Don’t Say a Word
by Pastor James Ho, August, 2002
I was watching a television program not very long ago. It was a suspense movie. In one of the scenes, just as two persons entered a room, something horrifying caught their attention. One was about to utter something, but the other person immediately put his hand over the other one’s mouth and warned, ‘Don’t say a word!’ That also reminded me of a recent movie starring Michael Douglas. The title of the movie was ‘Don’t say a word!’.
Somehow those phrases continue to linger in my mind. Under what circumstances should we comply to such an instruction or heed such advice? I haven’t seen the movie ‘Don’t say a word’, so I really don’t have a clue why the producer chose such a title. But I do think that there are some circumstances when it would be better not to say anything rather than to react with inappropriate words.
I remember that just a few years ago, we had a Bible Study based on the book of James. Chapter 3 focused on the use of tongues. We had an interesting discussion. At one point we asked the group what the general content of our conversation with our friends was. The majority of the group came up with the same, rather startling conclusion: gossip, complaints and opinionated criticism. Little did we realize that we were so assertive in our conversation that we had often misused our tongue to express our own critical attitude towards others in the form of gossip and complaints.
James 3:6 says, “ And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.” I suggested to the group that we should rather not say a word than to misuse our tongue for evil purposes. Then one of the group members immediately responded by saying that if she had to restrict herself from gossiping and complaining, she would have nothing else to talk about and she would in fact have been struck dumb!
We all had a good laugh over her straight forward comment. But isn’t it true for most of us? Imagine what would happen if the whole world were to dedicate one day to keeping silent. Not a word would be said; there’d be no grumbling and no gossiping. It might make the world a better place to live in, at least for a day. I myself would rather be a man of few words with a heart of thanksgiving than to be an eloquent speaker of empty talk and complaints. Without the polluted noise of babbling words, perhaps, we could listen to and be better in tune with the voice of God.
We all know that life is full of ups and downs. And it is when we are down that we most often betray ourselves by revealing our true self. That is also when we find out who we really are and how deep (or shallow) is our faith in God. For example, when we are in a crisis situation, when the turn of events is unfavorable or when we are confronted with bad news, how do we react on the spur of the moment? Very likely, we would complain and grumble. Sometimes, we would even raise our hands and cry dejectedly, ‘Why me?’
I was reading the Bible, and in 1 Corinthians 10, the apostle Paul pointed out the failures of the Israelites as God’s chosen people. One of the failures was that the Israelites often grumbled and complained whenever they faced crisis situations. For example, in Exodus 14, when Moses led the Israelites towards the Red Sea, and they were being pursued by the Pharaoh and his army, they grumbled against Moses.
The Israelites found themselves in an apparently untenable situation: in front of them was the Red Sea and behind them, the Egyptians were in hot pursuit. They lost their faith in God and His servant Moses. So, their immediate reaction was to grumble. But look at how the man of God, Moses, reacted. In Exodus 14:14, Moses exclaimed: ‘ The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.” In other words, Moses was commanding them, ‘Don’t say a word!’
Naturally, when the situation is not under our control, we tend to panic and most of us will utter words of dejection, words of complaint. It only reflects the lack of faith in our omnipotent God who has all things under His control. Crisis situations only remind us of the reality of our vulnerability and our total dependency on God. We have to learn to keep silent and simply let God take charge of the whole situation. Don’t say a word because most likely our immediate reaction will be in the spirit of grumbling and complaints. Again in Psalms 46:10, it is written, ‘Be still and know that I am God...’ In other words, it means ‘Be silent!’ or ‘Don’t say a word!’ and let God be God.
Back in 1988, when I was applying for a full time ministry to serve the Lord, my wife objected to my making such an application. Before the interview, we went for a holiday in the United States. It was a memorable trip, full of wonderful experiences of God. While we were on the plane back to Toronto, I asked Kathleen whether she had changed her mind about my application for full time missionary training. She responded that while it might be good for me, it was definitely not for her. I asked what would change her mind. She responded that unless a great miracle were to happen to her, she would never commit to a life dedicated to the Lord on a full time basis. I told her that I would pray for that ‘great’ miracle.
