I was sitting in a leadership meeting with a handful of significant people in my life listening to a guest speaker (one with a very accurate prophetic gift) There would have been 15 -20 people at the most. It was our church board, elders, staff and ministry retreat which we held every year. I can remember being a little distracted and weary on arrival. My kids were fairly young at the time, so getting away without kids for a few days was always a mammoth task. STeve and I put a lot of energy into this weekend, seeking to serve and love on our team Our guest speaker had been invited to take a couple of sessions in the midst of planning for the next year so the session were demanding and intense despite being exciting. In this particular session, our guest was literally going around the room propehcying with incredible accuracy over every single person and couple present and instead of feeling expectant I felt anxious and desperate to hide. I knew this was not going to be a nice pleasant prophecy to validate my calling, but God had been working on an area of my heart and I knew he was going to use this forum to help affirm what he was doing. Yep I wanted to hide!!
Let me give you some back ground…
When it comes to my personality I am an extrovert and what some people would call a sanguine/choleric. I have always been a talker. I’m boisterous and loud. I love communication in all its forms. Words are my love language. I sometimes feel that I have double the quota of words than the average chatter box. I love being around people. I am am opinionated and process life externally.
Then there is my family and upbringing: I come from a family of preachers and teachers who are often out spoken, loud and opinionated. You just have to pulled up a seat at our family our dinner table get some insight on how crazy loud our family was. You had no hope of being heard unless you yelled and tied to butt in and offer your opinion at the same time as the rest of the table. If you have ever played the game ‘billionaire’ you get the idea.
If my personality and family upbringing wasn’t enough, add to that, the fact that I am an Ozzie who grew up in a culture of outspoken knockers and mockers, whose use of sarcasm was our go-to for a laugh. I grew up una a culture where everyone has an opinion about everyone and everything, and where it is normal to put people in their place, knock them down to size or ensure that we deal with the ‘tall poppy syndrome’; where have ‘a dig’ at someone and using ‘just kidding’ as a turn of phrase which was meant to soften the blow. We yelled at the television, at bad drivers and at the umpires and expected agreement to make use feel heard.
Another layer to my life was the fact that I also grew up in the church, where my parents were both pastors and preachers. They worked with people and had to talk to people and about people, all the time. As a pastors kid, it was normal to hear snippets of conversations about people and situations on a daily basis. It was ‘normal’ for me to hear adults and the ‘saints’ around me discuss and pass judgement on people and situations in their presence and in their absence. Pastors had to talk to people and ant people but my perception were not filtered through grace..they were my everyday reality filtered or not. Passing opinions about people I knew and people I didn’t, whether they were present or absent was all I knew.
Although I appreciate most things about my personality, my upbringing and the culture I live in there is a tention that exists in my heart over how I see and perceive my current reality. You would know the same tention. What you know as normal can often clash with what God is requiring of you because he has adopted you into his family and you normal doesn’t fit the new normal. The apostle Paul often addresses this tention in his letters. This tention between what we know as our normal, our default position, our natural way of doing life based on our personality, upbringing and the culture we live in and the ‘new normal’ that represents his kingdom, his family and his name…when my default psotion clashes with my ‘new normal’. Sometimes I fall back to my default but sometimes I makes excuses to stay there because new is uncomfrotable and requires intentional obedience. It is this that God was addressing when I was sitting in that meeting several years back. God was wanting to bring a shift in my authority and anointing and calling but was addressing my heart and my unwillingness to surrender what I knew as normal for a new normal.
That reluctance to hear what our guest speaker had to say over me came from a desire to remain safe and comfortable with what I knew. If God spoke through this man, I would en have a responsibility to be obedient to what God was addressing and asking of me.
He began by reminding me about my gift with ‘words’ then followed it up with a warning. He spoke about Samuel the prophet and how every word that Samuel uttered came true (1 Sam 3:19). He then went on to explain to me that because of the prophetic gift on my life, I needed to be careful with my words because my words have power and some of the things that come out of my mouth can crush people and have the effect I would never truly intend for them because my words have power. He went on to encourage me to be mindful of doing life in a new way and processing life differently to what I have always known and relied on and encouraging me to process internally and process things in prayer pray before I speak. HE was focussing on my marriage and family with the clear instruction that it would,overflow,into my ministry life. He encouraged me to be to be careful when sharing my opinions and expressing my thoughts because without filtering what I say, I could do damage because my words have a prophetic edge and will come true.
I began a journey of seeking a deeper understanding of what this meant for me personally (as a wife, as a parent, as a Christian, with my family). When you place all you have ever known along side where the holy spirits wants to lead…it takes time and lots of failure to carve out a new normal and a new way. One of the verses God used to reinforce this ‘new way’ was Epheisans 4:29.
