In my distress I cry to the Lord, that He may answer me: “Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.”
Psalm 120:1-2
The most powerful “weapon” we have at our disposal is our mouth. The tongue can be a weapon of war. The tongue has the power to punish in a way that nothing else can. Most of us would rather pay a monetary fine than hear someone say to us “I am disappointed in you.” Over the years, many teenagers have shared with me that their parents will buy them anything, but that they rarely, if ever, say the words “I love you,” or “I’m proud of you.” A word of gossip can ruin someone’s reputation faster than a bona fide mistake at work. Words have cost careers, started wars, ruined reputations, and wrecked friendships.
On the other hand, the greatest weapon we have for peace and love is our tongue. The tongue has ability to build someone up, to encourage, to reassure, and to express the words “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” “I’m counting on you,” “I appreciate you,” “You mean the world to me” and so many more things.
There are many people, particularly people in authority over us, whom we wonder when we interact with them, “Will I receive a warm greeting or will they tear me down?” There are many people who we afraid to confide in because when their ears hear our struggles, their mouths will come alive with gossip. Sometimes the best thing for the tongue to do it to be silent, to hold the confidences of those who confide in us.
We have discussed before, but it is worth mentioning again, that in the Orthodox Tradition of iconography, the saints are intentionally painted with small mouths and big ears, to emphasize visually to us that we are to listen more and speak less.
Sometimes people speak to us and they are looking for answers. And many times, we speak quickly without gathering more information. We go with the first thing they say, rather than listening and hearing them out. Many times people share something with us and before letting them finish, we are already giving our own opinion. Many times people share something with us that goes against what we think and before they are finished, we are over shouting them. We can all do a better job of being patient listeners and thoughtful responders. We can all stand to invest more time in the “art of conversation.” Speaking personally (I don’t know if other people have this experience), there are people I know who I enjoy having conversation with, because there is a healthy back and forth exchange of ideas, because both people are patient listeners, they let conversations happen organically (as opposed to going into the conversation with an agenda and a pre-determined outcome) and don’t compete for who is going to have the last word. There are other people where the opposite is true. They don’t listen, they try to over shout, dominate, or have the last word. Or worse, they have an agenda and a pre-determined outcome before a conversation even begins.
Our mouths are the biggest conveyer of truth. Our testimony of true or lies begins with the mouth. This is why Psalm 120 implores God to “Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.” (Psalm 120:2) Part of our daily prayer should be for us to speak truth, to be a good listener, and to strive to avoid gossip, slander, and the temptation to lie or exaggerate.
Psalm 120 concludes with a temptation each of us faces: “Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but when I speak, they are for war!” (v. 6-7) Today’s conversations are dominated by the Coronavirus and associated fallout, talk about civil unrest, and the upcoming Presidential election. These three topics are polarizing. That is not a political comment. It is a truth. There are strong feelings on either side of each of these issues. There are very few people who are undecided when it comes to all three topics. I try to avoid speaking publicly on these subjects. I don’t talk about them in sermons, I don’t discuss them on the Prayer Team. Why? Because even if I think I am speaking for peace, or what I perceive as peace, I could inadvertently start a war, and this is what I don’t want to do. I have feelings and frustrations, as we all do. But I try not to let those feelings distract from the fundamental Christian duties to love God and to love and serve each other. I’d rather talk about encouragement than politics. I’d rather receive encouragement than a strong opinion from someone else. Looking at verse 6, I don’t want my dwelling to be among those who hate peace. I don’t want to have my conversations revolve around topics that create stress. That is a personal choice. This chaotic time especially is a good time to examine how much we are talking and how we are listening. Let’s strive hard to listen more and talk less. Let’s strive to speak purposefully and kindly. Let’s strive to avoid arguments that are circular and lead nowhere. And as a good friend says to me, let’s avoid going down the pathways where there is no cheese at the end of the tunnel. Let’s strive to be better listeners and more careful when we speak. Let’s do a better job at guarding our tongues.
In my distress I cry to the Lord, that He may answer me: “Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue.” What shall be given to you? And what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue? A warrior’s sharp arrives, with glowing coals of the broom tree! Woe is me, that I sojourn in Meschech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar! Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace; but what I speak, they are for war! Psalm 120
Listen more, talk less today!