The Weight of Words
5,398 posts written over 15 years. That includes 689 sermons, some that predate the blog, going back 25 years.
It reminds me of John Ames, the preacher in the novel Gilead, who keeps a box of sermons in his attic. One day he figures out that he’s filled 67,600 pages with his sermons, the equivalent of 225 books. He wrote, “There is not a word in any of those sermons I didn’t mean when I wrote it. If I had the time, I could read my way through fifty years of my innermost life. What a terrible thought.”
I don’t have a box in my attic. Instead, I have a 40.9MB backup file that sits on my hard drive of words that have been written on this blog.
The Lightness of Words
It’s good to be reminded that our words, even when they add up, still don’t amount to much. Whether they sit in a box, on a computer, or are lost to time, they are humble. Ames recognized this:
I had a dream once that I was preaching to Jesus Himself, saying any foolish thing I could think of, and He was sitting there in His white, white robe looking patient and sad and amazed. That’s what it felt like.
Well, perhaps I can get a box of them down here somehow and do a little sorting. It would put my mind at ease to feel I was leaving a better impression. So often I have known, right here in the pulpit, even as I read these words, how far they fell short of any hopes I had for them. And they were the major work of my life, from a certain point of view. I have to wonder how I have lived with that.
One of the reasons that preachers and writers need to pray is because of the inadequacy of our words. Apart from God, our words will fall short of their goal. It’s good and healthy to realize this.
The Weight of Words
Our words may be light, but they are also weighty. Jesus told us that we would give account for every careless word (Matthew 12:36-37). Paul reminded Timothy of what’s at stake: the very salvation of our listeners (1 Timothy 4:16). James warned us that teachers will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).
Writers, teachers, and preachers wield power. In particular, preachers and teachers have a responsibility to clearly and accurately teach the Word. It’s striking that James follows his warning about stricter judgment with an acknowledgement: “For we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). James reminds us of both the weight of words, and our potential to handle this weight poorly.
Nelson Mandela said, “It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison have done anything to us, it was to use the silence of solitude to make us understand how precious words are and how real speech is in its impact on the way people live and die.” Words matter.
Let Us Pray
Because of the lightness and weight of our words, we should pray in three ways:
- That God would take our inadequate words and use them.
- That God would empower us to speak and write in a way that’s helpful to others.
- That God would give us grace for the times we haven’t spoken and written well.
He is the God who speaks through the inarticulate, and gives grace to those who’ve failed.