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Planting a Garden of Praise

A Lifetime Project

Fred grew up in a Christian home where it was common for his parents to spontaneously say, "Praise God!" or "Praise the Lord, isn't God good?" Fred is now grown up and married and has a job in a local factory. Interestingly, even today Fred will mimic his parents and express his faith in God by saying, "Praise God, isn't the Lord good?" On the job site, in the home and especially in church when something goes his way, or when he is feeling good, he will give God the credit and praise Him for His blessing.

 

Unfortunately, Fred has another way of expressing himself, too. Recently when a pro-life activist killed a doctor, he mumbled out loud in the presence of his workers, "The doctor probably deserved it." Also, it is not uncommon for Fred to speak abusively of minorities, his boss and politicians. On occasion, he has even cursed the President and his wife.

 

Now, Fred has often invited his co-workers to church with him, but there have been no takers. When pressed as to why they didn't come, Fred discovered it was because of his inconsistent speech and life. His fellow workers couldn't see much benefit in his faith. They found it hard to reconcile Fred's faith with the way he demeaned others and spoke abusively about his boss and politicians.

 

Is that just? Do Fred's co-workers have the right to judge his faith that negatively? James answers these questions for us when he describes a similar situation in James 3:9-10a.

 

9] With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10] Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.

In these verses, James describes the strangely inconsistent behavior of the tongue, which can be used for two opposite and irreconcilable purposes—to bless and to curse (vv. 9-10). We might even say the tongue is most often a classic illustration of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Sometimes we contemplate God's goodness, and we are often prompted to praise Him. Instead of belittling others and cursing, we build them up. Instead of causing death, our words bring life to others.

Then there are times when some think nothing of criticizing, demeaning and even cursing others. "Cursing" in this verse means to wish evil on another (e.g., to burn, poison others—James 3:5-8).

James then describes the potential in all of us: The mouth can bring forth praise and cursing. v. 10a—"Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing." He makes it clear that the inconsistency of praise and cursing coming from the same mouth is wrong. "My brothers, this should not be"—v. 10b. The word "not," (or "ought," K.J.V.) is found only here in the New Testament; it denotes fitness or congruity. The thought then is this:

It is contrary to grace and nature to curse men and praise God.

"It is abnormal for a man to praise God in prayer and praise, and yet speak evil of God's family." Curtis Vaughan

There is another problem with a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tongue. It is inconsistent with our belief in God. Verse 9 states: "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness." The correction then is focused on our theology and our view of man. James is making the point that our view of man has to be consistent with our view of God. We can't say we love God and curse man, because if man is made in the image of God/God's likeness, it is not fitting to praise God and then out of the same mouth curse His work, His likeness. Therefore, to praise God and curse a brother is inappropriate and inconsistent with our belief in God—James 3:9-10.

9] "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10] Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be."

If we apply these verses to our opening illustration, Fred's co-workers have every right to be turned off by his belief system when it is inconsistent—i.e., praising God and cursing men at the same time. This leads to some key questions:

  • If it should not be—blessing and cursing coming out of the same mouth—why do we do it?
  • Why do we sometimes speak gracious words to those we love (our family, children and friends), yet in moments of rage and frustration lash out at the same people?
  • What's the solution to this dilemma?

James uses two illustrations to give us a clue to the answer.

A fresh spring does not produce salt water, and

 

A fig tree does not produce olives.

11] Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?

12] My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs?

Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water."

Nature reproduces after its own kind—it's consistent; like produces like in nature. Grapevines don't bear figs. Popcorn doesn't come from rose bushes. Peanut butter doesn't come from aardvarks! Therefore, if a product is contrary to nature, we should check the source. If you have popcorn on roses bushes, something is wrong. Either it's not a rose bush, or it's not popcorn, or the rose bush is showing signs of mutation due to pollution of the soil or the ground water.

Our inconsistent speech calls for several things:

If we are inconsistent in our speech, the source of our words should be questioned.

The tongue reveals that the source of our speech is being adversely affected, while kind and truthful words indicate a good source for our speech. Critical and cursing words reveal a polluted source even though there may be some good words at the same time.

That logically leads to the next area revealed by inconsistent speech:

Our inconsistent speech reveals the spiritual state of our lives—our tongues telling on us.

Just as a doctor can tell about your physical health by looking at your tongue, so information about your spiritual health can be obtained by observing your speech.

If I am controlled by the Spirit of God, my tongue will reflect that reliance—Eph. 5:18-21. If I am not, the tongue will readily reveal that also—James 3:9-17. The tongue is a most accurate indicator of my maturity in Christ. If my speech is encouraging/uplifting, it is because the Source of my words has been harnessed and controlled for His purposes—James 3:2.

