To Speak or Not to Speak…Should I Answer That Question?

This week I’ve been attending an annual conference of Christian university students as one of the visiting speakers. The theme of the conference is ‘God Speaks’ and there has been a lot of speaking about God speaking – a lot of words about his words.

I’ve been driving to and from the conference each day, listening to ABC radio – listening to a lot of people speaking about what others (mostly politicians) have spoken.

This morning I was asked to speak to some of the students at the conference about my life and work on the other side of the world. I, a former Arts student, was very much aware that I was standing in front of 100 students from the Science Faculty of their university. My words and their words could quite possibly be considered different languages! But we seemed to understand each other pretty well.

One of the things that has impacted me this week – ‘spoken to me’, if you like – has been the way that speech, what we say and how we say it, highlights experience and wisdom.

One of the secondary aims of the conference is to allow students opportunity to gain experience in leading and speaking in group settings. While those of us with more experience in these areas are mostly required to sit quietly and let others have a go, it has been heartening to see the students gain confidence, not just in speaking words but, as they speak, being more confident of the beliefs and truths they are speaking out loud.

It has really struck home to me this week, how important it is to speak out what we believe, to hear others speak, to respond to them in speech. Coming from one who tends toward verbal processing, this should not be a new revelation to me! I’ve certainly had to do a lot of work over the years, learning to listen more than I speak; to sit back and give others a chance to think quietly before they feel confident to speak. But in the end, speech is important. Words are vital. Communication depends upon it.

I guess that’s why talk-back radio is so popular. It’s a chance for people to speak out what they believe or, for those less inclined to airing their views on national radio, to send in a text message or email containing their words.

There was a question asked in one of the seminars this morning, and the speakers up the front took a while to think about their answer. I so wanted to speak up! To speak about the words I’d heard one older and wiser speaker share last year – words that would have answered the question. But it wasn’t the time for me to speak. And, with time, the speakers up the front spoke.

Later, two students approached me with ‘many questions’, they said. Yet, words failed them. They couldn’t, at first, give words to what they wanted to ask. We stood in silence for a while. I spoke first assuming they wanted to ask follow up questions about my work on the other side of the world. I should have stayed silent a little longer. Their questions were a follow up to the question that had been asked in the previous session. They had no idea that I might have had an answer – an answer that I’d heard from someone else. But I was able to make a start on helping them with that answer. That moment was the right time for me to speak.

What were they asking about? With reference to the previous session about the Psalms in the Bible, they wondered if it was OK to say or sing the words of the Psalms if we didn’t feel like the Psalmist felt when originally writing it. Essentially, can we speak something as truth if it doesn’t feel like our truth at that time?

We agreed that often actually speaking the words themselves, wrapping our mouth around words we wouldn’t have first chosen to utter, can do a great healing, transforming work in our hearts. As we speak, things change. The words we speak have power.

All this has impressed on my heart again, how wonderful it has to worship a God who speaks. He has spoken his word to us. We have it to read, on each and every page of the written word, the Bible. As we speak those words out loud, to ourselves and to those around us,  things change. Speakers and hearers change. We’re challenged, sometimes comforted, sometimes left feeling uncomfortable. But never left left unchallenged or unchanged.

God’s word never changes…but it sure changes those who speak it and hear it spoken.


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