Why little things matter (Catch us the little foxes!)
Isn’t it wonderful relating to people who are so constant in their desire to bless the Lord and to honour others that we are not continually on edge, worrying about how they will react in case they take things amiss? All the same, we are wise to weigh carefully the seemingly “little things” we say and do: they really do have enormous power for either good or harm.
Where words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is wise (Prov. 10:19).
Which of us does not find ourselves saying or doing something that, deep down, we know we would be very much better off not saying, doing or even thinking.
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)
Very often our enemy sneaks around not so much as a snarling lion but as a stealthy fox seeking to belittle or to destroy flowering plants and inject his own weeds and tares into situations. If he can grind us and others down by stirring up unkind words and actions 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? Are we not adept at swiftly filtering them out?
Look a bit deeper and we will often find that such ‘denials’ are associated with things we feel threatened to have looked at, let alone criticised. 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 locked into our own perspective (and so concerned to communicate that to others) that we tend only to ‘hear’ and respond to whatever we think will best serve that goal.
Let’s pause and remember that great forest fires can be caused by the tiniest spark; just as a seemingly innocuous trickle of water can lead to great inundations – and to the immense devastation that can be done to the the human body through something as small as a microscopic virus. And all 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 may help us here.
- Make time to reflect how something may come across to from someone else’s perspective.
- Learn from experience the things that did or did not go down well in similar situations in the past.
- When it comes to digital material, remember to ‘pray before you send!’
- Why not consider running any material that you are preparing past others? Two are so often better than one, and few of us can work well as both creator and editor. 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 helps 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 endlessly berating and condemning ourselves. 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!