Christmas—the song tells us—is “the most wonderful time of the year.” But, let’s face it, for many of us it’s not.
It’s not always a perfectly joyous time. It doesn’t always feel wonderful. Instead, for some, it can be a time of great stress and emotional pain. That stress can come from the busyness of the season, finances, unrealistic expectations, spending time with family and friends (who may be the source of our pain), or the death of a loved one, just to name a few.
This time of year, I sincerely desire to slow down — in an effort to prepare Him room — but I find it more and more difficult to do that. How do I make room for Jesus, especially when my heart is a mess, when I have emotional pain that I have not faced?
For me, because I tend to overcommit myself, one of my stressors is busyness. I must intentionally look at my motivation for what I choose to do. I have to realize that saying yes to something also means I’m saying no to something else.
But if I’m honest, my biggest struggle during this time of year is unrealistic expectations… maybe you can identify with me.
I think each of us needs to know who we are and how God wired us so we can understand why we act and react the way we do. Restoring Your Heart has helped me to do that. Ultimately, as followers of Christ, we want to think, feel, and act like Jesus. But our trauma, our unprocessed pain, can prevent that. Instead, we can get stuck in a spiral of believing lies, acting and reacting in self-protecting ways, but ultimately not getting our needs met.
One of the greatest benefits for me in going through RYH has simply been getting to know myself and learning to be okay with myself. I grew up thinking I had to be perfect. I learned how to pretend to be okay, even if I wasn’t.
As I have come to accept the reality that I am less than perfect, I have come to understand that I have needs (for value, acceptance, security, connection) and that it is okay to have needs. Denying that I have needs doesn’t negate them, it only sabotages any efforts to get those needs met…
I have also come to realize that not everyone in my life is safe and able to meet my needs at that particular time. For instance, I have a great need for connection, but if I know I’m going to be spending time with someone who is not able to meet that need for me–either they can’t or they won’t—then I need to accept this and find another healthy way to get my need met. When I do that, I can release that person, my need is met, and I no longer place the unrealistic expectation upon them.
I think that’s one of the greatest insights that I’ve learned through RYH. There’s freedom when I can release another person from meeting my need, but it’s also giving them grace by accepting the fact that right now, in this moment, they are not able to. I’m learning more and more to lean on the Lord to be my source.
That’s self-care…. knowing myself, my needs, and how to get those needs met in healthy ways.
My friend recently told me that she has a daily alarm set on her phone, a reminder that asks, “What are you doing right now to take care of yourself?”
I love that and am implementing that practice in my own life. What would that look like for you? Maybe it means taking a moment to listen to a song or read scripture. Maybe it means reaching out to a safe friend for an encouraging conversation. Perhaps it’s going to the Lord in prayer or practicing gratitude. Maybe it’s going outside and being in nature or doing something physical. There are many ways to take care of yourself—but it takes awareness and intentionality.
So how can we find peace and joy in the midst of stressful times? I believe we can do that by knowing ourselves, how to get our needs met, and practicing self-care along the way. It also takes a lot of dependence upon the Lord and a whole lot of grace (both accepting the grace given to us and extending grace to others).
It is my hope and prayer that during this “most wonderful” time of year, we can all find that and slow down enough to embrace the true meaning of celebrating Christmas.
About The Author
Kelly Renie is a Restoring Your Heart Group Facilitator and Ambassador. She and her husband Michael have served in global ministry for the past 17 years, and have a son and two daughters who have traveled the world with them. Kelly and her family love opening their home to fellow ministry workers and hearing their stories and experiences. Kelly has been richly blessed by God’s gift of knowing and sharing life with people from many nations and cultures.
It’s hard to believe that WDA celebrates 40 years of continuous ministry this year. Some things have changed a lot in four decades while others have remained the same. Our ministry is no longer aimed solely at college students. We still reach out to the next generation, but we’ve also built discipleship leaders in nearly 60 countries around the world, and that number is growing. And all this was launched from two college campuses: The Universities of Georgia and Tennessee.
