Sunday, 3 May 2015

Words and thoughts, thoughts and words

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.   Psalm 19:14
Some scientist has, I believe, calculated the average number of words spoken by the average person on an average day in our western world. I can't now remember how many it was - but it was a lot, that’s for sure. As far as I know nobody has yet done the same thing for our meditations, our thoughts. But I imagine it would be plenty more - you just ask yourself, how many thoughts run through my mind on any given day?

Words and thoughts... thoughts and words... there is never a waking moment when they aren’t going on, is there? I don't know about you, but to me that’s really quite frightening. So I think the psalmist was wise to offer this simple but very penetrating prayer.

Think first of words.

Words can be a two-edged sword. We can use them to lie, to cheat, to be cruel and unkind, to insult, to bully, to deceive... you name it. And we can use them to encourage, to comfort, to teach truth, to express love and care... again, you name it. 

I can think of times when someone has given me a real boost through a simple word - and other times when I have been left feeling quite downcast, hurt or angry. It's a sobering thought that God hears our every word.

And what of our thoughts?

We might be tempted to think that they don't matter as much as our words because other people aren't aware of them.

But of course thoughts give rise to attitudes, and attitudes generate habits, and habits harden into character, whether for good or ill. If we allow bad thoughts to fester unchecked in our minds they will end up poisoning our personalities. We hear sometimes of people who do terrible things, and if we ask ourselves "How could they possibly do such a thing?", the answer is probably that it all started with a tiny seed-thought which was allowed to grow and grow.

There's an old hymn (“Jesus lover of my soul”) where we pray "Make and keep me pure within". Good, strong, plain words.

And Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart". He pointed out that "the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a person unclean. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a person unclean....". See how he links thoughts, words - and actions? And all these are known to God.

Meditation is of course more than just random, idle thoughts, though perhaps there is a time for simply “standing and staring”. And it certainly isn’t that time-consuming, soul-destroying non-activity called “brooding” - which is likely to mean nothing more than gazing vacantly and gloomily for hours at the wall-paper.

No, meditation is focussed, concentrated thought, thought intended to be productive, thought that is going somewhere. It is to thinking what chewing is to eating - it’s only if you chew your food properly that you get the goodness out of it; and it’s only if you pause and meditate that you can turn your thoughts to practical good.

To meditate, then, is to ponder, to reflect, to absorb what is going on in our minds. Ideally, it is a way of plumbing new depths (or should I say scaling new heights?) in our understanding of God and his ways - and isn’t that something we all need? The word meditate shouts to us "Stop! Pause! Ease up! Rest! Think! Listen!" It says, "Allow God space and time in your hectic life!"

Words and thoughts. Thoughts and words. They are all intertwined. And they matter more than we can possibly imagine. They not only reflect the kind of people we are, they even make us the kind of people we are. So why not join the psalmist right now in his prayer, emphasising that little word “my”...?

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Amen! And amen!

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