I found this prayer by Scotty Smith online when I was working on this blog post and thought it would be a great way for us to pray together as we consider this week’s passage about wisdom.
“…my prayer is quite simple, yet very necessary: grant me greater stewardship of my words, Lord Jesus. As you speak to me, please speak through me. As you apply more grace to my life, may it be evidenced in all my conversations being salted and empowered with your grace. I’m painfully aware that my words can bring great harm and death, even as they can be a source of hope and life (Prov. 18:21). If I’m not careful, my words can have the effect of gangrene—bringing decay and rot (Eph. 4:29)…I want my tongue to be a scalpel for healing, Jesus, not a hammer for harm. So very Amen I pray, in your merciful and mighty name.”
The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice. The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip. (Psalm 37:30-31 ESV)
Oh, just read through those two verses over and over. What can I even add? “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice.” So many thoughts swirl around in my head as I contemplate that sentence—especially that last part.
A wise person’s tongue speaks justice.
Guess what is not speaking justice?
When I get frustrated with those who are closest to me, I wound with words. Just this weekend, my son—my sweet, empathetic, kind-hearted seven-and-a-half-year-old—walked up to me while I was deep in the throes of getting ready for church. I had just explained to him that we needed to leave and I (along with my husband) was trying to get diapers changed and babies dressed and worship music together (I’m the worship director and music leader at my church), when he marched over to me holding a game he loves and said, “You want to play this game with me, Mommy?”
I was incredulous. “DOES IT LOOK LIKE I WANT TO PLAY WITH YOU RIGHT NOW?” I said bitingly, and then, with wide, fiery eyes and an elevated tone of disgust, I looked at my husband. “He’s completely clueless! I just said I’m trying to get out the door for church! It’s like he doesn’t hear anything but what he wants to hear! Amazing.”
I said those things with the same mouth from which I would, in a little over an hour, be singing worship songs to God and exhorting others to do the same.
Lord, have mercy.
# # #
“An old saying goes ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’ This is a terrible lie,” writes Preston Sprinkle. “Words have the power to heal and to hurt, to comfort and to kill, to push someone off the edge of a twenty-story building. Or in the words of Albus Dumbledore: ‘Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.’”
We all know that words can wound—I’m confident of that. But we also need to remember that words can heal, or at least help the healing process along. I think that is a big part of what it means to “speak justice.”
One of my favorite passages of scripture is Micah 6:6-8. I first encountered this passage twenty-two years ago in college, when my choir sang a song the text of which was this text—which means I memorized it as an eighteen-year-old:
“With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:6-8 ESV)
Every time I consider this passage, I am impressed that justice seems to demand action. It’s not enough to want justice, or even to love justice: God calls his people to do justice—to be proactive, intentional, and even aggressive in the pursuit of justice.
And this includes, if we desire to walk in God’s wisdom, using our words to pursue justice.
I don’t always get it right.
But there was one time I did.
# # #
I was once caught in a three-way-friend-love-triangle.
I had moved to a new community and became friends with two women there. What I did not know at the time, but I know now, is that they had been close friends before I came, but had recently become offended with each other and stopped hanging out. Then I started spending time with each of them (separately, ignorant of their rift).
One day, I was with one of the women when she started talking to me about the other woman, saying how insecure and needy she was, that she was easily offended and hyper-sensitive. Her tone was condescending, her words harsh. I remember at the time sensing that she was feeling me out to see if she could get me to say something mean about my other friend.
I was the new girl. I had not made many friends in my new city, and I was grateful for these budding friendships, which made me feel particularly vulnerable in that moment.
Do you realize that some so-called “friendships” are built on bonding over gossip? I was so tempted in that moment to climb aboard and join in, just so I could feel closer to this woman, like we were sharing something (even something as evil as gossiping about another friend).
But here’s the thing: I have been so hurt by gossip in the past. And, praise God, I had a pastor for seven years who held a special hatred for gossip in his heart, so much so that he absolutely would not tolerate gossip in our church. He called it out. He refused to join in. He knew how devastating words could be and he was very clear: we would not be a church that tolerated gossip. That discipled me so well that, when I was tempted in that moment, the knowledge of how evil gossip is overcame the temptation. I was not going to join in.
But resisting gossip is not enough. We must also speak justice in those situations.
It was not enough for me to passively not take the bait. I felt like I needed to speak justice on behalf of my friend. “That has not been my experience with her,” I said, prayerfully choosing my words. “She’s been a really good friend to me since I got here, and I have enjoyed getting to know her.”
Then something remarkable happened. The woman I was speaking with changed her tone altogether. Not only did she stop speaking badly about our other friend, she joined me in praising her. We had what you might call a “good gossip” session. Just as sin can be contagious, so can righteousness be. Just as we can tempt one another to speak evil, we can also tempt one another to speak justice.
I reiterate: I do not always get it right. I still take the bait sometimes, enjoying the sweet morsels of gossip before catching myself and resisting the temptation. But I’m grateful that that time I did not. I’m grateful that wisdom that is from above prevailed.
There is so much more to say about the concept of speaking justice, and the larger context of this passage of scripture. Once again, becoming a person who walks in God’s wisdom starts with being saturated by God’s word and in love with God’s ways. “The law of his God is in his heart; his steps do not slip,” wrote the psalmist. “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks,” said Jesus. Our words reflect what’s in our hearts, so that’s where the bulk of our “work” of speaking justice begins and ends—in our hearts.
That said, speaking justice is actionable.
This week, tune in to how you speak and how you respond to others who “talk ugly.” If you’re like me and you tend to wound with words when you’re frustrated, be prayerful that God will deal with your heart now, before it overflows with wounding words. Whether it’s in-person communication or online, watch how you respond to others. It’s important to resist unrighteous talk. But it’s also important to go a step further and speak justice.
Did someone in your presence make a racist joke? Don’t laugh, of course, but take it a step further. Remain calm and respectful (remember the golden rule!), then address the offense directly. “I don’t think that’s funny at all. I guess I have too many (Black, Indian, Hispanic, etc.) friends to appreciate racist humor. But I’m curious: what do you think is funny about that stereotype?”
Did someone make a harsh blanket statement about people living in poverty or on public assistance? Kids in foster care? Muslim immigrants? Don’t just ignore it. Speak justice into it.
You might very well offend someone, which can be awkward. People don’t like having their ugliness called out.
But you never know. You might tempt someone to reconsider their own words and be attracted to a higher, better way to talk. You may even recruit others to become people who speak justice.
You just never know.
Week Five Printable: a free PDF containing four images of this week’s verse. You are encouraged to print them, cut them out, and place them in areas of your life (home, car, desk) where you will see them often throughout the week.
Week Five Wallpaper: an image formatted for your smartphone featuring this week’s verse. You are encouraged to make this your wallpaper for the week, so you will see it every time you use your phone.