If on the other hand praise and cursing are coming from the same mouth, it is abnormal, inconsistent, and contrary to nature; and it reveals my lack of spiritual maturity or the absence of spiritual life—vv. 10-12. The inconsistent tongue, in fact, reveals one of two states:

  • spiritual immaturity—something has polluted the source of our words and must be confessed and repented of if we are ever to grow in Christ
  • hypocrisy—the praise is phony and the cursing is revealing the true source of our words.

What's the answer to inconsistent speech?

A spiritual solution to our inconsistency is demanded because the inconsistency of blessing and cursing from the same mouth is inappropriate for a believer.

Our solution will be to go to the source of the pollution, become a spiritual environmentalist and clean it up. James 1:27b—". . .and keep oneself from being polluted by the world." We will never be able to control our speech, our words and our cursing if we don't focus on the source of all pollution, praise and speech—our hearts.

Therefore we want to give priority to the heart.

  • The Preparation of the Heart
  • The Planting and Storage of Good Things in the Heart
  • The Placing of a Fence with Seven Gates Around Our Hearts

A picture that will help us see what is involved is that of planting a garden. How do we plant a garden of praise—one of blessing, not cursing?

The Preparation Of The Heart

We might say the heart needs to be prepared like the soil in a garden.

"Everything we say or do is a product of the good or bad planted in our hearts."

"True worship of God and helpful words to people are the products of a pure heart."

What specifically does that call for us to do?

The two statements imply that in order to prepare for worship and helpful words, we must first cleanse the heart, just like we might prepare the soil for planting.

Matt. 23:25-28—"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26] Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." 27] "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like white-washed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. 28] In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."

Where do we start? What does starting on the inside entail? The four cleansing ingredients most effective in this inside process are very familiar to everyone. We prepare our hearts through the following cleansing ingredients:

First, through searching prayer.

We ask God to search our heart and reveal what He sees, so we can deal with it. We can’t always know our heart, for it is deceitful—Jer. 17:9. The following Scriptures will give us several examples of searching prayer to help us see beyond the deceit of our heart to its true state:

  • Psalm 139:23-34—"Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24] See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
  • Psalm 26:2—"Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind..."
  • Psalm 51:10—"Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."
  • Psalm 141:3-4—"Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. 4} Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies."
  • Psalm 19:14—"May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer."
  • 1 Kings 3:9 ( 4:29)—"So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?"

Second, through confession

  • Of our sins to God. 1 John 1:9—"If we confess our sins..."
  • Of our sins to others. James 5:16—"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective."

We can’t authentically and meaningfully worship God with known sin in our lives. Oh, we can go through the motions and fake meaningful words and worship, but understand, the worship doesn’t count with God and hypocrisy will be revealed when we have unconfessed sin(s) in our lives—Prov. 1:20-33.

Notice, however, what confession will do: "Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15] O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise"—Ps. 51:14-15.

The third comes through the Word—John 15:3; Ps. 119:9; Heb. 4:12-13.

Jesus said, "You are already clean because of the word I have spoken unto you"—John 15:3. David asked, "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word"—Psalm 119:9. Hebrews 4:12-13 shows the activity of the Word in cleansing the heart.

"For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13] Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

The cleansing of the heart from impurities and past sins is not an easy process, but as we read the Word, the thoughts and attitudes of the heart are revealed and cleansing can follow.

Fourth, through walking in obedience—1 John 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:22.

Being obedient to what we know enables us to purify our lives and hearts from what we don't know. We will never see purity of heart without obedience to the commands of God. Our lives are made clean by not only avoiding certain things, but also through obedience to God's commands. First John 1:7 affirms, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from every sin." (1 Pet. 1:22.)

A good example of the difference obedience makes in our praise is found in Luke 1:5-25, 57-79. The central figure of this illustration is Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. His first response to God’s Word is, "How can I be sure of this?"—v. 18. It was not a statement of faith. He did not believe the words of Gabriel. Because of that unbelief, he was unable to speak—v. 20.

Notice, however, the difference obedience makes in his praise —vv. 57-79. Obedience sets the heart free to praise God and reveals what needs to be repented of—1 John 1:7; Luke 1:57-79. Disobedience will silence our true praise—Lk. 1:20.

