In A Manner of Speaking

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry . . . (James 1:19).

Ever said anything you regret saying?

Rare indeed is the person who hasn’t. Whatever you said, when you said it and to whom, may be remembered by no one but you. But that doesn’t dull the stab of pain those words can still create deep within you.

Maybe it was a careless word, an utterance that left your mouth without being filtered by your brain. Maybe it was a word spoken in anger, a heated moment in which your aim was to hurt. Maybe it was an unkind word overheard by the one person who was never meant to hear it. Maybe it was a careless and hasty post on Facebook or Twitter. Maybe what you spoke was simply untrue; you knew it was gossip but sharing it seemed to win the approval of other gossips.

Whatever it was, the damage is done, and you’d gladly get those words back if you could

Cheap Talk

Ours is an age in which it is often said that “talk is cheap.” Maybe so. So much of what we hear and say often isn’t worth listening to or saying. We live in a daily deluge of words. But even if talk is cheap, words are not. At some level we all still sense the worth and power of words. Words have life and meaning. They actually do something. They matter.

Words matter to God, and if we walk the path of God’s ways they should matter to us as well. In the Law that God gave to Moses, marking a path by which God’s people would walk and live, there are three commandments that are grounded in the significance and power of words.

Of first importance is the way we speak of God, especially when we are using God’s name. God’s name is not to be spoken carelessly or casually; it is never mere exclamation.

The commandment against adultery is not simply about a sexual sin or about the sacredness of marriage. Behind this command is the nature of a vow that we make to another person. Vows do something to bind people together. Wedding vows are not mere formalities.

And then there is the way we speak about our neighbors. To speak a false witness against them is forbidden.

Watching Our Words

God, who reveals himself to us by means of words, intends that our words do the work of drawing close. Our speaking of God is to reflect intimacy and love of God. Our marriage vows bind us in faithfulness to our spouse. And our words with and about friends are meant to strengthen community, not shatter it or push wedges of alienation between us.

Today, we turn our attention to words and God’s instruction for the way we use them. The ancient wisdom of God’s law shows up in the New Testament in the letter of James. James knew that the tongue was capable of both great good and great harm.

There’s a very good chance that at some point in this day you are going to speak to someone. You will talk to you children, to co-workers and to clients. You will speak to the cashier at the store or the teller at the bank. Somewhere, somehow, someone will hear you speak.

What will they hear? How do you use words and what is their impact?


“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Amen. (Psalm 19:14).

Don’t Mask Your Trials

Consider it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2).

While people will applaud your triumphs, they are far more likely to be helped by your troubles.

Our triumphs, however, get all the good press. We want people to know about the win. We’re quick to speak of the favorable circumstances, the success, the blessing that unexpectedly comes our way or the achievement that follows our hard work.

This is not to say that we’re prone to obnoxious boasting. That our triumphs are so easily shared is no surprise. We naturally delight in good news, and even if we’re selective in how we share it we want others to get in on the celebration. Our joy is heightened when others are around to ‘in-joy’ it with us.

Not so with our trials. Especially if the trial touches us in a deeply personal or private way.

As easily and as often as our triumphs are shared, our troubles are quietly hidden away, relegated to some remote corner of the soul. We are very guarded in speaking of them, if we speak of them at all. What we say, how much we share and with whom – these things often lead us to decide that it’s best to say nothing at all.

Joyful in Affliction

There is a familiar proverb that says a companion can double your joys and halve your sorrows. Of course, this assumes that that our sorrows are shared in the first place. That we too often keep them too ourselves is both a detriment to us and a loss to others. While people will look at our successes with admiration and sometimes envy, they are far more helped by seeing our afflictions and how we deal with them.

When Paul wrote to a newly-formed community of Christians in Thessalonica he remarked on how they had become an exemplary church for the region. Their reputation had spread quickly not because of their power or wealth or great numbers. Rather, they were exemplary because of their troubles. They had borne up under pressure and endured affliction in a spirit of confident joy (1 Thess. 1:6-7).

