Does Your Speech Make the Grade?
Take a moment to evaluate your speech habits. How good are they? If a grade of 100% represents perfection, what grade would you give yourself? If you don’t swear, and aren’t given to gossip or outbursts of anger, you might confidently give yourself 80% or perhaps even 90%. Compared to the people around you, your speech might deserve a pretty high mark. But what if you graded your speech according to God’s standards? Take this 20-Question Test to see what kind of mark you’d get:
Give yourself 5marks for each question you answered with “never.” No marks are awarded for the answers: “seldom”, “occasionally”, “often” and “habitually”. Add up the total. The sum equals your percentage mark. For example, if you answered 2 questions “never,” you would finish with a mark of 10%.
How did you do? If you answered the questions honestly, I suspect your grade – like mine – was fairly low.
A Failing Grade
His face was glum. I knew immediately that something had gone wrong. He tossed his knapsack full of books into the back of our vehicle, crossed his arms, and with a heavy sigh slumped down into the seat next to me. “Hi sweetie,” I ventured, “It looks like you’ve had a hard day.”
“I don’t understand it,” my son burst out bitterly, “I studied and I thought I knew all the material. How could I blow a test so badly? 37 percent! – I am so disgusted! I feel sick!”
Thirty-seven percent? That’s pretty bad. Especially since my boys are all honor-roll students. But I know the feeling. It’s happened to me. I’ve been confident in my preparation, knowledge and performance – thinking that all was well – only to be confronted with the fact that I had totally and utterly blown it. I know that sick feeling that washes over your insides when you suddenly become conscious of your own shortcomings.
The prophet Isaiah was also familiar with that feeling. In chapters one to five of the book of Isaiah, he confidently proclaimed his visions and the judgment of God on the people’s sins. Chapter five shows him pronouncing “woes” on the failures of his fellow Israelites:
“Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes… Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight…”
But in chapter six, Isaiah hits the wall. He is confronted with a vision of the holiness of God and becomes acutely aware of his own shortcomings. And he no longer cries out “Woe to you” or “Woe to those” as he did in the previous chapter. Instead, he cries out “Woe to ME!”
“Woe” is an expression of grief and sorrow. It conveys a feeling of misery and extreme wretchedness. When Isaiah saw the failure of the people of Israel he condemned them by saying “Woe to you!” But when he was confronted with the glory of God, he saw that he had also failed the test – and that sick feeling washed over him. In bitter misery, he cried out, “Woe to me!”
When Isaiah saw the glory of God, the thing he felt the most wretched about was the condition of his mouth. He cried, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty!”
The prophet who spoke the holy words of God was overcome with grief and sorrow over the “unclean” condition of his mouth. When confronted with “the Perfect Word,” – the Lord – he saw that his own words didn’t even come close to making the grade.
Making the Grade
Do you remember Aesop’s fable about the fox and the grapes? A famished fox saw some clusters of plump black grapes hanging from a trellised vine. She tried and tried to get at them, but wearied herself in vain, for she could not reach them. At last she turned away, hiding her disappointment and said, “I’m sure those grapes were sour anyway.”
When it comes to changing our speech habits, some of us are like that fox. We see the promise of transformed speech, but after a few tries, we decide that the fruit is out of our reach. And we walk away and look for something else to fill our hunger. After taking the 20 Question Tongue Test, do you suspect that the Bible’s standard for your speech and behavior is out of reach? The people of Israel did. But here’s what Moses told them:
Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, â€˜Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it? Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, â€˜Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?’ No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” (Deut. 30:11-14)
Where was the right word? Did you notice? According to the passage, it wasn’t out of reach. It was very near. God had put it in the people’s hearts and mouths!God does not leave his words dangling from a trellis – high and out of reach. No. Transformed speech is not out of our reach. It is very near. He puts the right words in us. We merely need to come to him with an appetite and an intense desire to be filled.
God tells his people: “I am the Lord your God… Open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (Ps. 81:10). According to an ancient custom, when a benevolent king wished to extend a favor or special honor to a visitor, he would ask him to open wide his mouth. The king would then cram it full of sweetmeats. Occasionally he would even put in a handful of jewels. Our King wants to fill our mouths with the precious jewel of transformed speech. All he asks is that we “open up.”
Why don’t you pause for a moment right now, pray and confess the shortcomings with your speech. Then “open up” and ask the Lord to fill your heart and mouth with his goodness.
AUTHOR NOTE: Mary Kassian is author of several Lifeway Bible Studies. She and her husband Brent have mastered the art of cheering after spending countless hours watching their sons play ice hockey and volleyball. The Kassian clan and their pets, Miss Kitty and black lab, General Beau, live in Western Canada. (Copyright Mary Kassian, 2008) This except is adapted from her Conversation Peace Bible Study and Book.