Speaking positively - A talk by Derek Chittick
Taking a close look at our society and culture, we can see that there is not much room for the
practice of blessing others, except, perhaps, for a small select group which would include our close
family and intimate friends, though even there we may not be very good at maintaining a positive
attitude for very long. The root value of our culture is based on self-promotion, self-advancement
and self-interest, and we encourage these attitudes and standards in our education system, our
employment regime and through our media. Image is everything, and we are encouraged to
promote ourselves over against others in the pursuit of what we want out of life. The ability to
promote oneself has become more important than our ability to do a particular job, or to relate well
to others or to make a positive contribution to the welfare of society, manifested most glaringly in
the quest for and promotion of celebrity status.
Less obviously, the envy and rivalry that underlie so much in our society are expressed in our
ordinary, everyday speech and conversation. It occurred to me a few years ago that most of the
humour in the West of Scotland, where I come from, is based on trying to belittle others, and it
involves sarcasm and stereotyping that are designed to undermine the confidence of our targets. I
have to confess that much of my own humour was, and still can be, based on that culture. And I
suspect that the West of Scotland is not the only area where this happens. Alongside this is our
propensity for gossip, sadly one of the features of church culture that strike outsiders coming into
contact with us. We love a juicy story, especially one that represents another person or group (or
denomination?) in a bad light, and sometimes we’re not too concerned about the truth or accuracy
of what we’re being told or passing on.
On a personal note, we experienced this on one occasion many years ago when we lived in a country
area in Scotland. The story was put round that I and two or three others (the people involved grew in
number as the story developed!) had been beating the devil out of a local bipolar man, in a field in
the moonlight. Needless to say, there was absolutely no truth in the story, but it travelled round like
wildfire, reaching a town 40 miles away, and all points within that distance! A friend asked a
neighbour who told him the story if he believed it, the answer was, “No, but it’s a great story!”
Sadly, many others did believe it and modelled their opinion of me on it for a long time.
Contrasting with this, we find in the Scriptures the culture of blessing, or speaking positively or
prophetically over and about others. Isaac blesses Jacob and Esau, Jacob blesses his children and
grandchildren and Moses blesses the tribes of Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land. See
Genesis 27, 48 and 49 and Deuteronomy 33. Recently, during the first lockdown in the pandemic, a
modern sung version of Aaron’s blessing was produced by an American worship leader called Kari
Jobe, and it went viral on the internet, being translated into many languages and being used to sing
blessing over most of the nations of the world. Through it, people found hope in the midst of the
crisis and many came to faith in Jesus as Saviour. It also brought about a more positive attitude
towards the church in some quarters.
The old saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me,” is sadly far
from the truth, and many of us are carrying old wounds from things that have been said to us or
about us in our past. Some of these words have had a major crippling effect on our lives and have
robbed us of confidence or even of the ability to function in certain areas of our being. Sadly, we
have almost certainly been responsible for inflicting similar wounds on others by our words, either
intentionally or unintentionally.
What a difference it could make to our marriages, our homes, our families, our churches and the
whole of our society, if even all of us who read this were to resolve to speak blessing over those
around us, rather than engaging in criticism. As Paul says in Colossians 4;6, “Let your conversation be
always full of grace, seasoned with salt.” How much more attractive to others could our churches be
if they were free from gossip, and became places where speech is encouraging and enabling!
“Bless, do not curse.” It’s surely worth a try!
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