DANGEROUS PRAYERS-SHUT ME UP!
September 16, 2018
We have kicked off another football season! Inevitably, you will hear a commentator summarizing a particular game: “Tech lost to UVA today because in the 4th quarter the Hokies began playing not to lose. They sat on their lead in a prevent defense rather than continue to play with reckless abandon and enthusiasm. And thus, the Wahoos overcame a 10-point deficit and won the game!”
(I know- that’s a fictitious scenario…but UVA fans can dream!)
Christian folk, especially as they enter the 4th quarter of their lives, also have a tendency to go into prevent mode, praying it safe. Our prayers are all about begging God to protect us and bless us, rather than beseeching God to mold us and make us into more of what he would have us to be.
I would submit to you that faith becomes kindled and dynamic and real to us when we learn to pray dangerously…when we pray with reckless abandon!
Such dangerous prayers might include the petitions asking, pestering, perhaps demanding that God Clean Me Up, Fill Me Up, Sign Me Up, Coach Me Up, Use Me Up…. and today – Shut Me Up!
Why in tarnation would we ever want to pray Lord, shut me up?
Well, James offers us some pretty blunt thoughts worth pondering:
2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Cupid.com features some mighty bad pick-up lines Gems such as
- You must be from Tennessee—because you’re the only 10 I see!
- I’m learning about important dates in history. Want to be one of them?
- Is your name Google? For you have everything I’ve been searching for!
- Are you a parking ticket? Cause you’ve got fine written all over you!
Bad pick-up lines simply offend and can be easily brushed off. But there are other elements of speech that can cause great damage. James tells us our tongue can be a weapon of crass destruction. Sticks and stones can break bones, but words can hurt also.
How do we know when we should be praying Lord, shut me up? Well, it begins by asking God…
LORD, DOES MUCH OF WHAT I SAY…
Slap others in the face?
We live in an “in your face” culture—a culture where it is perfectly acceptable to praise God on Sunday and curse our neighbor over the slightest offense the other 6 ½ days of the week. People have short fuses, and they don’t mind blowing others up. Cussing….ranting….vein-popping raving! The anger, the spite, the vitriol is beyond belief sometimes.
One of the persons I admire most in our church is Judy Simmons. She is one of the most kind and patient souls I have ever met. She retired a couple of years ago after a long career of working the customer service desk at Lowe’s. I don’t know how she managed to keep her cool and keep from losing her mind when dealing with such crazy, irate people over those many years. How do you manage to keep a smile on her face and avoid cracking someone over the head with the garden rake they just returned because it didn’t match the siding on their garage?
If you want to pray for someone, for everyone in our church who has to deal with the public on a daily basis. Because a lot of folks have no scruples today in what they say to employees who serve them. They’ll slap you right in the face with their nastiness.
And even the ones who are polite in public are often bears to live with at home. They unload their frustrations on innocent loved ones in hateful, no uncertain terms, without ever considering the pain they are inflicting. It’s sad—the abuse some folks have to endure from spouses, parents and kids.
Lord, does much of what I say slap others in the face? Or perhaps worse….does much of what I say
Slander others behind their backs?
Is there anyone here this morning who has grown weary of the constant political vitriol polluting our politics today? It’s a never-ending sewer industry, taking half-truths about candidates and turning them into whole truths that destroy what little character a candidate might possess.
As James reminds us, the tongue is indeed a source of corruption.
Social media has made such corruption so easy. And it’s not just in the political realm. Like the proverbial spark James speaks of that ignites a forest fire, so we can leave a scorched earth in a nanosecond on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. We light a fire that totally consumes someone’s reputation.
It was a tragedy that sadly has become all too commonplace today. Here is the news account from spring of 2010:
Phoebe Prince must have been nervous on her first day of school. Moving from Ireland to western Massachusetts would be a big change, especially as the new girl in a new high school.
No-one could have predicted how hard it would be or that her younger sister would come home from school one day to find Phoebe’s lifeless 15-year-old body hanging from her closet.
What led to this tragic ending?
Relentless harassment, name-calling, stalking, intimidation, and threatened physical abuse over multiple months. The reason for the bullying – Phoebe’s brief relationship with a senior football player that had ended weeks before her suicide.
When news of Phoebe’s suicide reached the hallways of South Hadley High School, her bullies did not demonstrate regret or remorse for their actions. Instead, they took to Facebook to mock her death and continued badmouthing her at school.
Nine students (the majority female) were charged in connection with Phoebe’s untimely death including charges of statutory rape, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment, and disturbing a school assembly.
In a press conference, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel announced that the bullying circumstances preceding Phoebe’s death “far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship related quarrels.”
“The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe was designed to humiliate her and make it impossible for her to remain at school,” said Scheibel. “The bullying for her became intolerable.”
Investigators also found that Phoebe’s harassment was “common knowledge to most of the South Hadley High School student body” and that certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school were also alerted to the intense bullying. While some students and faculty intervened on Phoebe’s behalf it was too little, too late.
Slandering behind others backs happens every day in all ages and stations of life—from elementary classrooms to nursing home day rooms. Am I the one perpetrating it? Lord, do my words others behind their backs…and a third point to consider…does much of what I say
Slop others with negativity?
My Uncle John used to keep a few hogs on his farm near Altavista. When I would visit him, I would notice this foul smelling 5-gallon bucket of table scraps just outside the kitchen door—overflowing with potato peelings, corn cobs, apple cores, rotten tomatoes and anything that had been scraped off dinner plates throughout that day—just sitting there on the back porch drawing flies.