Shortly after we were back in Toronto, I went for the interview with our Pastor Eric Chang. After responding to some very trying questions, Pastor Chang accepted my application. At that moment, I felt mixed emotions. On the one hand, I felt overjoyed at being accepted to take on the privileged responsibility of serving the Lord. On the other hand, I was overwhelmed with the deep emotional burden of having to face the reality that I might have to part with Kathleen. When I got back home and broke the news to Kathleen, she was infuriated.
Now you should understand that every year our church had organized a summer camp. That year, the camp theme focused on Luke 18:8, ‘... when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?’ Satan tried to thwart Kathleen from going to the camp. But many brothers and sisters in the church prayed fervently for her to go. I learnt not to say a word of persuasion but tried to live by faith in God. Eventually, she joined the camp. Again, I prayed, this time for specific three persons speak to Kathleen. Amongst them was our Pastor’s dear wife Helen. During the camp, I had several occasions to sit face to face with sister Helen. I was so tempted to plead with her to talk to Kathleen. But, I learnt again to live by faith and ‘Don’t say a word’. I felt that if I have to ask her to talk to Kathleen, I was not really exercising my faith.
There was indeed a painful struggle to keep silent when I could have talked to the three persons directly to plead with them for help. But I didn’t. I was practicing the principle of ‘Don’t say a word’. I rested my case with the Lord for I knew that He was in control. And indeed, the Lord answered my prayer and a ‘great’ miracle was performed. Kathleen experienced the immense love of the Lord. The three persons were also instrumental in restoring her faith in the Lord. To date, we have been serving the Lord together for over 12 years. The spiritual principle behind ‘Don’t say a word’ is a total dependency on faith in God.
Does it mean that ‘Don’t say a word’ means ‘Don’t do anything at all’? Obviously the key is not to utter anything not edifying in the face of unsettling situations. But it doesn’t mean that we just don’t do anything at all. The whole idea is that we should commit to the Lord whatever causes us anxiety. We do this through prayer and by keeping the faith. We have to learn to cast our own anxieties to the Lord (Philippians 4:6) and not to worry over our own ends. Instead of looking inward and dragging ourselves into more anxiety and misery, and thus causing us to complain and grumble, we should on the contrary look outward to meet the need of others.
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a funeral service. The son and daughter of the deceased came all the way from Hong Kong to attend the funeral. Perhaps they had come in such a rush that they did not anticipate the difference in weather. The daughter of the deceased didn’t bring any winter clothing with her. After the funeral service at the funeral home, we proceeded to the cemetery where we witnessed the burial. The weather was sunny but cool, with a mild breeze. The temperature was around 16 degrees Celsius. But the daughter of the deceased was wearing only a black, short sleeved shirt. She had taken the mid-night flight and arrived in the morning for the funeral service. One could imagine how susceptible to illness she might have been. So, I offered her my windbreaker and I ended up in only a shirt and tie to brave the cold.
That evening, we all went out for dinner with the family of the deceased. But we still had a Bible Study meeting to attend to. So after the dinner, I parted with them even though the daughter of the deceased was still wearing my windbreaker. In Australia, the afternoon and evening temperatures can vary by many degrees. By the time we left the restaurant, the outside temperature was around 12 degrees. Kathleen noticed that I didn’t have my windbreaker on and she was concerned. But immediately I whispered to her, ‘Don’t say a word!’ So, we walked out of the restaurant and didn’t look back.
When we arrived at the church for the Bible Study, it was cold. Everybody was wearing their winter clothing and yet some were shivering. When I showed up with only a tie and shirt on, they wondered why. But one of the sisters in the group immediately came up to me and said that she had an extra windbreaker in the car. So she ran out and brought it to me. She was the same height as me and weighed about the same. Her windbreaker fit me like a glove and I felt very warm again. I was so touched by God’s love. He is in control of everything and He knows our needs even without us saying a word. He provides as we provide others.
If we practice the principle of ‘Don’t say a word’, we may even reduce conflict with one another. We may be more in tune with God. Particularly for those who are in the midst of crisis. ‘Don’t say a word’, be silent, and put your faith in God. Let God take control and you will experience His wonderful deliverance. “Indeed, the Lord’s loving kindness never cease, for His compassion never fails. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness.” Lamentation 3:22-23. Lastly, if we have to say anything, let our speech be seasoned with salt and be gracious to one another. (Colossians 4:6)
(c) 2012 Christian Disciples Church