This week I received the following note from someone involved in that first class of 1974. He wrote: “Dear Bob, 40 years ago you asked me to be a part of the newly formed WDA ministry on UT’s campus. I remember meeting you at the main library. Walking on campus before a UT football game recently and seeing most of the students drunk and lifeless I became even more thankful for the sacrifice you, Linda, Jim and Joanie, Carl Wilson and many others made for people like me in college. I hope I have been able to pass a little of that on to others and my children. You’re the best, your eternal friend and debtor, David Proffitt.”
David proves that building mature leaders pays great dividends, in this world and the next. Thanks to all who have made 40 years possible and profitable. May God enable WDA to continue long after we founders have left the field!
April 1, 2014 • Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church • 2048 Carmel Road, Charlotte, NC
Bill Watkins and I have been friends for forty years. We met while he was on staff with Campus Crusade and then worked together with Worldwide Discipleship Association. I was Best Man at his wedding.
We had a lot in common. (Except he had an IQ of about 10,000, and I didn’t.) We both collected stamps, baseball cards, and books. We also rooted for the same SEC teams, except when they played each other. And we read (and re-read) the same English authors: Sayers, Tolkien, Stott, and Lewis (to mention a few).
There’s another thing that Bill and I have in common: We both love, and are loved by, wonderful women who will receive a star in heaven’s crown for hazardous duty on earth.
Bill never held public office, or ran a company, or made a lot of money, or did many of the things that many people think evidence greatness. But he was an exceptionally great person: a loyal brother, a good son, a faithful friend.
He never wrote that book we all kept urging him to write. But (as you may already realize) he did something far more significant: HE WROTE LETTERS, hundreds and hundreds of them. And those letters, written by a man who loved God supremely, changed many lives. Mine was one that was changed.
I suspect that many of his friends have a“Letters from Bill” file. I want to remember him, and glorify God, by reading just a few snippets of his correspondence, samples of his trade and indicators of his heart. Once he sent a letter just because he loved the stamp.
A stamp which looks this good deserves to be mailed, and on an envelope worth carrying it. (Now I have an empty page to fill up to justify the postage!) I think we Christians ought to forget about trying to build an American culture that is seasoned with Christianity. It’s too late for that. We need to a build a distinctively Christian culture, proper to a holy nation and a royal priesthood, and let it shine against the darkening common culture, while we still have the freedom to be openly creative.
One of the last times I saw Bill, we went book-hunting together. It was one of our favorite pastimes with one difference: I collected books, but Bill actually READ them.
Friday was a depressing day, so I went book-browsing. (An alcoholic should not go into a bar.) I bought a 1913 edition of Hilaire Belloc’s: “The Servile State”. It was worth buying for the binding, but the contents are excellent too!
A good browser never stops with just the item he came in for. He looks around to see if there are any chance opportunities. Two books were lying on a bench, either put there by a clerk for later re-shelving, or left there by a customer. One of the books had an appetizing look to it. Sniffing it, I began to drool over its savory aroma. But a scavenger must be careful. The customer who left it might be back to claim his own. Just to make sure, I circled around, and the book was still lying there! I went back and looked it over again. Still cautious – a hyena is always nervous about a lion returning to claim his kill – but I left with the prize in hand!
In addition to his love of books, Bill loved discipleship. (I was not surprised to hear that he was launching a new men’s group at church this month.)
May our ministry produce knights and kings – men who know how to wield power and rule wisely. In paradise we were meant to be innocent kings, wielding authority and power incorruptibly. Now power corrupts. Can there be such a thing as an innocent king? Can a man conquer his enemies, subdue rebels, dispense justice, levy taxes, and command loyalty without so using force that he loses his purity? Do innocence and power go together? Of course they do in Jesus! He is the only innocent King – and we renounced His kingship and assassinated Him. Jesus is our stories-come-true. Innocence does sit on the Throne!
And sometimes it wasn’t what he wrote but what he quoted that made an impact. In ministry I was often embroiled in petty religious infighting. In response, Bill cited C.S. Lewis:
“Men who have gods, worship those gods; it is the spectators who describe this as religion! The moment a man seriously accepts a deity his interest in religion is at an end. He’s got something else to think about!”
