‘The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary; morning by morning you awaken my ear to listen as one being taught’ Isaiah 50v4
I love this verse – I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before: I know it is from a prophetic passage about Jesus, but was the prophet also talking about himself…? The question struck me when I heard Handels’ Messiah this Christmas and the phrase ‘The mouth of the Lord has spoken it’: but how?’ How has the actual mouth of the Lord spoken – in an audible voice from heaven? Did we see His lips move?
Actually we don’t really know how Isaiah (yes him again, in chapter 40 this time) heard it – and there are lots of ways of hearing God (see The languages of the Spirit). As far as we are concerned, ignoring technicalities, ‘the mouth of the Lord spoke’ the promise… through His prophet!
So who wants to be a mouthpiece of the Lord? What a responsibility and what a privilege: we had better make sure we have our hearing honed, our hearts soft and our attitudes humble and that ‘morning by morning our ears are awakened to listen as one being taught’! It’s a good reminder, because I really do want that to be true of me – to hear and know the perfect word that will speak sustenance to the hearts and spirits of the weary. I want to have those cutting-edge words of life and encouragement, that hit the nail on the head, go straight to the heart of the matter, revealing truth and a strategy of wisdom, bringing enlightenment and setting the hearer free from burdens.
Words do have creative power – as well as destructive power! – to tangibly lift our hearts; we have all experienced this, from an “I love you” or a “Well done!” perhaps even through to a detailed prophetic message from someone else. This spiritual empowering is the reason fans cheer on athletes and sports teams, somehow giving them fresh heart as they hear the roar of support. To encourage is to ‘press courage’ into someone – give them a second wind, raise their spirits. The Spirit of Jesus is the ultimate encourager, speaking the word that gives direction and hope: surely that encouragement gift working through people is one of the most needed when weariness and despair threaten, yet it is often in short supply. It is so often easier to speak – and particularly remember – the critical and hurtful things that are said to or about us: apparently you need to hear 7 positive things to be rid of the effects of only 1 negative comment.
So I’ve been thinking that to counteract that corrosive negative self talk I wrote about last time, perhaps I too could make judicious use of the sort of ‘sustaining’ word Isaiah mentions above. Biting one’s tongue when bad feelings and self-rejection start to rise up is part of the answer – ‘just don’t say it!’ But to find positive truths to speak to myself instead would be even better – to build up courage and self esteem and fix my eyes on what is good and helpful. If there is someone else who can say those things to me that’s great – but why not say them to myself?
It is often easier to encourage someone else than oneself, isn’t it? It depends on character, upbringing and personality of course – there are undoubtedly a lot of big-heads in the world! But many of us find it easier to see the good in others more easily than in ourselves (self worth issues? what self worth issues?) In addition, Scripture tells us to prefer one another in love, be humble and ‘think of yourself with sober judgement, not more highly than you ought’ (Romans 12v3) – so we can tend go to the other extreme, thinking we should put ourselves down to be sure to avoid pride. In fact I read the other day that the definition of humility was not to think of yourself at all! (Oh dear, I’ve had it then!)
I don’t believe this: self-knowledge is a really important part of growth and maturity. OK, maybe I over-analyse sometimes and that is not everyone’s strength/weakness; yes, I have even been accused of self-indulgence and narcissism, but if you really think that, there’s a simple answer – just stop reading my thoughts! I could write about someone else’s life or any number of subjects from A to Z but all I really have is my own story. So my defence is that there is a purpose in it – to be the best I can be in order to be a blessing to others and to ‘overcome…by the word of my testimony’ (Revelation 12v11).
Surely to know what you are good/gifted at and what your weak points are is essential in making the most of life and developing close relationships. It is certainly the way of discipleship; even businesses use the Myers-Briggs type indicator and SWOT analysis in their management training courses and the annual appraisal of employees has become part of modern employment protocol. Who am I? What am I good at? How can I improve?
True humility is to think of yourself rightly – Paul’s ‘sober judgement’ – to know who you are and what God says about you! It is not the most important thing or even necessary to have a label or title – John the Baptist shows us the way on this one when he is asked who he is: his answer put simply is ‘someone pointing the way ahead’! (see the post Who am I?) Father Richard Rohr says it like this:
‘When people are truly following Jesus, they enjoy a great freedom from themselves—they can laugh at themselves, and let others do the same. They can accept humiliations and not being first or best—because their own reputation is not at stake. They know it is all about the One Eternal Christ Mystery and not about them’
No, it doesn’t really matter about me… but the positive side of good self-talk is, if I can rehearse what God says about me instead of berating myself, rather than undermining, that could be very sustaining! So the question is do I know – do you know and do you believe – what the Lord says about you, both generally as a belovèd child of the Father and specifically who you are called to be and the part you play in His plans?
Again we may well need other people to tell us these things because it sounds strange to speak well of oneself when we have been brought up in a self-effacing culture like Britain. When we lived in the States our kinship group at church would put one of us in the middle and all say nice things about them! Unheard of for Brits and really embarrassing! We don’t like to ‘blow our own trumpets’ – but there is a place for building one another up in love, so why not build up yourself? I’ll go for a walk with a friend and say all the positive stuff anytime: sometimes that friend just needs to be the Spirit of Jesus talking to me...
Connected to that, I have also been thinking about Jesus walking on the beach with Peter after the resurrection (John 21v15-17): it’s the passage sometimes called ‘Peter’s reinstatement’ after his cowardly denial at the trial. This seems to be a case where negative talk is being cancelled out by positive – in this case ‘You know I love you’ three times instead of ‘I never knew Him’. It’s not really self criticism, of course, because Peter wasn’t putting himself down in his denial of Jesus… or was he? It has been said that the most important thing about someone is what they think about God and Simon Peter certainly didn’t ‘build himself up’ by doing it! So Jesus gives him the chance to redeem himself three times, just like the denials.
Who needed to hear it? Peter did of course! He needed to hear his own words spoken out – the truth of his love for Jesus. Perhaps he needed to hear his own confession as much as Jesus’ recommission that followed it… and in the same way it will do our own hearts good when we speak out for our own ears to hear – a positive confession, declaring truth and life.
And back on that Easter morning beach, did you ever wonder if Jesus needed to hear Peter’s words as well?