Tuesday, 10 May 2016

The right word at the right time

There is joy in giving an apt reply – and how good is a timely word!

Congenial conversation – what a pleasure! The right word at the right time – beautiful! Proverbs 15:23 (NIV and The Message)

Last Sunday was hot, really hot, here in Nottingham, by far the hottest day of the year. So everyone was in shorts and short sleeves, and there was only one topic of conversation.

One member of the music group at church had obviously chosen his clothes that morning with special care: WINTER IS COMING declared his tee-shirt. Ha very ha.

Of course, you couldn’t fault James for accuracy: winter is coming, even if it is still (hopefully) some months away. But when it comes to aptness, or timeliness – “the right word at the right time” – well, that’s a rather different story.

I enjoyed James’s joke. It reminded me of the day we took our baby son to church for the first time. Everyone gathered round after the service to admire and go goo-goo-goo and all the other things you do over a new baby. Then a friend (Hi, Keith, if you’re reading this) drifted over, took a quick look, and said “Yes, okay, looks fairly standard issue – they’re all pretty much the same, really, aren’t they?…” or words to that effect. You couldn’t really argue with that, could you? – what, after all, could be more commonplace than a baby being born? I mean, it’s happening all the time.

The point is simple: a word that is true may not also be timely

And the writer of Proverbs is reminding us that a word that manages to be both is one of the pleasures of life: “a word in season”, as I think the King James Version puts it.

I think we often fail to recognise the great impact, for both good and ill, that our words can have, even if those words are quite trivial and insignificant.

Every morning around seven I walk up to the local shops to pick up a paper. It takes twenty minutes or so, and I usually fall in with one or more of the local dog-walkers. I never cease to be struck by the difference it makes when a friendly greeting is exchanged (plus probably a remark about, yes, the weather). That little display of cheerfulness somehow helps to set you up for the day.

Just occasionally somebody goes by with a stony face and downcast eyes – and of course, why not, why shouldn’t they, nobody is under an obligation to be sociable? Quite possibly they’re just shy. But somehow it seems, well, a shame – an opportunity missed.

All this is particularly true of course when it comes to more serious things. It might be a little bit of helpful advice, or a word of commiseration at a difficult time, or a warning, or a snippet of little-known information that was just what we needed.

And what about those times when a brief chat develops into something significant? A half-hour conversation can have the effect of taking a relationship to a whole new level: you find yourself thinking you know that person in a way you never did before. Such a conversation can even have a life-changing impact; it can be as nourishing, mentally and spiritually, as a slap-up meal is physically. I can still remember things people said to me twenty or thirty years ago: “the right word at the right time” indeed.

(Note to self: Don’t despise “small talk” – you never know when it might become big talk…!)

Let’s not bother today with the sad side of this – the damage that can be done by the wrong word. James (I mean New Testament James, not tee-shirt James) can sort us out on that – see James 3. Perhaps it’s enough to repeat one of those things that was said to me when I was a child and which I have never forgotten… “Before you say anything, ask yourself three questions: Is true? (tick?). Is it kind? (tick?). Is it necessary? (tick?). How much trouble and pain would be saved if we all did that!

No, let’s focus on the positive – a timely word from you or me today could have a massive positive impact on somebody’s life. Even more, it could actually change somebody’s life. Yes, such is the power of words. Let’s make sure we use them wisely and well.

Father God, thank you for the wise and memorable things which have been said to me down through the years of my life. Help me, by your Holy Spirit, to use well the power of my tongue. Amen.

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