I can’t remember the topic, but my rant was probably about something insignificant. A friend who’d been listening to my umpteenth tirade about the subject inserted a scalpel at the exact right moment. He injected some needed restraint into my rant, and I felt exposed, suddenly wrestling with shame. I remember instantly realizing I’d lost influence because a.) I talked way too much and b.) I made a federal case out of everything, no matter how large or small.
Instantly, I was transported to a moment about 10 years earlier, when my pastor had told me, “You need to learn which hills to fight, bleed, and die on.” Clearly, I hadn’t taken that advice. Instead, I’d focused on my youthful desire to be right, righteous, and transformational among anyone who’d listen—and many who wouldn’t.
Words are weighty. Ideas are influence. Using them with scalpel-like precision takes practice and lots of wisdom.Click to tweet
I used to brandish words like safety scissors. Running with them was benign; after all, no one would get hurt. The instrument didn’t require a deft hand or much practice. And I liked it that way because I didn’t have to be measured, exacting, or even thoughtful. I believed that if I didn’t say everything I needed to say, I was betraying my calling or my self-respect or my president or the taxi driver down the street. I just couldn’t bear that thought. Plus, I knew it was okay to say what I wanted because Jesus was sassy and direct. He never pulled punches, and that’s all I was doing, right?
The difference was obvious, though. I was accidentally cutting holes in my sweaters; Jesus was performing surgery.
Time and practice have helped me harness my use of words. I haven’t perfected that skill, but after my pastor—and later, my good friend—slid that scalpel into just the right spot, I started asking myself three questions before speaking. They’ve forever helped me exchange safety scissors for a surgical scalpel, greatly changing my influence with colleagues.
Ponder these questions the next time you’re tempted to open your mouth:
- Is eternity on the line? I mean obviously on the line, not that thin thread we often use to tie everything to “significance,” even our use of Vienna sausages for a junior high game. Every ministry decision is important, but not every one is eternal. Will your words truly influence someone’s destiny? Can they pave the road for someone meeting Jesus in a new or significant way? Will saying something, changing something, or championing something affect the scope of your ministry?
- Could someone else say this better? Face it: Some people are better surgeons than others. Hand them the scalpel and let them do their work. You don’t always have to be the one saying what you think. Someone else might be thinking it, too. Or they might have more influence; for example, they may have been doing surgery at the same “hospital” for 27 years while you’re just a resident.
- If I lose my job because of this, will it be worth it? In the Bible, Jesus has some tough, influential conversations that bring him terrible scrutiny. But he doesn’t shy away from the scalpel, fearful of malpractice. Using safety scissors in the surgical suite will likely get you fired, but sometimes even using the scalpel can land you in hot water. Is it worth it?
When Jesus speaks, things change. He knows how to use words with precision, like a scalpel. Jesus leaves the safety scissors to everyone else around him.
What’s in your hand?