It is not enough to just cleanse the heart—it is necessary that we also continue to plant good seed in our hearts if we are going to see a continuing harvest of praise and blessing. Therefore, let’s look now at the planting of a new spiritual garden. In order to see the fruit of our lips fully developed into beautiful praise and uplifting speech, this planting is absolutely necessary. So, from the preparation of the heart, we now move to:

The Planting and Storing Of Good Things In The Heart

The need for sowing and storing

The need for planting comes from four passages—Matt. 12:33-37 (especially v. 35); James 3:13-18; Prov. 16:23; and Matt. 15:1-20 (especially vv. 18-20).

Matt. 12:34b-35—"For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored in him..." The heart is the source of the speech, therefore if the speech is going to be good, it must come from the good already stored there.

Matt. 15:1-19—especially vv. 18-19. Matt. 15:18—"But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' 19] For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander." What comes out of the heart?

Prov. 16:23—"A wise man's heart guides his mouth and his lips promotes instruction."

Other passages to study: Col. 3:15-17; Ps. 16:7-9a; Heb. 10:22; 1 Pet. 2:1-11; 3:13-16; James 3:13-18. Notice how the attitudes and content of the heart affects speech, praise and action. What does that tell us about praise, healing and wise words? In general:

This tells us the size of the crop—e.g., the quality of our words depends on the amount of the sowing and storing done in the heart. If we were to paraphrase this in relation to praise, it would be: "Whoever sows good things in his heart, that same person will reap a large harvest of righteousness, good words, wise actions, peace and praise." Once again, the heart is the place to start:

  • In praise to God. God doesn’t want praise given to Him reluctantly, or because someone is forced to outwardly perform. God wants our praise to be offered from the good stored within us.
  • In helpful and healing words. God doesn't want hypocritical words that are manipulative or demeaning to come from His children. God wants us to speak in a way that shows our value of and care for others—that portrays all men made in God's image/likeness.

True praise and helpful words will grow or decrease in direct proportion to what we sow and store in our hearts. With that background in mind, let’s proceed to plant a garden in our hearts. The soil has been prepared, the heart is cleansed and being cleansed, so let’s plant our first row of seeds.

The seeds planted and stored in our heart

The first seed we will plant is:

Good words. Col. 3:16—"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God."

The Word must dwell in our hearts richly (or generously) if we are to speak to one another with all wisdom and see a generous harvest of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, as well as gratitude. This seed is chief among all the others.

Our praise will be in direct proportion to our storehouse—the planting of God’s Word in our hearts. Billy Graham noted a survey recently that only 12 percent of people who say they believe the Bible actually read it every day. 34 percent read it once a week; and 43 percent read it sporadically. D.L. Moody writes:

"A man stood up in one of my meetings and said he hoped for enough out of the series…to last all of his life. I told him he might as well try to eat enough breakfast at one time to last a lifetime."

If the Word of God is to "dwell in us richly," here are a few questions we might ask ourselves:

  1. How much of God’s Word is planted in my heart? Is it generously or sparingly sown?
  2. Have you ever wondered why some people know how to teach or admonish with just the right words?
  3. Have you ever thought about what gives some people the ability to pray such rich prayers at just the right time?
  4. Have you noticed some people have such gratefulness in their hearts to God as they speak and sing? Why is that?
  5. Have you ever wondered why certain people are always a blessing to others with their words and their actions? e.g., they never curse men, as James discusses in James 3:9-10; Gen. 1:26-27. Why?

It has to do with their understanding of the value God places on man—James 3:9,15; Gen. 1:26-27.

  • They value mankind because they know man is made in God's image/likeness.
  • They value what God loves—John 3:16.
  • They know what price God paid to redeem man—1 Cor. 6:20; 7:23; Rom. 5:9; Eph. 1:7; Phil. 2:5-8; Col. 1:21-22.
  • They know the hope, riches and power a believer has in Christ—Eph. 1:18-23.
  • They know a believer is super blessed—Eph. 1:3.
  • They know a believer is a joint heir with Jesus Christ—Rom 8:17.
  • They know believers are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works—Eph. 2:10.

They will build others up because of this understanding and bless them with their words—1 Thess 5:11. How did they come to this place where these values and beliefs affected their speech? It came from planting good words from God about men in their hearts. How do we do that?

Sowing is the key and involves at least four processes:

  1. Reading—Rev. 1:3—"Blessed is the one who reads. . .and takes it to heart. . . what is written in it."
  2. Memorization: Psalm 119:11—"I have hidden your word in my heart (where?) that I might not sin against you."
  3. Meditation: Psalm 119:99—"I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes."
  4. Doing: James 1:25—"But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does."