For this very reason the persecuted church is exemplary for us today. They show us what it means to suffer and to “count it all joy.” When we look around the world, especially today in places like Syria and Iran, we see Christians who know what it is to be afflicted. And quite often we find there Christians who are joyful nevertheless. They model for us courage in the face of suffering. They evidence joy in the simple gift of community because they often do not possess the things in which we take joy. We American Christians have a hard time getting our head around this reality.

Witness without Words

What was true of the Thessalonians, what is true today of the persecuted church, can be true of your life. Your most powerful witness to the goodness and grace of God will not likely be seen in your wealth or your perfect family or your latest triathlon or your recent promotion. All those things are wonderful and worthy of celebration. But people are most deeply impacted when they see affliction with joy.

Whatever affliction you’re carrying today, someone else is sharing that same struggle or one very much like it. You need not loudly flaunt your miseries – but don’t mask your trials behind your triumphs.

Your affliction, mingled with the grace of confident hope and joy, is a powerful witness that others need to see. This is true in our world, and it is true where you live.


Grant us grace, O God, to bear affliction with a spirit of confident joy. Comfort us in trouble so that we can comfort others. And use our troubles as a powerful witness to your faithfulness and love, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.

Our ‘Various’ Trials

Consider it all joy . . . when you meet trials of various kinds (James 1:2 ESV).

Trials will come. Count on it.

To say so does not brand you a pessimist. Quite the opposite. To heed the words of James and to recognize that trials are woven into the fabric of every life makes it possible for us to discover what it means to live our days with strength and hope. That’s James’s point in these opening words of his letter. He wants to cultivate strength and steadfastness in his readers. These will not be gained by ignorance or denial.

One Size Fits One

Having said as much, however, let’s also recognize that James is casting a wide net. Trials may be inevitable, but they are not identical. James speaks of various trials. This means that you and the trial you’re facing today are included.

New Testament scholars have noted that the word James uses for “trial” can be used in a couple of different ways. Some understand the word to be used with regard to an internal experience. In this sense the word is very much like the enticement to sin that James speaks of in 1:14. Others understand “trials” to be external and circumstantial. Quite often these are things that come to us uninvited and unexpected, eroding the foundations of our faith.

Trials that send tremors through the soul come in many different forms. You may be in a financial crisis, you may be battling an illness, you may be searching for work, you may be tired of singleness or even lonely in a marriage. Trials can stretch the limits of our patience and our hope. They can linger long and wear you down over months and years. They can blindside you in a moment and leave you immobilized.

Trials grow out of the soil that is your life – your family, your work, your plans, your body. Trials seem to come to us tailor-made. One size fits one.

Don’t Compare

Since trials come to us in this way, varied and indigenous to the habitat of our own lives, one thing we should avoid is making comparisons. For some reason, we tend to place our own trials next to those we see around us. There are a couple of reasons why this is a bad idea and an unhelpful practice.

For one thing, when we look at our trials next to the far more painful or tragic experiences of others we might downplay or dismiss the significance of what we’re going through. Sometimes we do this intending to find comfort or solace. “At least I’m not (fill in the blank),” or “Others are suffering far more than I am.” All of that might be true, but that doesn’t change what God might be doing in your own trial.

On the other hand, if we see our trials and wonder why others around us have it so much easier than we do, we can begin to harbor a resentment – maybe against those others, or maybe against God. If not resentment, we might slide into self-pity.

What James seems eager to show us really has little to do with trials and everything to do with God and God’s purposes in them. Every trial is an invitation to steadfastness, and exercising steadfastness does something to our faith. Faith deepens, grows stronger, develops depth and maturity. We increasingly take on the likeness of Jesus, which is exactly what God intends for us.

That’s what it means to ‘count it all joy.’ The joy doesn’t come from the trial itself, but from what we know God is doing in our trials. Trials are varied, but God’s aim in them is singular. God wants to make you steadfast and solid in your walk with him.

What kind of trial is God using to do that work in your life today?


So often, O God, we work hard to avoid trials. We wonder what we did wrong to deserve them and what we can do right to end them. By the presence of your Spirit, help us to face our trials – in their many and varied forms. Help us to trust that you are at work in all of them. We invite you to do your work in us throughout this day and whatever it may bring. We ask this in Jesus’s name. Amen.