Dropping words

This morning the verse jumped off the page once again: “And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground” (1 Sam. 3:19). Every time I reach this part of the Bible I know it’s coming.

Here’s the problem: my words keep hitting the ground. Sometimes I’ll overstate, understate, or make obvious reversals of what I really believe. It feels clever in the moment but the words are often more inane than clever. At other times I’ll use clichés and frothy phrases to fill airspace. I’m only showing that I don’t know what to say in a given moment yet still feel compelled to talk. So the words fall to the ground with all but audible clunks and thuds.

Yet there are still Samuels in the world who only speak when they have something to say; and have a reason to offer their thoughts. Everyone with any sense listens when they speak.

As a reminder, sound words don’t call for special intellect or high social standing. A careful speaker is one who treasures honesty in every expression, and who lives a God-ordered life. So it’s available to all. An unschooled worker can be as careful in speaking as a brilliant scholar. And, on the other hand, very bright people can say things that sound good but really aren’t true.

As we return to the verse in 1 Samuel 3 we’re reminded that the pattern of maintaining sound words started during Samuel’s youth—as he “grew” to be an adult. And we also read of the LORD’s role—he was “with” Samuel as the one who “let” the young man’s words succeed.

So let’s think for a moment about dropped words. Do our politicians ever drop words? Listen for any thuds and clunks when they speak! And when we watch a movie or television show are we listening to men and women with eternal values? Is the program aiming to build up others? Does the plot draw us towards what James spoke of as “wisdom from above”—or is it “wisdom from below”?

The answer isn’t encouraging. We’re living in a post-Christian era and we can expect to hear the thuds, clunks, and clatter of wisdom from below. For many around us God is only an empty concept.

I’m not arguing here for a return to some golden age of faith we once had in the West. Biblical faith has always been a minority view. Yet the Bible was still honored as a moral touchstone in recent centuries.

But in recent days that’s changed dramatically. Today a young Bible reader faces an “either-or” dilemma: either embrace newly elevated cultural standards. Or hold onto what the Bible says and face the social fury that follows.

Why the change?

Part of the answer is the new profusion of dropped words. On a given day a hailstorm of words and images drop to the ground all around us. Some words still carry life—as when a mother coaches her daughter, or a teacher leads in a life-changing course. But these are too often drowned out with the steady pelting sound of empty words that come through our omnipresent media sources: what we watch and hear.

Compare this to earlier ages. God spoke to Elijah with a “low whisper.” Listen, too, to how Jesus came to us in John 1:1—“the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” We realize that God is all about words. Words, especially, that reveal him; and that reflect his heart.

So today, as we’re flooded with words, some are innocuous. Learning how to navigate a new computer, for instance, may call for words from a specialist. And watching a documentary on Elephant migrations in Africa may not trouble us.

But what about the words—the dialogue—in a show about some poor orphan adopted by a cultivated and caring gay couple—who are then taken to court by some heartless religious zealots? Are there, perhaps, some words dropping to the ground as the show’s producers press their point of view?

Jesus made the point in John 8:31-32 that it’s crucial to “abide in my word” in order to know the truth. And only his truth will set us free from “the Lie” of the Liar (later in John 8). And what is this Lie of the Devil? If Genesis 3 tells us anything it’s that in sin we’ve been infected with an ambition to choose good and evil for ourselves—to do whatever is right in our own eyes.

So as words are dropping on us in all we do and wherever we go, isn’t it helpful to take a spiritual umbrella along? Can we avoid being saturated with post-Genesis 3 conversations?

Here’s a suggestion for the day: listen to as many sound words—words from God—in a day as you can. At least as many as you may be hearing from secular media sources. Filter your words. Read the Bible each day. Download a Christian talk or two. Enjoy some Christian music. Find some quiet moments. Talk with believers. And then share your own words after being with Christ.

Once you turn down the pattering thuds and clunks coming your way, and any you might be offering yourself, you may be able to hear what Elijah heard: words from a God who loves to whisper truth to us.

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