When to Speak and How

We all fall off of the horse on one side or the other.  We confront too easily or we avoid confrontation at all costs.

Some of us don’t think much about how others might respond to our words.  We aren’t fearful of their reactions or their hurt or anger.  We just put it out there. On the other hand, some of us choose our words very carefully.  We tiptoe into saying something that might offend, fearful of hurting the other or of being rejected by them.  We call those people “people-pleasers”.  Those people… ha!  “We” people it should be.

How does one find the balance?  How does one find the wisdom to know when to speak and how to speak?  How does one find the courage to speak with the balance of strength and kindness?  How does one sort through one’s own motives for speaking?  When am I demanding and when am I cowardly?  How much of my motive is for me and how much is for you?

Jesus somehow did it right.  John’s gospel describes Jesus this way…

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

It’s that last part that stops me.  Jesus was full of “grace” – kindness, “for the other-ness”, gentleness, and He was full of “truth” – about who they were and what they did, and who He was and what He was doing.

The interaction with the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17 is a great example.  The man comes with a good question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  Jesus’ response is a little confrontational.  He doesn’t say “good question, my man!”  Instead He asks a question without giving the man space to answer: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good – except God alone.”  He’s kind of jabbing the guy… Do you know what you are saying there?  Then Jesus gives him a lay up… “You know the commandments… (and He lists several),” which the rich man declares he has kept since childhood.

And that’s when Jesus nails him.  But Mark stops me here.  Before Jesus nails him with his one last request, Mark says “Jesus looked at him and loved him.”  And that is the key!  At the moment of confrontation, when Jesus is getting ready to tell him to sell everything he has, Mark tells us that Jesus was loving the rich man.  His confrontation was for the rich man’s best interest.

I just can’t get there easily.  My motivation, whether it be my own fear or anger or selfishness, is so strong that it is hard for me to be “full of grace and truth”.  I tend to think I am being gracious, when I am simply protecting myself.  Others might think they are being truthful, when they are just being demanding.

The key seems to be the state of my own heart, which is often too unsettled in such moments to be other-centered.  I have too much going on inside to love like Jesus.  I need Him to quiet my insides, to give me a security in Him that is not threatened and hence able to look at the other and love them, more than love myself and take care of me first.

So what can I do?  Be aware of the side of the horse I fall off of, in such a way that I can look to Him for the strength or validation necessary to begin to think about the other, rather than simply about me.  And be honest enough to come back later and apologize when I have taken care of myself rather than the other.

Will I ever get this “right?”  Probably a few times, but not all the time.  I guess I will continue to need Him as my Savior.

You too?



Palmer Trice is an ordained Presbyterian minister.  He is married to Lynne, has three children and has been in Charlotte since 1979. In his spare time, Palmer enjoys golf, tennis, walking and reading.





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