It may be old news, but I hear you and WDA have been through another period of stress. When big celestial bodies change orbits, they emit a burst of gravity waves and space-time perturbations. You must have a Guardian Angel keeping you from colliding, crashing, or breaking apart into meteorites and moon dust. Astronomy and planets are not ready for ‘Comet Dukes’ just yet. WDA will not disintegrate until The Sovereign Lord speaks the word. God continues to polish your hide to a glowing sheen. He must have a special purpose for you. The way the times are going, righteousness and godliness will be rarer than ever. Keep sowing the seeds-of-revival, they’ll sprout someday!
Oddly enough, Bill and I rarely lived in the same city at the same time, but he loved to come for visits and we loved having him in our home. He told me once that “Ebenhearth”, our home in Fayetteville, reminded him of Tolkien’s Rivendell, calling it, “The Second to Last Homely House West of the Mountains”. After one visit he wrote Linda:
Households full of grace and wisdom seem to be disappearing. Without Ebenhearth Bob would have a lower platform, far less credibility, and a great deal less joy. The “Lady of Ebenhearth” adds something irreplaceable to his work.
In flipping through “That Hideous Strength”, I saw a line which brought Ebenhearth to mind. Merlin has made his way out of the ground and to the Manor of St. Anne’s-on-the-Hill and reflects to Ransom: “In all the house there are warmth and softness and silence that might put a man in mind of paradise terrestrial.”
I just reread the Descent of the Gods upon St. Anne’s in “That Hideous Strength”. I like the idea that Jupiter follows Saturn: jovial majesty follows numbing antiquity. In the end we will be able to laugh, for it is as becoming to royalty as to children. There’s laughter in heaven, contrary to the notions of secular spoilsports. It’s the atheist who’s a killjoy.
Bill had a special connection with Elena our daughter with Down Syndrome. I’d mentioned a baseball game where Elena executed a swinging-bunt and then ran to hug the pitcher.
What a dilemma Elena presented to the scorekeepers! Was the hugging-bunt a hit? fielders choice? error? That was a brilliant tactic – but she wasn’t thinking about tactics was she? She has a wonderful mind and it would be fascinating to know how she thought of baseball. Of course you hug the pitcher before you take your base!
Bill was brilliant, but he was also wise and a child-at-heart. Once, after trading theological reading material he reminded me: What you read to Elena is too important to give up for textbooks!
Knowing we read The Chronicles of Narnia to our children, Bill wrote:
In the magic before the dawn of time, the Father gave the Son incantations to sing to break the spell of sin and death over us. I hope the enchantments are bringing deeper holiness and life to you. Once a King and Queen in Narnia, always a King and Queen!
Now I know why I love this job and why WDA staff are kinda’ weird: we’re teaching students to NOT fit into this world, to LAUGH at Caesar’s demands even as we give him what is his. God is making us into a race of kings and queens, and how CAN the world make sense of us?
But being made holy is not easy. Bill understood this. At times, he struggled with crippling clinical depression.
The ache is deep, but the depression is gradually lifting – the fog has burned off – thinning from a gray pea soup to a light veil. It feels like I’m coming out of a wilderness, heading for usefulness. Carrying the burden has been good training. I just hope I’ve learned the lessons well enough to graduate!
Unsettled times are an assignment from the Lord – by His grace, He does NOT let us get too comfortable in the desert between Eden and Heaven, does not let us mistake oases for the Promised Land. Fat, lazy pilgrims will have trouble making it home.
Sometimes endurance is hell-shattering victory. What can Satan say or do to a man who persists in clinging to Peter’s confession: “To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the words of eternal life.” Those who endure get to learn how to sing at midnight in prison. Is there a surer sign of heaven for the jailer to see?
When the veil did lift, Bill saw this world (and the next) with startling clarity:
Saturday night strolling on the midway, biting cotton candy, holding your sweetheart’s hand, watching the kids getting spun dizzy on the whirly rides. It really doesn’t get any better than that does it? (It sure beats what’s advertised by the world.) The secret is, and the good news is, that as good as such things are, it really does get a lot better!
