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From his column Pressing On

pressing-on-03-14-1“I grew up knowing I was different, and I hated it,” writes author Mary Ann Bird. “I was born with a cleft palate, and when I started school, my classmates made it clear to me how I looked to others: a little girl with a misshapen lip, crooked nose, lopsided teeth, and garbled speech.” She tells her story of enduring shame until a pivotal point in the second grade. Mary’s teacher, Mrs. Leonard, annually administered a hearing test in which she whispered to each child from a distance. Each pupil was asked to repeat a whispered statement to confirm their hearing ability. Children usually heard Mrs. Leonard whisper phrases such as “The sky is blue,” or “Do you have new shoes?” Mary writes, “I waited there for those words that God must have put into her mouth... [They were] seven words that changed my life. Mrs. Leonard said in her whisper, ‘I wish you were my little girl.’”[1]

A similar turning point took place for me as a teenager in a mall parking lot. Seated in a parked car on a summer afternoon, my youth pastor must have been God’s voice to me. He told me he saw within me a leader of others, and he challenged me to lead others to follow Christ. His words called forth something from within me. Just as Moses’ repeated command to Joshua, “Be strong and courageous,” actually imparted strength and courage into Joshua’s life, my youth pastor’s words spoke leadership into me. From that moment forward, it was settled. I saw myself as a leader. The only question remaining was whether I would be a good or bad one. This minister changed my course. And he did it with words.

Proverbs 18:21 succinctly says what the Bible tells us time and again, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” Our words carry the capacity to bless and to curse. Words generate and words destroy. Words create and words kill. Words lift and words lower. Words are not neutral, nor are they impotent. In fact, words, if anything, are potent.

As holiness people, we recognize the connection between a pure heart and holy speech. Holy speech creates space for others and ourselves to live fully and freely as children of God. Holy speech is much more than the absence of unholy speech. The Bible has much to say about avoiding unholy speech, like slander and gossip and coarse language. While it is necessary to abstain from the unholy, it is just as necessary that we practice speech that is holy. Likewise, holy speech is much more than hollow religious talk that is disconnected from a pure heart. Holy speech is the genuine expression of a holy life.

Imagine if we named holy speech a spiritual discipline—like prayer, fasting, or spiritual reading. Holy speech, when regularly engaged, can shape us as followers of Jesus. Like other spiritual practices, it requires Spirit-led discipline and brotherly and sisterly accountability. We train our tongues to say things like, “You are forgiven,” and “Peace be with you.” We enter discussions with the awareness that God has something to say through us. We come to realize that His work will be done with our words. We strive for language that is “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6). Our conversations then become occasions for bearing the Fruit of the Spirit.

The lives of many among us are void of love and grace and life. Whether they realize it or not, they are waiting for words God seeks to put into our mouths. Our summons as holy people is to speak into the void and trust that God will give us weighty words to elevate lives beyond present circumstances to open futures for the sake of the Kingdom.

Daron Brown lives and pastors in Waverly, Tennessee.


[1]Mary Ann Bird, quoted in Leonard Sweet, Strong in the Broken Places: A Theological reverie on the Ministry of George Everett Ross (Akron, Ohio: University of Akron Press, 1995), p. 9.

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