“A prudent man concealeth knowledge: but the heart of fools proclaimeth foolishness.”
My wife has an expression for the person whose mouth opens and gushes forth streams of idiocy which should have remained locked away in the reservoir of the heart. She calls it, “a case of diarrhea of the mouth.” Mark Twain must have had the same idea in mind when he famously quipped, “It is better to have people to think you a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”
WHAT IS IT ABOUT US?
What is it about us, that we think we have to speak even when we have nothing of value to say? Is it that hearing the sound of our own voice makes us feel important? Is it that we want to be perceived as intelligent, wise and knowledgeable, able to speak authoritatively concerning any and every subject? Or is it that we are threatened by silence, as if we must fill the space between us and the others around us with words, lest a moment’s silence should become an awkward void?
A PERSONAL ISSUE FOR PREACHER-TYPES
I submit that the issue of Proverbs 12:23 is of tremendous significance for myself and my fellow “preacher-types.” We are absolutely the worst when it comes to feeling obligated to fill the air with words. I have just come away from a Sunday afternoon, pastoral visit with a senior citizen, a widow in my congregation. She, like many women of her age and station in life, is lonely and doesn’t have company in her home very often. Therefore when I visit, she enjoys the chance simply to chat away about loved ones, some of whom I know, most of whom I do not. As she reminisced this afternoon, there was a moment in which I could hear my own voice, rising above hers, commenting on something she had just said. Maybe I was simply trying to let her know that I was listening, that I was engaged in what she had to say. But probably not. It’s more likely that I just couldn’t stand being out-talked for even a few minutes. I thought to myself, “If I were listening in on this conversation, I would conclude that guy (me!) is quite a jerk.”
IN THE PULPIT
Oh, and how about in the pulpit?! I once had a seminary professor who warned my class that the greatest danger for preachers in the pulpit is that we’ll be tempted to say things that simply aren’t true—treating biblical principles as promises, projecting guaranteed outcomes, and so forth. Is that anything other than “proclaiming foolishness”? I had another seminary prof who often remarked, “Anyone who makes his living from his religion will eventually lose one or the other.” How many “hireling” preachers have absolutely prostituted their faith in the pulpit, proclaiming foolishness, just to earn a paycheck?
ZIP IT UP
The proverb above tells us quite bluntly: zip it up! You don’t have to say everything you think. You don’t have to teach everything you know. You don’t have to win every argument. You don’t have to express every opinion. You don’t have to weigh in on every debate. If someone asks you for the time, you don’t have to lecture them in the craft of building a grandfather clock. It is far more prudent to keep a reservoir, a storehouse, of wisdom inside, from which you pull out treasures only when necessary (Matthew 13:52). Knowing our propensity for gabbing when wisdom calls for silence, the great Peter Marshall prayed, “Great questions stand unanswered before us, and defy our best wisdom. Though our ignorance is great, at least we know we do not know. When we don’t know what to say, keep us quiet.”
WHAT A WISE MAN!
Twenty years ago I recall an elderly Presbyterian gentleman giving some tidbits of wisdom to me and several other young aspiring pastors. He said, “Men, for your first year in ministry, at each meeting of Presbytery simply sit and do not say a word. No matter how important the issue, no matter how heated the debate, no matter how much insight you might have about the subject, for your first year you are to say absolutely nothing on the floor of Presbytery. After you have completed one year of silence, then you may make your first motion on the floor. Your first motion should be, ‘I move that we break for coffee and doughnuts.’ Then the entire Presbytery will think of you, ‘What a wise man!’”
A wise old owl sat in an oak
The more he saw, the less he spoke
The less he spoke, the more he heard
Why aren’t we like that wise old bird?
Father God: Give us the grace of silence. Through Christ our Lord: Amen.
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