We are so enriched through the Word and yet we often say, "I don’t have time." We don’t take a discipline like this seriously. I wonder what would happen if the Word was taken away from us? I wonder if there would be some regret for the times we could have put these good words in our hearts? Bruce Wilkerson, president of "Walk Through The Bible," tells this story:

Several years ago I had the opportunity to see firsthand how precious and powerful the Word of God is. I was ministering with a group of friends in a remote village in the jungles of Bolivia. One night a missionary asked me if I would like to attend a service. "Sure," I said. "Where is the church?" "Oh, it’s right here," he replied with a knowing smile. He told me the service would begin at eight. A few minutes went by and I looked at my watch. "It’s past eight." "Don’t worry, the people will come." And they did. For the next half hour men, women, children, and even a few dogs began to come and sit together. "When is the service going to begin?" I asked. "Why, it’s already begun."

Presently, a little man unwrapped a small object he had been holding close to his breast. It was a copy of First Corinthians. He stood and preached for half an hour as my friend interpreted for me. It was a moving message. Then a second man stood and spoke from the village’s only copy of Ephesians. Finally a third man stood and preached still another sermon. Three sermons in one service!

Suddenly a lady on my left began to weep. God was dealing with her. She stood and openly confessed that she had been unfaithful to her husband, had repented, and had asked him to forgive her. Now she was crying out for forgiveness from her brothers and sisters in Christ. She was restored and then received in love by that church. The scene was straight from the Book of Acts. Two years earlier that church had no standards, no means of reconciliation, no Bible, and no idea of right and wrong!"

What a great impact a little of the Word of God had on that village. I wonder, "Are we sowing generous seeds of God’s Word in our hearts?" (Taken from Kindred Spirit, published by Dallas Theological Seminary, Dallas, Texas, Fall 1982, p. 8.)

As we memorize and meditate on Scripture, we will see it become a generous crop of praise. A Scripture to verify this is Psalm 119:7—"Lord, I will praise you with an upright heart (notice the heart is upright), as I learn your righteous laws." The next row is really seed that comes from the same source, but is of a more specific variety.

Good theology. We will be more effective in our praise and worship as we grow in our understanding of who God is. (See Psalm 145 and "Planting Good Theology," which elaborates on how to turn theology into praise.

Also, our view of God is affected by our value of man—James 3:9. See "The Fear of the Lord"—and Ps. 5:7; Rev. 14:6-7; Ps. 34:13a; Prov. 8:13; Ps. 36:3a; Prov. 15:33.

There is a row of seeds we can plant in our garden of praise that will especially affect our praise.

Good memory. In order to get a fuller view of this, I encourage you to pick up the Inner Journey Notebook and look at the section titles. Poor memory cannot be an excuse when it comes to recalling God’s blessings in our lives. It is simply not acceptable to be forgetful about God’s goodness, so these exercises will help!

  • Journal Writing—a way to relive the lessons of the past as well as remember what God has done.
  • Writing a Psalm—a way to keep our hearts filled with good memory/praise.
  • Turning Life's Experiences Into Praise.

In addition to these seeds, there are a number of others which will radically affect the way we speak to and about others. We won't take a long time on them, because their needs and impact are obvious:

Good attitudes—towards people, possessions and priorities. James 3:9—"With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness"; Phil. 2:3; Matt. 6:21; Matt. 6:33.

 

Good conditions—peaceful, light-filled, merry hearts.

Phil. 4:7,9—"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 9] Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you"; 2 Cor. 4:5; Prov. 15:13; James 5:13.

Good sounds. Eph. 5:19—"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord."

Good and pure motives. 1 Cor. 4:4-5—"My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. 5] Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God"; 1 Thess. 2:3-6; James 4:3; Prov. 16:22.

Good and pure wisdom. James 3:17-18—"But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18] Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness"; Prov. 10;14.

Good purposes and ambition. Phil. 2:2—"...then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose"; 1 Thess. 4:11

Good affections (love). Matt. 22:37-40—"Jesus replied, ''Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' 38] This is the first and greatest commandment. 39] And the second is like it. 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' 40] All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

Good reaction. Rom. 12:14—"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." (see also Luke 6:27-36).

 

With these rows of seed firmly planted and cultivated in our hearts, I think it's easy to see how our words to others and our praise to God can be radically affected.

The sowing of character, motives, affections, etc., involves additional processes that are sometimes deliberate, sometimes a surprise and other times painful.

Praying/asking

James 1:5—"If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." (See also Eph. 3:14-19.)

Adding—2 Pet. 1:5-9

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.

How do we add these qualities?

  • Claim the promises of God—1:3-5
  • Continue to walk in the light of our cleansing—1:9; I John 1:7.