At the end of the day he’d tell me to go pick up that heavy bucket of nastiness and go pour it into the trough that the hogs ate from—and so, I would go down to the hogpen and slop the hogs, doing my best not to get any on me. I’ll never forget the day I tripped over a tree root and managed to dump most of the foul contents of that bucket all over myself from head-to-toe!
There are a lot of folks who make it their mission in life to slop others with negativity. They poison the very air you breathe. Most every word that pours from their mouths sees the dark side in everything.
You know what it’s like to work beside them, to go to school with them, to encounter them in your neighborhood. A half-hour in their presence leaves you wishing you had an appointment with your doctor to obtain some prozac—for yourself and them!
You may have heard about two neighbors—Otis and Jed. Otis was an eternal optimist—Jed the eternal pessimist. Otis would see Jed out in the yard, “What a beautiful day!” “Yeah, but it’s drying out my lawn,” Jed would reply. Or Otis might say, “That sure was a good rain last night.” To which Jed would reply, “Yeah, but the weeds and bugs are going to pop out now!”
One day Otis figured he finally found something to get a positive rise out of Jed—a bird dog that could walk on water!
The two of them went duck hunting that morning out on the edge of a lake. Jed aimed and brought down a duck. It splashed in the water. “Go fetch it, Barney!”
The bird dog jumped out of the boat, walked across the water, fetched the duck, brought it back to the boat, and dropped it at Jed’s feet. “Now,” said Otis, “what do you make of that?”
Jed stroked his beard and commented, “Sorry dog can’t swim!”
Do your words slop others with such negativity?
Yes, Lord, if much of what I say slaps, slanders and slops other people, then by all means shut me up! This needs to be our prayer…and then we need to follow it up with this:
LORD, GIVE ME WORDS THAT…
If words have the capacity to hurt, they also have the power to hearten. They can be deployed to offer a world of encouragement to those around us.
James uses the imagery of a bit in a horse’s mouth. That tiny bit, attached to the bridle, and to the reins, has the ability to turn the horse’s head and subsequently its direction.
James also speaks of a rudder at the stern of large ship. Thousands of tons of steel and cargo are able to be diverted one direction or the other by the turning of that small rudder.
Our words have the same capacity. The Apostle Paul once expressed it this way:
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
Do we realize that what we say has the ability to steer others with encouragement toward God’s grace?
Think of the people in your life who spoke such encouragement to you—who made a difference in what you have become today. They indeed helped you to see God and to become a better person. Who were they?
One such person in my life was Rachel Pixley. She had been my 3rd grade Sunday School teacher at church. But moreso, she was my algebra teacher at Bluestone High School.
It was the fall of my junior year. The only thing I was focused on was chasing footballs and chasing girls…not necessarily in that order. Mrs. Pixley had just handed our tests back. Mine had a C- on it. “Not bad,” I muttered to myself. She heard me. And, I kid you not, fire literally flew from her eyes and out of her nostrils!
“David Burch—get out in the hallway-NOW!!!” I was in no position to argue. And once outside the room, this tiny bespectacled woman proceeded to open up a can of logarithms on me.
“You are the smartest student in my class—you have so much potential—you could go to any college in the country—but you are nothing but trifling. You are lazy. I am so disappointed in you. There are other students in the class who simply don’t have the intelligence to make better than a C-. But you do—God’s given you a brilliant mind! I believe you can make something of yourself. But you’ve got to believe it and care enough about yourself to want to learn.”
By the time she got through with me I was sniffling to hold back tears. The hallway was lined with my classmates thoroughly enjoying seeing Mr. Macho Man getting knocked down a few pegs. I certainly deserved it. And it made quite a profound difference.
When I look back across my life, the encouragement Mrs. Pixley gave me by speaking truth in love—it was indeed a turning point in my attitude. I would not be where I am today without having had her for a teacher.
Yes, what we say has the capacity to hearten others, to steer them with encouragement.
Lord, give me words that hearten…and also words that
Has anyone here ever had a painful boil? Boils are usually caused by staph infections. They hurt, and they can even be dangerous. You have to lance them and drain the poison away for them to heal.
Relationships can often become poisoned. And healing comes not through heaping on belligerence, but rather through speaking words of healing….words such as “I’m sorry”…”I was wrong”….”Please forgive me.”
Lord, give me words that heal….and Lord, give me words that
One of the most moving motion pictures I’ve seen in recent years was The King’s Speech. It was a British film which chronicles the struggle of King George VI to cope with a terrible stuttering problem. He is helped by an Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue. Logue spends many long hours coaching George, practicing vocal techniques, enunciating difficult words, reassuring him, instilling confidence.
After being attacked by Germany in 1939, Britain has no choice but to go to war. King George has to give a radio address to the nation, to somehow give them confidence and hope. He is scared to death that he will fail. And yet, with the help of his therapist, he finds within himself the courage to speak boldly and with great articulation, inspiring the citizens of that nation to rise up against the tyranny of the Nazis.
Are the words I say to others helpful?
Yes, as James reminds us, words are powerful tools. They have the capacity to destroy or deploy grace and goodness in other persons’ lives. We need to search ourselves. We need to pray dangerously
Yes, Lord, if much of what I say slaps, slanders and slops other people, then by all means shut me up! Convict me! Mute me! Give me pause! And then, we must pray Lord, give me words that hearten, heal and help those around me.
Yes, take seriously what you say! This is the word and will of God for us this day! 1