As we begin our journey this week, we have to realize that there are many times where instead of speaking, we need to learn to keep our mouth closed. Each time we speak, it is a conscious choice to do so.
Many of the outcomes of our trek of life are determined by the choices that we make each day. While we cannot always control the path that lies in front of us, as we take one step at a time, we can make choices that will help us navigate through trails successfully. As we take each step, we can learn the lessons each new trail brings to us.
One of the most difficult areas of our life to control consistently is the use of our tongue. We need to learn when to keep our mouth closed. Have you ever been with a group of people that you respect and you find yourself saying something completely out of place? Have you ever spoken to a loved one or associate in a way that cuts them to the core, and as soon as it comes out of your mouth you think to yourself, “How foolish it was to say such hurtful words”? Our words can lift someone to the heights of heaven or plunge them into the very depths of hell.
In our next two Wisdom Notes, we will first explore just how difficult, but important, it is to control our tongues and then weave in 10 practical lessons on when it is best just to shut up. As a Christ follower, much of the wisdom that I have gained throughout my life comes from God’s Word, the Bible. It has much to say about how important it is to choose our words wisely and to limit our words to those that are helpful to others. Christ’s half-brother James wrote several paragraphs about how difficult it really is to control our tongues, in his letter to the Jews that were scattered across the Roman Empire. In Chapter 3 verses 1-12 he wrote,
“Dear brothers and sisters, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly. Indeed, we all make many mistakes. For if we could control our tongues, we would be perfect and could also control ourselves in every other way.
We can make a large horse go wherever we want by means of a small bit in its mouth. And a small rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot chooses to go, even though the winds are strong. In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.
People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right! Does a spring of water bubble out with both fresh water and bitter water? Does a fig tree produce olives, or a grapevine produce figs? No, and you can’t draw fresh water from a salty spring.”
Wow! If we just read this snippet of James’s letter, it would seem like it is impossible to control our tongue. If you think about unwise words that you spoke just this week, there is clear evidence that we all suffer from the dreaded diseases known as “diarrhea of the mouth” and “foot in mouth disease.” Fortunately, what is impossible with humans is possible with God.
While hiking, if you want to see amazing wildlife and birds, you need to be very quiet, which means keeping your mouth shut, even when you want to go on about how much you know. So, as you trek through today and tomorrow, you will arrive at 10 clearings along your trail where you will be able to gaze through the trees and see some amazing sites. These are examples of 10 times when you should just shut up. We will visit the first two clearings in this note and finish up with the remaining 8 in our next one.
“Knowing when to open your mouth and when to keep it shut is valuable wisdom.”
There are times when we don’t speak up when we should, but more often than not we do speak when we shouldn’t. Wise people speak less because they know the value of keeping quiet.
Lesson #1 – Keep quite when you want to correct someone.
This is particularly important when that someone is a new acquaintance or a superior. If you correct them, you might embarrass them, and you’re not actually going to gain anything. They might not believe you, and you could wind up in a dumb argument about it, taking out your phone and finding sources that prove you’re right until you shut them down. Sure, you’ll have demonstrated your superior knowledge, but a lot of people actually hate that. In many cases, if someone misspeaks, there is no need to correct them because what they have said is not of importance. If it is really important, meet with them in private and discuss the incorrect information and give them an opportunity to correct it.
Lesson #2 – Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut when you have set a big goal.
You might think that announcing your intentions to others will increase your chances of achieving your goals, but research suggests the opposite is true. NYU psychology professor Peter Gollwitzer found in four different studies that people who kept their intentions to themselves were more likely to achieve them than those who made them public. The reasoning found in this study was that once a goal is announced publicly, our subconscious leads us to believe we have already completed that goal. Confiding in one accountability partner that will make sure that you reach your goal is a much more effective way of meeting that goal. Another reason for not trumpeting your big plans is that if you don’t follow through, you’ll be seen as flaky.
In our next Wisdom Note, we will explore the remaining 8 times when we need to learn to shut up.