vacancy.  Sure, I know that ‘s not always possible…but it goes a long way with other people when you don’t leave them hung out to dry!  Do your best to accommodate others, and to let them know you respect and value their time, too.

So this sounds almost like an employee manual, I realize–but as ambassadors of Christ, we are called to go above and beyond.  If on the job, you are the only believer on a crew of sinners, it’s a terrible thing to have it said of you that the one who calls himself/herself a Christian is the laziest, least reliable, or hardest to work with of the whole team.  In the secular workforce, I heard that said of one person or another several times over the years; and while I felt bad for the Christian who was standing out for the wrong reasons, I felt sooooo much worse for Jesus, Whose name was insulted by association with someone who was not diligent…and a neglectful communicator.

You don’t have to have the gift of writing or speaking to be a good communicator, but you do have to have a few other qualities, such as:

  1.  Consideration for others.  What difficulties are you causing by failing to touch base, check in, offer your assistance or prayer or just an ear?  What open doors do you create by taking time to acknowledge and show respect for someone else?
  2. Accountability.  A follower of Christ should have absolutely no issue with being above-board, honest,  a submitter to authority, and thoughtful to others in general (even those to whom we don’t “owe” accountability).
  3. Humility.  Sometimes the other person doesn’t need a lecture; he or she needs for you to listen and show empathy.  You’ll never be able to do that if you’re all the time trying to fix the other person!  Think…remove the beam in my own eye, then I can help remove the speck in my brother’s!
  4. Humility again!  Don’t use “the silent treatment” as a way to punish your spouse, your child, or any other person.  We need to check our spirit when we find pleasure in letting someone sweat.  I’m not going to say that there’s never an appropriate time for us to delay a response, but the Holy Spirit knows when we’re using this tactic to get revenge or to manipulate.
  5. Quickness to repent.  If you are wrong, be willing to acknowledge it (by communicating such) and change!  Don’t stubbornly pack your withheld apology around.  A mature believer will sometimes follow the Holy Spirit’s lead and be the FIRST to extend the olive branch–even when he or she was in the right!  Blessed are the peacemakers…and sometimes peacemakers have to be the icebreakers.
  6. Quickness to forgive.  First of all, we need God’s forgiveness and cannot therefore afford to withhold forgiveness from others.  Second, unforgiveness can cause us to alienate our people!  Think of how many people have just started out a little mad over something, and because they kept nursing hurt feelings, suddenly found themselves five, twenty, fifty years down the road not speaking to a family member.  The longer we defer forgiveness, we sear our consciences with a hot iron.  The longer we go without communicating, the easier it is to alienate loved ones.
  7. An ear toward heaven.  If you pray for the spirit of discernment, God can absolutely help you foresee potential trainwrecks in relationships.  Entire churches have split before over hurts…many times because leaders have failed to seal the cracks when an offense came.  Truthfully?  It’s easier to look the other way and hope something doesn’t fester; however, the devil usually doesn’t pass on an easy opportunity to de-rail a move of God.  Often we don’t know HOW to respond, so we do nothing.  Or, we feel the other person is just immature and being unreasonable, so we hope that time will cause the storm to blow over.  If you see someone bordering on leaving over an unacknowledged offense, prayerfully ask God how best to handle it.  At least be willing to make the communication, even if it doesn’t end as you’d hoped.  Once the door closes behind him or her, the chance of getting back your relationship with an offended brother or sister is, as Proverbs said, “harder to win than a fortified city;” AND, the biggest slap in the face of all is if that association is broken in profound silence.
  8. Openness without nagging.  We are sure good at giving TMI (too much information) on Facebook about everything from our skin rashes to our spouse’s bad habits, but not so open in places where it counts.  When you are on the receiving end of a hurt, give the other person a chance to make it right by voicing (nicely) what has happened.  Carefully choose your words to express your FEELINGS, not your assessment of that person’s character.  Those “you always” and “you never” accusations don’t work and can send the other person retreating like a chicken with its tail feathers on fire.  Instead of “you never spend time with me anymore,” try “I miss our time together…I enjoy being with you.”  A soft answer turns away wrath, but no answer at all doesn’t do much of anything.   It’s ok to be transparent with someone else when the goal is restoration, and preventive maintenance!
  9. Gratitude.  If someone–and especially if that someone is in your immediate circle–does something for you, for heaven’s sake, thank him or her!  My pastor and his entire family are masters of this trait…and are so thoughtful and appreciative over every little thing.  From the time their grown kids were just little, even they were constantly saying ‘thank you’ or ‘I really appreciate that/you.’  Folks are drawn to grateful people.  Show that someone’s thoughtfulness impacted you, and that someone go out of his or her way to accommodate you in the future.  And when you’re being served in a restaurant, don’t fail to praise those who are taking care of you (instead of complaining about everything)…and put your money where your mouth is, too!  For heaven’s sake, Christians, don’t leave a tract in place of a tip.  Gratitude is a catalyst to generosity; and if you want that server to view your God as a stingy, unfriendly, unappreciative tyrant in the sky, you’ll be stingy, unfriendly, and unappreciative over your meal.  Every encounter with others is a reflection, to the good or to the bad, on our Heavenly Father, Whom we represent.  Bring the salt and light through the door with you.  I’ve known believers who’ve won servers to the Lord right in the restaurant, just for listening and offering to pray for them.  Many times the person taking care of you is a big ball of hurt and desperation.  Even now it surprises me how often I encounter someone in this setting who is desperate to just be acknowledged.
  10. Positive and encouraging.  Don’t always offer a story about how your problem (or former crisis) was even worse than the one your contact is going through.  If someone’s mother just died, he or she doesn’t need to hear you amble on and on about what all you went through when yours did!  No matter what situation you’re helping someone walk out, find a way to end it on a good note (and not by using cliches like the silver lining in the cloud).  Sometimes a simple, “We will trust God together to bring you through this” will do. Listen more than you speak.  When you are interacting with others, sneak opportunities to compliment and encourage them in appropriate ways.  Tell people when they’re doing a good job, and if they’re not, you can still turn the tide by turning up their self-confidence!  At any rate, when you part ways with those you’ve come into contact with, let them feel a refreshing just because it was you they served.  And remember, we don’t always know what kind of things are going on in a person’s life.  That rude customer service person may have gotten news just hours before that his or her child has cancer.  There may be a divorce, or terrible money worries, or an abuse going on in the home.  Don’t return rudeness for rudeness.  It’s hard sometimes, but you can do it!

If you have a choice to under- or over-, always over-communicate.  You may get on someone’s nerves by overdoing it, but you’ll not vex him or her nearly as bad as if you fail to communicate at all and cause a meltdown in right order.  Think like Christ…the Word tells us that we have the MIND of Christ.  Let me encourage you to pray for good communication skills; and if you’re a leader, grab hold of the horns of the altar and tarry till God anoints you with those skills!   A great resource is a prayer on Developing Good Communication Skills, written by my dear friend, Germaine Copeland in her series “Prayers that Avail Much.”  Here’s a link to prayer at her website.