Yesterday at church, we sang a hymn that stood out to me. It’s called “Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak.” The fourth stanza says:
“O teach me, Lord, that I may teach
“The precious things Thou dost impart;
“And wing my words, that they may reach
The hidden depths of many a heart.”
I used to identify with that sentiment, and there is a part of me that still does: the idea that God will bless our words and use them to bring other people closer to God. That sentiment makes me feel like I can do something significant, as part of something bigger than myself.
The problem, of course, is that pious platitudes are not always what people need to hear. Those platitudes can sound rather insensitive, actually. I think of Job’s friends, or well-intentioned attempts to comfort others that end up making the person listening to us even angrier at God.
The Pastor Emeritus in his sermon yesterday was talking about visiting shut-ins, people who have no visitors, or those down on their luck, and offering them words of encouragement. That is a good thing to do. If I were to bring religion into such an interaction, though, I would probably pray for the person that he or she might experience God’s comforting presence, or wish God’s blessing on that person.
I’ve been thinking of those Lynn Austin books that I have been reading about Israel’s post-exilic period: The Restoration Chronicles. In those books, you have religious characters who believe the right things (or what the author and the writers of the Hebrew Bible would consider to be the right things), and they continually preach to their less-than-enthusiastic—-or even downright hostile—-friends, neighbors, and relatives. Sure, these religious characters may be planting seeds, but they’re not having much of an effect on their hearers. What truly impacts their friends, relatives, and neighbors is when the religious characters put aside their legalistic need to be right and show grace to them, or when the friends, relatives, and neighbors have some experience of their own that changes their outlook. Before that—-yes, it’s good that the religious characters are expressing their own point-of-view and putting it before others for consideration—-but they sound like sounding brass, or a cymbal (I Corinthians 13:1).