Why little things matter
The people I admire most are those whose hearts are constant in their desire to bless the Lord and to honour others, no matter what is going on in their life outwardly. As a result, I am not on edge, worrying about how they will react because I know they will not take things amiss. Nevertheless, it is right to weigh carefully the seemingly “little things” we say and do: they really do have enormous power for either good or harm.
All too often, there are times when I am aware of saying or doing something that, deep down, I know I should not be saying, doing or even thinking. I am not talking here of a truth spoken in love, which someone may be struggling to come to terms with, but rather of those times when I have been abrupt or unnecessarily forceful.
Self-deception inclines us to put the blame for any problem primarily on the other person. We can be so devious! To use again that phrase ‘deep down,’ we usually do know that there is something in us that needs looking at, but we are often reluctant to open the lid and let the light of Christ in to the depth of our hearts. If we notice that momentary frown that crosses somebody’s face, their hesitation in answering, or the swift suppression of bodily movement, it may be an indicator that there is something to follow through on.
Tracking down the little foxes
Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom. (Song 2:15)
The more alert we are over small matters, the easier it is for the Lord to train us to handle bigger ones. For his part, our enemy sneaks around not only as a snarling lion but as a stealthy fox, who prowls around in search of ways to destroy flowering plants and – to extent the metaphor beyond the activities of Mr Fox – to plant his own weeds and tares. If he can grind us down by stirring up unkind words and actions against us he counts it a success; and if he can induce us to do the same and to foster a faith-less negative outlook he is doubly content.
Catching the ‘little foxes’ that spoil relationships requires alertness when we are face to face with people; still more so when we are in touch with them digitally. With no visual clues to guide us we may not even realise there is a problem to deal with.
Most of us are quick enough to pick up when people are insensitive towards us – but perhaps we are inclined to be far less rigorous towards ourselves? We may even have become only too adept at deflecting such uncomfortable thoughts away from us before they affect our consciousness to the point where we are prepared to take action.
It is worth spelling this process out again. What happens is that when the mind recognises and receives challenges to its way of thinking or acting that it finds uncomfortable, it swiftly filters them out before they have a chance to register on our ‘to attend to’ list. Look a bit deeper and you will usually find that such denials are nearly always associated with things whose loss would shatter our self-esteem or sense of value. We convince ourselves that these things are of no great importance: in truth these seemingly ‘little’ things may matter very much. People can be won to Christ by our example – or turned off for life – as Karl Marx was – with devastating consequences.
“I tell you that on the judgment day people will be responsible [give an accounting; answer] for every careless [idle; thoughtless; unhelpful] thing [word] they have said.” (See Matt. 12:35-37, EXB)
We are not talking about being an evil person here, but about being so intent on getting own perspective across that we focus only on whatever we think will best serve that goal. We are wise to pause and remember that great forest fires can be caused by the tiniest spark; that a seemingly innocuous trickle of water can lead to great inundations, and to the devastation that can be caused in the human body through something as small as a microscopic germ – and through the words that we say!
Rather than stifling the voice of conscience, may the Lord give us the wisdom to spot warning signs, and then to do something about it.
Four things come to mind that can help us here. Take time to ponder them, and to consider assimilating them into your daily pattern.
- Make time to reflect how something may come across from someone else’s perspective rather than just your own.
- Learn from experience the things that did not work or go down well in similar situations in the past.
- Remember to ‘pray before you send!’
- Run what you are preparing past others.
None of us can be perfect as both creator and editor. Two heads are better than one – not only for correcting mistakes but also for finding sharper ways to present our material. So much of what we have to share would be greatly improved (or condensed!) if we would let others help us plan and review our work.
An untamed tongue stains and burns and poisons life: Revisiting James’ teaching on the tongue
We will all be familiar with James’ teaching on taming the tongue, but have a read of the verses below from the DNLT. The very lack of smoothness and evenness in this literal translation of the Greek can help us to focus on the original meaning. Take the passage slowly and allow the Lord to minister to you through it.
Do not become many teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a greater judgment. For we all stumble many ways. If one does not stumble in speech, this one is a perfect man able to bridle also the whole body. Now if we put bridles into the mouths of horses so-that they obey us, we also guide their whole body. Behold also ships being so large and being driven by hard winds— they are guided by a very small rudder where the impulse of the one steering wants. So also the tongue is a small body-part, and boastfully declares great things. Behold how-small a fire kindles how great a forest!
And the tongue is a fire! The tongue is made the world of unrighteousness among our body-parts — the thing staining the whole body and setting-on-fire the course of our existence, and being set-on-fire by Gehenna. For every nature of both wild-animals and birds, of both reptiles and sea-creatures, is tamed and has been tamed by the human nature. But none of mankind is able to tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of death-bringing poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse the people having been made in accordance with the likeness of God; a blessing and a curse come out of the same mouth.
Whilst some of us may be inclined to minimise matters, others are prone to think so badly of ourselves that we end up berating and condemning ourselves. As a friend commented: “We need discernment to avoid becoming enslaved to the reactions of others, and manipulated into living on a perpetual guilt trip, blaming ourselves for everything. On the other hand, most of us are only too capable of pushing our own perspective without reflecting on the effect our words and actions have on others. Taken to extremes this can become abuse. The bottom line is how much we value the other person.”
Some people are notoriously swift to take offence, and there may be little we can do to avoid this; but there is much we can do about careless or spiteful words. David said, “I will guard my ways, that I may not sin with my tongue; I keep a muzzle on my mouth so long as the wicked are in my presence.” (Ps. 39:1) The next few verses in the psalm indicate how hard even David found it to translate good intentions into action! Strong feelings that we thrust down all too often find ways to burst out again later still more forcefully – which is when little things risk becoming much bigger ones. We need more than a bridle on a tongue – we need a muzzle!
The wonderful thing to bear in mind concerning the ‘little things’, is that even our small acts of thoughtfulness and kindness can crop the most wonderful fruit. Think of people who have helped you in this context! What does their example have to say concerning your own response?
Which brings us to our final point: a chance to review what the Lord would say to you about how faithful you have been in small matters. As a friend commented,
“It has been said that the “tongue” is one of the most exercised muscles of our body. It has been estimated that in a typical week, the average person will speak enough words to fill a 500 page book! Being reminded of how careful I need to be with all that comes out of my mouth, it makes sense for me to think of myself as being in a “shop window” permanently on display.”
If athletes are concerned to exercise their muscles, should we be any the less disciplined? A gentle tongue is a tree of life. As another friend wrote,
“It is not wrong to express our concerns: it is how we express them that is the key. Reactionary expressions often shoot out from our soul rather than from the Spirit of God who dwells in us . . . After all, God loves that person as much as He loves us, and so wants to redeem everything about them (and us!)”
How fully are you Lord of my tongue, Jesus? I know how often it gets ahead of my heart and mind. I am too quick to speak and I repent of the many thoughtless things I have spoken. I am sorry for words I have spoken in anger or passed on through gossip. Shape, sharpen and quicken my spirit, Lord, to see and sense as it were out of the corner of my eye when there is something for me to attend to, and which I might be in danger of just passing over. Help me to recognise when I am about to speak without thinking; and to check my heart. Help me be quick to listen and slow to speak; a person full of Your Spirit, overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self- control. Amen!