Just over a week ago, I gave one of my most passionate and heart felt talks of my ministry life. I was so committed to what I was going to say that I wore a dress of mourning. As I stood before a group of women whom I adore, I knew that a dress of mourning would emphasize the conviction of my heart.
You see, some of these dear and lovely ladies were struggling to get along with one another. Jealousy, selfish ambition, rivalry, and gossip were dividing the group who had originally come together to be a support and strength to each other. Now that many had succeeded and were doing well, they had forgotten their need. They had forgotten what it meant to show mercy, to show compassion, to be generous and to share both knowledge and goods and services with those who had less or who were in the beginning stages of their career. Some ladies had chosen to close their hearts and their hands to those in their midst who needed their guidance and their support.
Unfortunately, a spirit of division permeated the group. Unkind words were posted on Whatsapp, whispers of discontent were uttered in the shadows, and slanderous remarks were stabbing the hearts of this precious group and murdering its unity. As a result, the once strong group broke in half. One side left feeling unappreciated, abandoned, and heartbroken. The other side remained; feeling scorned and betrayed. Neither side won.
In the midst of this crisis, I was approached to speak to the group. Truly, their discord pained me and had brought me to tears. I humbly accepted the invitation to address the growing division.
A few days later, I stood before my friends in my black-laced dress of mourning.
I shared, “Ladies, the dress I wear today is a dress of mourning.” Gasps erupted from the divided body. A dress of mourning signifies some one in the family has passed away and clothes of mourning are usually worn for a year. Death in southern African life is a significant thing. Then I said these words as clearly as I could, “I wear this dress of mourning for you.”
Shocked gasps escaped from the mouths of my friends.
As I began to share my heart, I knew that I was only able to stand before them and speak words of love and truth into this difficult situation because of the committed relationship I had grown and developed over the past eight years with the majority of the ladies. The ministry of presence that I had worked so hard to cultivate over the years would now indicate whether the roots had dug deep and strong between us or were just planted below the surface.
For this day, I would share these convicting words from the letter of James to address the fire of discontent that had scorched the heart and soul of the group with hurtful words and actions:
…the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. New International Version, James 3: 3 – 10
The room was silent as I passionately begged the ladies to choose an altogether different way to voice their disagreements, their frustrations, and their pain. For their words – either spoken or unspoken – were darkening the heart and soul of them all. Their mutual respect and trust had disintegrated. The reason they had formed in the first place was to stand together as one – strong, compassionate, and unified. Sadly, their mutual respect and trust had disintegrated.
Their offenses divided them from one another and also hurt their relationship with their Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ.
I asked them to consider what they say first – either verbal or written – for in this age of social media and communication through text messages and Whatsapp, every word counts.
I asked them to reflect upon these questions before they ever speak or write to communicate:
Is your word helpful?
Is your word kind?
Is your word necessary?
Is your word a blessing or a curse?
Is your word Christ-honoring?
Now, please do not think for a moment, that I stood before my friends as an accuser. I, too, have had moments in my life when my tongue was not used for the benefit of others. I have used my tongue to blast words of frustration. I have vented my bitterness. I have divulged my disappointment. I have voiced words of impatience. I have displayed anger and displeasure. And there have been times when I seethed inwardly with resentment. I have in the past, and I most likely will again in the future, say something I should not.
For as James so wisely and forcefully shared in his letter to us all, “No human being can tame the tongue.”
I am just as capable as the ladies I stood before of using my tongue to bless the people I love as I am of using my tongue to harm them too.
So, what is the answer to this tongue-twisted dilemma?
On this day, I brought a six foot paper cross to the meeting and fixed it to the wall. Then I passed out slips of paper to each of the women present. And this is what I said,
“We have all been offended and hurt by the words of others. We also have used our tongues to slander and harm our family, our friends, the ladies in this room and even strangers. For with every malevolent word or bitter, envious thought, we sabotage our relationships with others and our God. And it was for these offenses and more, Jesus Christ offered up his life on the cross. He died for every harsh word uttered by you and me.”
The ladies in the room graciously listened.
“Jesus Christ understands the offenses you have endured. He sacrificially stretched his arms out upon the cross to endure them too. The gossip, the slander, the slights and the grievances we have experienced have been crucified with Christ. I have a request. Please write these things that have punctured your hearts on the slips of paper, crumple them up, and then lay them down at the cross. And when you do, decide now, to leave your hurts and offenses there and begin again. Allow Jesus Christ to bridge your divide and heal your brokenness.”
Amazingly, every person in the room began to write. In time, each woman rose up from her bench or her chair to lay her crumpled hurts at the foot of the paper cross.
What difference will it make?
Truly, only God knows. I pray the ladies, my dear friends, make a choice to use their tongues in a new way.I pray that their tongues would be untangled by mercy, love, grace, and forgiveness.
I had been requested to speak into this group’s painful divide. I pray that as I did so, my God was honored and precious hearts were healed and relationships were mended. Time will tell. However, I will continue to pray for a Christ-centered and Christ-honoring unity among them all.
Friends, the longer I serve on the mission field, the more opportunities I am offered to see life as it really is here. No longer do I observe the people I encounter and serve from a one-dimensional point of view. I am invited to fully participate in not only their joys, but their sorrows and the struggles as well. It is a privilege. Yet, it also requires even more love, even more wisdom, even more discernment, even more humility, even more obedience, and even more prayer. As a result, a day like this one, and more days like it in the future provide real and gritty discipleship opportunities.
And that’s why I am here…. to make Christ-following disciples…even if it requires me to speak into a tongue-twisted, heart-sore situation with truth, love and humility. Every word I speak counts. I want the words I speak to count for the Kingdom of Christ. I pray you do as well.
Photo retrieved from The Tongue Test post of Pastor Carl’s Blog