I am not sure if this is a sermon or a confession, because of the sins I will describe I have also been guilty. The thoughts of empty words have been rumbling in my heart for some
time now. This rumbling is not just for a sermon or post but is also the conviction of the Holy Spirit to bring me into a better alignment with the image of Jesus—to be like Him. So, let my lesson of empty words be your lesson as well.
I have found myself in the company of friends and they would ask me to pray for them about a situation. Of course, my answer was yes. So yes, I have prayed for many of those requests yet I have also let many slip away. Scrolling through Face Book, we will see someone asking for prayer about some need. Below the post will be a variety of comments with most saying something like: “Praying for you girl!” The skeptic in me has asked the question, “I wonder how many of those folks actually pray to God for that need?” I am sure some, if not many, are only empty words. Pray but no empty words please!
I have encouraged the flock I lead to pray for people on the spot when possible. So you will find some of our folks praying for people in the potato chip aisle at Walmart or on a construction site. On Face Book, I try to pause and pray before I post a comment of “Prayed for you.”
During some lean years in my life, I had several opportunities to assist people with some volunteer labor or service. I did it with no thought of receiving any compensation. In some of those situations, I was surprised by a “little something” in an envelope. They were a surprise-blessing; those blessings still bring a tear to my eye. In those same years, I had those moments when I showed up to help with no thought of working for pay yet the person asked, “What do I owe you?” They evidently had the feeling they needed to pay me something but knew I would say no; so the monkey was off their back. Hmm! Why ask that question? If someone helps you out of kindness and you feel the need to bless them; don’t ask, “What do I owe you?” just give them something. When God puts on your heart to bless someone for helping you, asking the “question” does not eliminate your obligation to obey God. A gift is better than empty words.
Then there is that dreaded catch-all-phrase, “Call me if you need me!” Ugh! That one is so empty it ends with a deep sounding bong. How often has that phrase sounded with a silent prayer uttered, “Lord, I hope they don’t call!”? If we don’t mean it, don’t say it! Better still, find something you know they need and give it/do it. Think about it, what family with kids and the bread-winner has a mediocre job, who couldn’t use a few extra dollars at Christmas or at the back-to-school time. You know they will likely never call, just do something without the empty words.
When death invades a family; our hearts break for the deceased but also for those who remain. It is during this time, words are spoken without much forethought. As a pastor, I have attempted to comfort many families over the years. I have made my share of mistakes and hopefully I have learned a few things not to say. I recently took part in a seminar about helping folks during the time of loss and grief and it was mentioned about what not to say. The following are few things I have learned not to say:
- I know how you feel. (No you don’t, every relationship is unique.)
- You still have …. (Every person is special and no one can replace another.)
- It could have been worse. (What? On the worst day of their life, they can’t imagine anything worse.)
- I will be praying for you. (Prayer should be a given and if you have nothing more to say than that, then silence may be best.)
- God has a reason for everything. (Great! Let’s blame God! Really?)
I believe we often feel like we have to say something. In my early years as a pastor, I thought there were some magic, mysterious words I needed to say when people’s lives were crumbling around them. Someone died, someone received news they had cancer, some son was arrested, or someone lost their job just five years short of retirement. Oh, the list goes on and on. I soon found out, there were no magic words—just my love and presence mattered to them. They never remembered my words but they remembered my concern and care even in silence.
In 1994, I resigned from the largest church I have ever pastored to start an outreach/mission organization (Pathway Outreach Ministries). It was a true journey of faith and still is. During those beginning years and even now, occasionally I will have someone say (voluntarily with no pressure from me) that they plan to support our ministry financially—and the check never comes. The Holy Spirit early on, put it into my heart and mind, not to become bitter over those who do not help or those who may help for a while and stop. I try to be thankful for those who bless us and leave the rest to God. If you ever do this type of work, you will be surprised of those that help and those that do not help! Never use empty words.
When I have had needs and troubles, I was so thankful for some wonderful people who helped me get through to another day. They didn’t say much, they just showed me the love of Jesus in many ways but never with empty words.
Jude verse 12, describes some people as “clouds without water”. I can imagine a farmer needing rain on his crops, seeing a promising cloud, and hoping for a good rain. Then, nothing! The ground is still dry and his hopes dashed to the parched ground. Don’t be a “cloud without water”. Let your life be a refreshing rain of blessing on others in need of love, action, help, or a gift. Listen to these strong words from Jesus, “But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37 NKJV).
So what is our take-away from this? When you don’t know what to say, silence is a good choice. Smile at people. Cry with people! Embrace your friends (they can feel your spiritual love). Do something instead of saying something! And if you think there is a need, don’t ask—just give!
“In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19 NKJV).
Harry L. Whitt