Jesus said it’s what’s on the INSIDE that determines greatness. Matters of the heart determine the real outcomes of life.
He said there’s no greater love, but that someone would be willing to lay down their life for others. That was the pattern of Bill’s life. He gave his life away for the people he loved. Many fill their lives by pursuing fame, or riches. But Bill chose love.
His ‘investment portfolio’ was his family and friends. And we’re all the richer for it.
I’m absolutely confident, that if Bill were here today, he would be encouraging US, enriching US, making US better people just by being with us and blessing US.
Bill had a chronic case of Homesickness. But it wasn’t Louisville he longed for: it was Heaven and the world to come. More specifically, it was God Himself that he wanted to see.
Sometimes this homesickness got on my nerves. I would be talking about ‘important stuff’ like “March Madness” brackets or The World Series, and he wouldn’t be paying attention. And it wasn’t just the ADD, (though there WAS that). He’d have this faraway look in these incredibly sad eyes but accompanied by this little grin that made me think I just missed a punch-line. (Sometimes I think he heard angels.) He realized there was much more to come.
After a grueling day of ministry we stopped to regroup and I launched into a bout of self-pity, lamenting about how little we got paid for the emotional buffeting we endured. He politely indulged me, then quoted Jim Elliot: “A man is no fool to give up what he can’t keep, to gain what he can never lose.”
Bill laid aside everything else to follow Christ, because he knew that only a personal relationship with Jesus Christ would lead him home. He understood clearly that religion couldn’t save him, and that sometimes even training for ordination actually hindered what mattered most.
My seminary classes have not once taught me to adore the greatness of God’s loving heart, but His glory shines through the footnotes. The majesty of God cannot be eclipsed by anything man-made, and the Bible still lives after two centuries of dissection. And God’s salvation extends even to the proud intellectual.
There are two kinds of “Good-Byes”
‘Final goodbye’ (Don’t expect to ever see someone again.)
On learning of the approaching death of a mutual friend Bill wrote:
Today’s news about Don was grim. The Lord knows what He’s doing, but calling Don Home now will leave us with a mighty big hole in our ranks. God did not mean for us to have to say “good-bye” did He?
Bill’s death has left “a mighty big hole in our ranks”. But even in our sadness, we can be glad for Bill, because he’s glad to be with the Lord. He’s found his way back home!
It gives me great joy, old friend, to know that you are now experiencing the fullness of His joy! This is not a final goodbye, just ‘see you later’.
In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
To be a Christian is to be a “disciple” – someone who is learning the way of Christ and following the way of Christ – as Jesus says, learning to obey all that he has commanded. The Apostle Paul even called it “learning Christ” (Ephesians 4:20), being transformed into his image. The goal of discipleship is Christlikeness.
But how does that happen? How do you grow as a disciple and grow up into Christ and become transformed into his image?
Ephesians 4:11-16 gives a picture of how discipleship happens…
“[God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 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.”
These verses give you a picture of the process of growing up into Christ. They show two main elements of discipleship…
First, the Apostle Paul mentions the formal offices in the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. (Some of these offices, we believe, were foundational and have passed away.) These formal church leaders have a primary responsibility for discipleship. Put another way, part of discipleship happens through the official ministry of the church. Theologians use the phrase – “the public and ordinary means of grace” – which are the preaching of the Word, the Lord’s Supper, Baptism, and prayer. These are formal, public and corporate means of discipleship.
In other words, coming to church is discipleship. Discipleship is what happens in Sunday School, in the worship service, in prayer meeting, at the Lord’s Supper. These are the corporate means of grace.
But Ephesians 4 also shows us a second element to discipleship, which is a “culture of discipleship” – the mutual discipleship of the Body, where all the saints are equipped for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all grow up into maturity in Christ, every part doing its share.
The key point is: Everyone is a disciple and everyone is a discipler. Everyone receives and gives discipleship. Everyone has a responsibility and a role to play. There is no place in church for consumers. We were all appointed to be producers, to bear fruit. In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” In the Christian life, we all receive ministry, but we all also are to minister. We are disciples but we also disciple one another.
