A Quiet Kind of Loud


Today’s readings:
Psalms 92; 149, Isaiah 25:1-9, Acts 4:13-21 (22-31), John 16:16-33

What might Peter and the disciples have meant when they prayed for God to help them “speak his word with all boldness?” The most obvious meaning of “bold” might be “courageous and daring” … a stance the disciples had struggled with in the past.

Bold can also mean “impudent.” Following Jesus required the disciples to buck convention, especially when religious authorities tried to maintain the oppressive status quo. No matter how truly a servant speaks, if the master doesn’t like the truth it can sound like insubordination.

Another definition is “beyond the limits of convention.” The disciples were asking Israel and eventually the Gentiles to turn their thinking upside down and embrace a paradoxical theology. If the first are last and the last become first… who exactly is on first?

While we are still called to speak God’s word boldly, we must also be humble. For many people, boldness means loudness, intimidation and arrogance. In our current culture many leaders choose to promote this attitude over setting examples to follow. Sheer volume can become the conversational equivalent of might making right. This is not the way to effectively spread God’s word. When someone yells or is overly forceful, the natural instinct of their target is usually either to retreat or to respond in kind. We can’t alienate someone and hope to communicate with them at the same time.

Companies with good customer service train their representatives to respond to angry customers by listening first, reflecting the customer’s feelings back to them, and then responding positively, firmly and calmly without ever raising their voices. This is bold in the sense that it goes against the natural impulses of the representative and redirects the customer. A good customer service agent defuses a tense situation and leaves the customer feeling satisfied – even when the customer is wrong.

We are not called simply to placate, but if we are to be servants to the world, our attitude must be one of service. We do not need anger and hostility to validate a just cause. A quiet truth, spoken boldly and persistently, overcomes the loudest empty noise.

If this approach smacks of “tone policing” – that is, telling someone their understandably emotional tone invalidates their otherwise reasonable argument – let’s try to remember that we are responsible for both listening and speaking with love … but we can’t control how anyone else speaks or listens. Sometimes we must choose between self-righteousness and effectiveness. Our truth remains firm, but our delivery method usually has to meet people where they are.

Comfort: Truth speaks louder than anything.

Challenge: The next time you need to make a point, don’t raise your voice; lower it.

Prayer: God of hope, teach me to be bold and humble. Amen.

Discussion: How do you react to boldness?

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Speak No Evil


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 62; 145, Deuteronomy 30:1-10, 2 Corinthians 10:1-18, Luke 18:31-43

The Apostle Paul was well aware that, despite evangelistic success, he could be unlikable. In his second letter to the Corinthians – a church he was persuading to give generously to a cause they did not totally support – he preempted their objections.

I do not want to seem as though I am trying to frighten you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.” Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.

In stark contrast to his fiery letters full of conviction, many people found the man himself physically unimpressive and not especially eloquent; less a butterfly treasured for his charisma than a gadfly to be endured or shooed away. People of passion – today we might call them activists or missionaries – can often seem annoying. Their dedication (or single-mindedness, if we are less kind) chips away at our comfort and conscience. Perhaps it is their indifference toward popularity and appeal that makes them more effective at changing the world for the better.

There may also have been some truth to the accusations that his letters were stronger than his tongue. It’s human nature to be a little bolder when we are separated from our audience by time, space, and the written word. Browse almost any online forum to see just how bold it can get. Paul and his contemporaries certainly didn’t have social media as we think of it, but in their own way his letters went viral as they were read multiple times to entire congregations.

History teaches us Paul’s deeds backed up his words. Our own Christian commitment should direct us to keep our attitudes in check even when we feel emboldened by distance or anonymity. Do our comments on the internet, or the tone we direct at customer service representatives, reflect what we would say in person if Jesus was listening? We know they ought to. Let’s try to be as self-aware as Paul, dedicating our words and actions to Christ with equal conviction.

Comfort: Angrier words are not always more effective words.

Challenge: For a few days, pretend Jesus is in earshot of everything you say.

Prayer: My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord. Amen.

Discussion: What prompts you to lose your composure?

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