If talking was an Olympic sport, you and I could probably think of a few people who would be serious contenders for a medal! Estimates vary, but a 2007 study suggested that, on average, we use some 16,000 words in a day (the popular claim which you may have seen – that women far outtalk men – is disputed!).

Of course, averages being averages, some of us, whether because of circumstances or personality, will land well short while others will exceed their daily quota!

The ability to communicate is a significant part of our humanity. Communications expert Richard Almonte claims that communication with others is vital for our physical health, for meeting our social and identity needs, and skills in practical tasks like buying a car. While communication is more than words, our ability to speak is one of the attributes which God has created within us and

it is one that we share with Him. Other species may be able to communicate (did you know that bees dance?), and even understand and mimic human language (just think of dogs and parrots), but you and I have a unique capacity to describe and create meaning, to recall the past and imagine the future by means of a vast, perhaps infinite, range of word combinations. It’s certainly true that there is a time to listen – a time to be silent, but there is also a time to speak.


How should we use this God- given capacity?

The gift of words

Before Adam and Eve spoke in Eden, God had spoken Eden (and a whole lot more) into existence. Talking men and women are following the example of a talking God: a God whose word came to various individuals like Abraham or Moses, who has spoken to us through His Son, the Word who was in the beginning, whose Spirit inspired the authors of scripture, and who continues to speak to us for our encouragement and challenge. In empowering us to speak, He invites us to join Him.

There is a time to speak.

Words that influence people

While nothing can match a God whose word brought about and sustains the universe, our words have power: in fact, they have the power of life and death.’ They can pierce like swords, or they can bring healing. They can be a tree of life, or they can break the spirit.

Many of us can probably recall the impact of words spoken to us in the past, perhaps even decades ago. Maybe it was a mentor who believed in you when no one else did. Perhaps it was a teacher whose harsh, unrelenting criticism still hurts when you think about it. Some of us have experienced words that have been life-shaping, for good or for ill.

"At their best, our words can inspire and bring joy. They can bring wisdom and understanding. They can breathe fresh courage into a dispirited friend. They can speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves."

It’s James, the brother of Jesus, who paints vivid pictures to illustrate the power of our words. Just as a horse can be directed by the bit in its mouth, and as large ships are steered by a small rudder, so our four-inch tongues have an impact that goes far beyond their size. At its worst, the tongue is a fire that can consume the whole course of a person’s life. 

At their best, our words can inspire and bring joy. They can bring wisdom and understanding. They can breathe fresh courage into a dispirited friend. They can speak on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. 

There is a time to speak. 

Words that point to Jesus 

It has often been claimed that St Francis told his followers that they should preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, they should use words. 

It sounds clever and catchy (though theologically dubious) but evidently it’s not exactly what Francis said. It seems that some of his followers were licensed to preach and others not. None of the latter category should take it on themselves to preach, something that would be contrary to the regulations of the church; all, however, should preach with their deeds. 

While our lives may point to the reality of the work that Jesus has done and is doing in us, it is our words that will describe what God has done through Him in His death and resurrection. 

It didn’t take long for opposition to the name of Jesus to appear in Jerusalem as the apostles preached and performed miracles. Imagine, the religious leaders had no objection to healing miracles that helped remove beggars from the precincts of the temple, but they drew the line at doing so in the name of Jesus! So they warned Peter and John not to stop healing, but to stop speaking in the name of Jesus. What do you think we should do?” asked Peter and John. Should we obey you or obey God? We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 

There is a time to speak. 

Words that worship God 

God loves to hear our voices. He loves to have us speak to Him; in fact, Jesus taught us how to use our words to relate to our Heavenly Father. We can address our praise to Him, we can bring our needs and we can ask for His forgiveness. 

We will still be speaking in Heaven and the book of Revelation gives us a preview of the script. The spotlight will be on a throne and our words will be words of worship. 

You are worthy, our Lord and God,
To receive glory and honour and power,

For you created all things,
And by your will they were created 

And have their being.” (Revelation 4:11)

That will be then, but we do not need to wait till then. 

There is a time to speak. 

Related pages:

Church leaders burn out too – let’s embrace our limits as Jesus did

Church leaders burn out too – let’s embrace our limits as Jesus did

Interview with church leader Mark Massey on following Jesus’ rhythms of rest in the busy seasons of ministry


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