2 Timothy 2:2 says,
“What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
Titus 2:3 says,
“Older women likewise are to be reverence in behavior, not slanderers, or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women…”
1 Thessalonians 1:8 says,
“For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”
The people that Paul discipled were now discipling others.
Everyone is a disciple and everyone is a discipler. Is that how you think of your Christian life? Is that how you think when you come to church? When you have children, you may think that way – that you have responsibility to disciple your own children. But what about with other people at church – even people your own age, even your own pastors? Do you any responsibility to disciple them?
What Is “A Culture of Discipleship”?
Biblically, discipleship is not a program, but is a culture. Some churches have developed discipleship programs, which are kind of like classes that people complete. These may have some value, but Biblically, discipleship is not a quantifiable skill-set, with set goals that can be achieved. It cannot ultimately be a program, but is a culture. Discipleship is what should happen in the ordinary ebb and flow of life.
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, “These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Discipleship should be part of your daily life!
According to the New Testament, discipleship happens not just through instruction, but through relationships and imitation.
In 1 Corinthians 4:14-16, the Apostle Paul writes, “I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me.”
He repeats himself in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”
In Philippians 4:9, he says, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me – practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
This kind of discipleship can only happen through the sharing of lives. In 1 Thessalonians 2:8, the Apostle says, “Being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.”
The dictionary defines a culture as “The shared values, goals and practices that characterize a group.” So what is a “culture of discipleship”? It is a group of people habitually demonstrating through their values and daily practices mutual love for one another and mutual encouragement to be like Christ.
On an individual level, it is being someone constantly looking to others for help in being like Christ and looking to help others be like Christ.
When my wife and I were young Christians, we were very affected by relationships we had with other Christians, particularly older Christians. By God’s grace, we were very much the initiative takers in pursuing those relationships. We were constantly inviting ourselves over to people’s houses, offering to babysit their kids, watching their marriages, watching how they raised their kids, watching how they lived their lives. We were ruthless in asking people questions: “We’re struggling with this… How do we get through this? … Why did you do that? … How do you do that? …” We were hungry to learn how to live practically in godly ways. We benefited from inserting ourselves into people’s lives and proactively and persistently pursuing people – looking for help in being like Christ. We knew we needed help. Fortunately, there were older Christians who made themselves available to us, who were completely open towards us. They were people putting themselves in our path to let us in. We were constantly seeking them out, but they were constantly putting themselves in our path.
That’s what a culture of discipleship means – a group of people who are ruthlessly and seriouslylooking to others for help in being like Christ and looking to help others be like Christ.
It is younger Christians pursuing older Christians, pursuing relationships, asking questions. It is older Christians opening up their lives, putting yourselves in the paths of the younger. It is also Christians of the same age and station of life mutually pursuing and encouraging one another.
One very important rule when it comes to discipleship is: The initiative for discipleship depends on you. You have to be hungry and thirsty for discipleship. You have to seek it out. If you wait for someone else to initiate towards you – offer to disciple you, or ask you to disciple them – this culture will never develop. It happens as you live this way yourself and open up your life to others. Sometimes you might pursue others for help or seek to help others, and it may not be reciprocated or appreciated, for various reasons. But beginning with you, so much depends on you having your heart open. The Apostle Paul said, “Our heart is wide open…widen your hearts also” (2 Cor.7:11-13).
So what does initiative in discipleship look like? What practical steps can you take to engage in discipleship?
First, it is important to emphasize the place of prayer for discipleship. Do you regularly pray for other Christians in your church or your small group? When you don’t pray for other Christians, you’re not thoughtful about them. But when you pray, your mind and your heart are stirred to care for your brothers and sisters in Christ. You’re thoughtful about ways they are struggling, thoughtful about their needs, and about how you might be an encouragement to them. Your prayers for them are pleasing to God and near to his heart. And he stirs your heart to be more purposeful in caring for one another.