This verse is not meant to be quoted in isolation It is speaking to those who belong to Christ not unbelievers. It is written in the context of church of relationships and our personal responsibility in creating and sustaining unity. Paul has challenged his readers / listeners to put off the ‘old man’ and put on the ‘new man’..to put off my default, my normal and live from a place o ‘new normal’. What comes naturally and what my culture and the people around me say is okay doesn’t mean it’s ok for me because he is calling me to a ‘new way’, a ‘new normal’ that is different to what everyone around me thinks is ok.
He then says….’Do not let any unwholesome talk come put of your mouth but only that which is useful for building others up’ . Another version says ‘ so that your words will be an encouragement to others’.
This verse speaks to me the ‘talker, the chatterbox, the extrovert the preacher, the teacher , the mum, the wife, the Ozzie, the pastors kid, the pastor and Saint, the member of body, a lover of Jesus and the lover of people’. It give me something to filter words that come from my frustrated, discontent, offended and disgruntled moments. It provides a framework for my parenting, my role as a wife, my catch ups and conversation over coffee and my engagement with those who need to vent and express their darkness out loud.
This verse is a favourite for parents and teachers to quote to their children to keep them from swearing and using God’s name in vein, but Paul is not addressing children about thier language, he is addressing the church about unity and relationships. This verse is written to anyone who belongs to Christ. The context is anywhere anytime with anyone and everyone. It is an absolute not a suggestion. When we realise that in his verse Paul is not speaking about isolated cases of swearing but about everything that we say, it speaks to the heart and to the core of our relationships and how we engage in community. If I don’t use a swear word but speak with out filtering of my words, then my words have the potential to be dangerous, devisive and destructive. How often do we find ourselves speaking or listening to some speak from a place of discontent, frustration, self righteousness or even without consideration of how our words will impact on the faith and hearts of those who are listening. Even in my effort to correct another’s perceptions, I can have the hidden intention of tearing down not building up. In my desperation to feel heard, to feel validated, to feel secure or accepted, or even to feel important or better than another, my words come out unfiltered and have the potential to cast doubt, contaminate perspective and sew seeds of bitterness or accusation
I have seen the devastating effects of the godly speaking their mind without filtering their words according to the heeds of their listeners. The distrust, the bitterness, the disillusionment, the anxiety and division isctgevrruit of an unfiltered vent with destructive results.
Ephesians 4:29, as a filter or framework is protective in nature both of my own heart and the hearts of those I engage with.
I am learning to hear what others say to me with this same filter, but it’s not easy. I often find it is only in hindsight that I was listening to gossip, slander, criticism, correction or accusation without being aware. How often, out of my need to feel needed or make someone feel safe or heard, I can be unaware that they are using my heart as a paddock to sow seeds of bitterness and slander and destruction. I don’t want to be a safe place for others to vent their frustrations and discontent or self righteousness. I am getting better at telling people to not share information with me if it is none of my business. Learning to say ‘This has nothing to do with me‘ is becoming a habit worth learning. Just because I am the Pastor does not automatically mean I need to know. There are many times I have asked Steve to not share something because it is not my place to know. There are many times when I have sought information and my sweet hubby has told me seeetly to mind my own business, letting me know that my pastoral concern was a guise for curiosity and gossip. It can be hard to gauge because sometimes I do. I don’t want to be a safe person for others to vent to, unless I can offer hope, perspective and strength. In my ‘old normal’ I need to feel important or validated, and I can find myself caught up in conversation that I have no right being a part of because curiosity not grace is my agenda. My ‘new normal’ requires me to be discerning. When another believer shares information about someone in the name of concern and seeking prayer, my Epheisans 4:29 warning bells go off because it can often means they simply want to share details about a situation they have no business passing on and they see me as a safe place to vent, share information or pass judgement on something that I may not have the grace to handle.
A number of years have passed by since I got that prophetic word. I don’t think the tention between my old normal and my new normal will ever be resolved but I am getting better at filtering my words and life and others words through the 4:29 filter of encouragement, not only with what I say but what is spoken over me. If my filter is missing on any given day. I want to be quick to see it and resolve it. I have been at the mercy of others words that have not been filtered through Ephesians 4:29 and I am learning to be kind, tender hearted and forgiving because I know the potential of my own words:
Words hold power.
Words cripple or build up.
They shape people in profound ways.
I want to be a mother, a wife, a parent, a daughter, a sister, a friend and even a Pastor who coutns the cost of her words before they are spoken rather than after and the Ephesians 4:29 filter helps me do this with grace.