Abiding/remaining in Christ—John 15:1-17

What is involved in seeing fruit in our lives? (pruning—v. 2; cleansing by the Word—v. 3; remaining in Christ and His Word—vv. 4-5, 7; asking—v. 7b; obedience to the commands of Christ—vv. 9-14.)

Suffering

James 1:2—"Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3] because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance." (See also I Pet. 5:10.)

Filling of the Spirit—Gal. 5:22

"But the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23] gentleness and self-control."


James 3:5-6 seems to indicate that the tongue not only needs a better source than the fires of hell, but the tongue also needs a rudder, a bit, or special guides, to insure our words have maximum impact. Proverbs 16:23 verifies this: "A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction." This need is particularly related to our words to others and not as much as to our words of praise.

With the need for a way to guide our tongue in mind, and because a rudder and a bit are hard for us to relate to, I would like to suggest:

The Placing of a Fence with Seven Gates or Guides Around Our Heart

The good guides/gates that a man's words should pass through are as follows:

Is it true?

Before you speak, ask yourself: "Is what I'm about to say true?"

Eph. 4:25—"Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body."

Prov. 12:19,22—"Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. 22] The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful." Notice v. 19 implies that truth not only affects the situation and people you're speaking to, but it is recyclable for eternity... "endure forever..." God delights in (is pleased with, approves, enjoys, favors) men who are truthful.

Is it needful?

Eph. 4:29—"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Wholesome words are to be spoken to others when they are helpful; they build others up according to their needs; and they will benefit those who listen.

In addition to Eph. 4:29, other verses indicate when words should pass through the needful gate.

  • Words are needful when a rebuke is required—Prov. 15:31-32; 17:10; 27:5-6,9,17; 28:23—"He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue."
  • Words are needful if they promote instruction. Prov. 26:23—"Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart."
  • Words are needful if they are pleasant and bring healing to the body and the spirit—Prov. 26:24; 15:30; 25:13; 25:25; Is. 50:4.

Is it kind, loving, gentle?

We need to let kind and loving words go through this gate because truth spoken in love helps us to grow up. Eph. 4:15—"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ."

A kind word lifts an anxious heart. Prov. 12:25—"An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up." It is difficult to be angry with a gentle and kind person. Prov. 15:1—"A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger." Even a rebuke is often love's clearest expression of kindness.

Ps. 141:5a—"Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it."

Gal. 6:1—"Brothers, if a man is trapped in some sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently..." (See 2 Tim. 2:24-25a)

Is it appropriate/fitting?

Appropriateness will guide our words. Sometimes words are fitting. Prov. 10:32—"The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse"; Prov. 15:23,28; 17:27; 25:11. Sometimes actions precede our words and are more appropriate—1 Pet. 3:1-6; 1 John 3:16-20.

The next three gates have a great deal to do with our conversation with non-Christians, as well as Christians.

Is it filled with grace?

Col. 4:5—"Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity."
Col. 4:6a—"Let your conversation be always full of grace..."

Grace (gracious, pleasant, unmerited favor) needs to be expressed in all our conversations (Col. 4:6a) and should be extended to everyone we come in contact with—Eccl. 10:2.

Is it seasoned with salt?

Col. 4:6—"Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned, as it were, with salt, so that you may know how you should respond to each person." (NASB)

Salt has a two-fold purpose. It adds flavor and seasoning and is a preservative. Christians should have speech that does the same. Ask yourself:

  • Is my conversation dull and tasteless?
  • Is my conversation affecting the corruption and ugliness of the world's environment?
  • When I speak, does it restrain evil?

Is it preceded with prayer?

Col. 4:2-4—"Devote yourself to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3] And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4] Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should."

Prayer needs to be an activity we are devoted to. Pray and ask God to open the door for our message, and that our message will be proclaimed clearly.

Those are the gates/guides of the heart. Make sure you use them. But there are other gates that should not be used:

The words of our mouth should never pass through the following gates - they are closed.

If your words are a confidence, keep silent.

Prov. 17:9—"He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." (See also Prov. 10:19; 11:13-20; 19; 16:28.)

If your words are gossip, keep silent.

Prov. 26:20-22—"Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down. 21] As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife. 22] The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts."

Prov. 10:19—"When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise."

If it is words of praise for yourself, keep silent and let someone else do the praising.

Prov. 27:2—"Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips."

Conclusion

When the Israelites repented of their sins and followed God, the Lord promised: "...you will be like a well watered garden..."—Is. 58:11b. This potential for being a well watered garden of praise and blessing is also available to those of us who diligently cultivate the soil of our heart and plant good seeds in it. Is that what you desire? It will be a lifetime project, but if you are consistent and diligent, you will reap a great harvest.