Sometimes it’s better to say nothing, right? That’s what I’ve heard. My mom told me the same thing your mom told you: If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all. Paul gives us a little more developed version of that: ‘Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.’ (Eph 4.29)
And then there are the Proverbs:
When words are many, transgression is not lacking. (Prov. 10.19)
Or how about this gem:
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Prov. 17.28)
You could also add pretty much the whole third chapter of James to the discussion as well. If you don’t have anything to say, just don’t say anything… right?
Having Nothing Good to Say Is Not Innocent
While it’s clear that the New Testament commands me to watch my words, it also tells me to redeem my words. There are many commands in the New Testament that — if I’m going to obey them — require me to actually have something to say.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Col. 3.16; cf. Eph. 5.19)
This means that I’m not obeying the desires of God for me if I have nothing to say. If I’m regularly getting together with brothers & sisters (at Sunday gatherings or otherwise) and I have nothing encouraging to share with them, I’m failing to love them and help create for them community of Christ that they (and I!) need.
The Causes of Having Nothing to Say
Being an introvert by nature I constantly have to fight the temptation to be shy and withdraw from conversations. It seems natural to me to have nothing to say. But in light of the nature of conversation between believers in the New Testament, I believe that I need to dig a little deeper in examining my heart when I have nothing to say.
If the content of my speech is the overflow of my heart and the content of my speech is supposed to be that which points others to the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus, then having nothing to say means that my heart is not overflowing with Jesus. Do you see the connection? If my heart was full of joy at my union with Christ in his death and resurrection (Col. 2.20; 3.1) and my mind was set on him (Col. 3.2), then my heart would be full-to-overflowing so that my speech would be edifying and encouraging others (Col. 3.16).
Most likely, if I have nothing to say to my brothers & sisters it’s because I’ve been fixing my mind on the things below, where I and all my worries are, rather than on things above, where Christ is seated, rightly enthroned.
This Is a Problem (Especially) for Pastors
This is obviously an extra-large and ever-present problem for pastors. Especially for introverted pastors like me. Every time I’m in conversation with someone I know that it’s my ‘job’ to help them behold God in the gospel of Jesus. But if I haven’t been beholding God in my own private thoughts and meditations, how can I show him to others?
And then there’s Sunday. If pastors are perfectly honest, we have to admit (at least I do!) that far too often Sunday comes far too quickly. The demands of the week have overwhelmed, we’ve given in to temptations to worry, we’ve been distracted by things that should not be our priority, and Sunday sneaks up on us.
And when Sunday comes, it’s time to say something. So what do we do?
With other occasions for speaking we can sometimes remain silent (or just not blog for a few weeks, for example). But Sunday always comes with unflinching regularity.
And each Sunday, God forgive us, we say something. Whether our hearts are full-to-overflowing, or whether the truth has barely scratched the surface of minds, we say something. It sickens and saddens me to think how often my heart has been so unaffected as I enter the pulpit. It is painful to consider the blessing that the flock of God has missed out on because of the stubbornness and hardness of heart of this pastor.
I’m convinced that when the people of God gather and the word of God is faithfully proclaimed, God will work and accomplish his purposes. I believe that his Spirit will work despite the shortcomings of the spokesman. I have witnessed many times how God has stirred the affections of the saints even while this sinner longs to have his own heart stirred. He is faithful. But this is still a problem.
How Can I Find Something to Say?
The answer is certainly simple. I need to dwell in the word. We all do. We need to soak in the truth of God’s glorious gospel work until our hearts are warmed. We need to fix our minds on heavenly things, since that is where Christ is. We need to fix our minds there by letting his word dwell in us. We need to fix our minds there and not let them be moved until our hearts are full.
Too many times I’ve gone to the word like a car to a gas station and pulled away long before my heart was fully-fuelled. If my heart is ever going to overflow with words that give grace, I must be filled with the grace of Christ to me in the gospel.
May God give me grace to find something to say today — and everyday — as I fix my mind on him.