Second, be thinking about ways you can use your natural gifts in discipleship. What are you good at? What are you interested in? Could others be blessed by your sharing of these gifts with others? A musician in our church mentioned specifically choosing hymns to play during the offertory that would encourage people she knew in the church who were struggling. Instead of just picking a song by default, she was being thoughtful to use her gifts to encourage and disciple others. Are you a writer? Are you a handyman? Are you a baker? Are you artistic? Are there ways you can use these gifts to bless others? Are there ways you could include others while you do these things?
Third, you cannot overstate the importance of hospitality for discipleship. Particularly in our culture, which keeps people so far apart, inviting people into your home, allowing them in to observe your life and family, is incredibly powerful. This was an important part of the early church (Acts 2:44-47, 4:32; see also 1 Peter 4:7-11).
The Fall issue of the 9Marks Journal on discipleship listed the following practical steps for discipleship:
In practice, how can I disciple other Christians?
Join a church.
Arrive early at church gatherings and stay late.
Practice hospitality with members of your church.
Ask God for strategic friendships.
If possible, include a line-item in your family or pastoral budget for weekly time with fellow Christians. Discuss this matter with your spouse. If possible, provide such a budget line for your spouse as well.
Schedule regular breakfasts, lunches, or some other culturally-acceptable social engagement with teachable individuals (of the same sex). Depending on the person, you may decide to meet once, indefinitely, or for a set number of times (say, five). If you and the individual share a pastime, look for ways to share that pastime together.
Ask them about themselves. Ask them about their parents, spouse, children, testimony, job, walk with Christ, and so on. In asking questions, however, do so in a manner that’s appropriate for your cultural context (don’t scare them!).
Share about yourself.
Look for ways to have spiritual conversations. Maybe decide to read the Bible or some other Christian literature together.
Consider their physical or material needs. Would they benefit from your help?
Pray with them.
Depending on your home situation, invite the person to drop by your house or spend time with your family. Let them watch you live life.
Look for ways to pray for the person throughout the week by yourself and/or with your spouse.
Appendix – Suggested Resources
Gospel-Centered Discipleship. By Jonathan Dodson, Crossway/GoodNews Publishers.
Growing One Another: Discipleship In the Church (9Marks Healthy Church Study Guides). By Bobby Jamieson, Crossway/Good News Publishers.
Instruments In the Redeemer’s Hands. By Paul David Tripp, P&R Publishing.
A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. By Eugene Peterson, Intervarsity Press.
What Is A Healthy Church Member. By Thabiti Anyabwile, Crossway Books.
– Matt Foreman, studied at Furman University and Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pastor of Faith Church in Media PA where he serves with his wife Mary Scott and a bunch of adorable red headed kids! Matt and Mary Scott are both Furman WDA alumni. Go Paladins! Read more of Matt’s blogs at http://blog.faithchurchpa.org/
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.”
Let’s not kid ourselves. Words are potent. Words brought galaxies into being when “God said…and there was”(Gen 1:3). God’s words have impact (Isa 55:11), are living, active, and sharp (Heb 4:12), illuminate dark places (Ps 119:105), nourish souls (Mt 4:4), and defeat death (Lk 11:43). The words of the gospel are “the power (literally, dynamite) of God.”
Words transform. They heal. And they can “hurt me.” I will never forget Mariah Carey saying in an interview that for her, one criticism will instantly overrule 1,000 praises. There is something to this. Words have power.
Words can wound and steal life. Gossip and slander bring a cheap thrill to some, while exploiting and objectifying others (the similarities to pornography are striking). False testimony uses words to misrepresent, caricature, or malign the reputation of fellow humans, usually for selfish gain. Words of condemnation, accusation, and cutting sarcasm create pain as they shame, belittle, and discourage. Coarse joking uses humor to draw attention to oneself, while sending rotten fruit in the atmosphere.
There are also “healing words” (Prov 12:18). Words of praise have healing power. Communities thrive in a culture of mutual celebration, of “catching each other doing good.” This is a hallmark of life together as Spirit-filled daughters and sons. Words of encouragement will “put courage into” those who are weak, afraid, and torn down. A timely rebuke protects a friend from self-destructive patterns. A gentle word turns away wrath (Pr 15:1) and halts the cycle of evil. Grace-filled words engage skeptical minds and doubting hearts (1 Pet 3:15-16).
