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Tue Apr 27, 2010 2:26 pm

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I don't know if you have ever been fly-fishing. I'm no purist, but I do love to throw a hair popper or two. When you find that perfect hole for a fish, you feel the pressure to make a perfect cast; you want to gently drop the fly right into that perfect spot without noise and commotion! You work your line out a time or two, and then you let it race out toward the target. Sometimes, as your fly nears its destination, you realize that you've messed up the cast. But this is fly fishing! With a quick flick of the wrist, the rod silently snaps the fly back from the surface of the water before it lands. You make a couple of "false casts," and then gently drop the fly into your intended destination. No harm done because the bad cast never landed; the fish wasn't spooked and the perfect spot wasn't spoiled because of a sloppy mistake!

Ah! If only we could do that with our words!

After an grief-filled morning, I was emotionally spent. I shouldn't have been surprised that at one crucial point, my words rang out with a harshness I had not intended. They reflected a smoldering private anger I had yet to bridle. My words were genuine, but too biting to be fair; they were the truth, but unwashed by righteousness or grace. As soon as the sentence was gone from my lips, I wanted to stop them in mid flight, pull them back, and re-word the sentence. Unfortunately words aren't delivered via a fly rod. They cannot be snapped back before landing. We don't get a few false casts so we deliver them more precisely.

So what do we do with those words that wound, statements that sizzle, and replies that rip hearts?

Well, of course the best solution is prevention. Unfortunately, many of us have what my dad called diarrhea of the mouth: we talk way too much about way too little and cause way too much damage. That's why James told us, "My dear friends, you should be quick to listen and slow to speak or to get angry." (James 1:19) Putting the brakes on and thinking about what we say before we say it is absolutely crucial to living a Christian life and blessing others. Unfortunately, this is very hard for some of us to learn to do. It seems nearly impossible to do when we are mad, tired, frustrated, or feel like we are unheard and under-appreciated.

So how do we put the brakes on our mouth and slow ourselves down enough to listen before we speak? Four keys are helpful:

First, we should to plan out words of blessing we want to share with others. The Holy Spirit told us to plan how we are going to encourage others BEFORE we go to church. (Hebrews 10:24 "let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds...") Let's make a plan to go to church to bless. Let's strategize what needs to be said to people who especially need our encouragement.

Second, we should analyze the need of those with whom we are speaking, then target our words to bless them and to build them up based upon their needs (Ephesians 4:29 "Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.") So often we slip into speech that draws attention to ourselves, our needs, our significance and we forget our charge to be redemptive in every area of our life, including our speech. Let's listen first, so we can bless when we speak rather than trying to be the center of attention.

Third, we can read and focus on the blessings in Scripture: as we read, memorize, and share them, they begin to shape our speech into a much richer vocabulary of blessing. (A wonderful resource we offer for free as a download is Eldon Degge's Book of Blessings which have a blessing for each day, half of which are the words of Scripture.) Blessed speech becomes much more natural. This focus helps our first speech inclination to bring God's grace to someone else rather than defending our turf, stating our position, or returning a sarcastic zinger. In very tough times, Peter reminded God's people: Don't repay evil for evil. Don't retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it. (1 Peter 3:9)

Fourth, we must begin each day with prayer, asking God to use us to be his blessing in the lives of those we will touch that day. We should ask for help in saying the right things at the right time with the right attitude. If we have special meetings scheduled, we can ask for God's grace and help to say things properly. Not all of our conversations will be easy, pleasant, and non-confrontational. But we can speak the truth in the love and display courtesy as well as courage even while being assertive. Paul tells us: "Let your conversation be gracious and effective so that you will have the right answer for everyone." (Colossians 4:6) God's Spirit can help us display holy character in what we say and how we say it.

Since there are no simple ways to snap back our words before they sloppily hit their target and do lasting damage, we're going to have to apologize when we misuse our speech. If our focus is upon blessing others, our good intentions will begin to show in our lives. When we mess up our speech and wound others, our apologies will more likely be accepted and appreciated. While we cannot erase the words, we must ask for the forgiveness of those we wound. Hopefully over time, our desire to bless will help change the hearts of those we've hurt and help them understand we want to bless them with grace.

God bless us all as we seek to use our words to bring a blessing to others.

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