The question remains, how are toxic words transformed into healing words? Scripture tells us how. It begins by identifying the source of our words: “…out of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Lk 6:45). Our words are healed as we replace what fills our hearts.
Why do we gossip, slander, condemn, accuse, slash with sarcasm, joke crudely, boast, and lie? Every toxic word traces to some sort of pseudo-savior—something that the heart is clinging to more tightly than Jesus. The comedian Tom Arnold once admitted that he uses humor in order to have something out there so people will like him. “It’s the reason behind almost everything I do,” he said. For some, human approval is the preferred narcotic. For others like Rachel, it’s having children: “Give me children or I’ll die” (Gen 30:1). For the Pharisee, it’s the feeling of superiority: “Thank you, my God, that I’m not like other men” (Lk 18:9-14). The options are endless. Our words echo the beat of our hearts.
Words are transformed through what Chalmers called “the expulsive power of a new affection.” For our words to become life-giving, and for toxic words to fade from our vocabularies, this new affection must be Jesus. Hearts taken by the beauty of Jesus will yield beautiful words.
What makes Jesus beautiful? He only spoke beautiful words—never careless, unkind, hateful, or untruthful. Even his sharp, strong words were beautiful, always perfectly suited for the occasion. But there’s more. Jesus also is the Beautiful Word Incarnate, the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:1-14). His perfect words flowed naturally from his perfect life, which secured the benediction or “good word” of his Father: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.” This same benediction has since been transferred to and secured for us who believe—when we are at our best and when we are at our worst.
Since our daughters’ births, at bedtime I have regularly pronounced a benediction over them: “God made you beautiful and special, and he loves you so much. So does your Daddy. Don’t ever forget that.” My hope is that these last words of today will register as the first words of tomorrow. Abby and Ellie crave a paternal blessing that overrules the negative verdicts that the outside world, as well as their own hearts, so easily pronounce against them. Words of life hearken them back to their true identity as daughters, precious and beloved—an identity that’s fixed when they’re at their best and when they’re at their worst.
The Father’s benediction is ours. Through Christ and because of Christ, we are pronounced as his beloved. We can enjoy deep rest because the last word of Jesus’ life—“It is finished”—is the first word for ours. With us he is well pleased. Nothing can change this.
There’s one more thing. For us to gain the Father’s benediction, Jesus had to lose it. At his baptism, Jesus received the “good word” from on high. On the cross, he heard no word from the Father. Just shaming, condemning, deafening silence. The silence did not break Jesus’ bones like sticks and stones, but it broke every other part of him. This was for our healing. The Word Incarnate receiving silence from heaven opened heaven’s heart, and secured the Father’s “good word” toward us. If this does not melt our hearts and transform our words, what will?
Editors Note: This article was first published by Scott Sauls who is a Furman WDA Alumni at Sticks, Stones, and the Power of Words
Rev. Scott Sauls, a graduate of Furman University (BA, Business) and Covenant Seminary (MDiv), began serving as our Senior Pastor in March of 2012. Scott is married to Patti and is Dad to Abby and Ellie. Prior to CPC, Scott was a Lead and Preaching Pastor at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He has also planted, organized, and been the Lead Pastor of churches in Kansas City and Saint Louis. While in Saint Louis, Scott also taught Advanced Homiletics (preaching) at Covenant Theological Seminary. Formative experiences for Scott have included being an athlete, living in a multi-cultural, economically diverse neighborhood, and being carried by Jesus through a season of anxiety and depression. Influential voices in Scott’s life include Tim Keller, Jonathan Edwards, Johnny Cash, CS Lewis, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Paul Tripp, Martin Luther King, Jr., Flannery O’Connor, and NT Wright. In his free time, you might find Scott relaxing with family, friends, or a book, playing his Gibson J-45 guitar, hiking in a park, eating at Edley’s BBQ, enjoying live music at some fabulous Nashville venue, or cheering for the North Carolina Tar Heels.