I once had a friend challenge me to fast from words. He thought it would be a good idea if I learned the art of silence. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, regularly engaging in such an exercise might be very beneficial to our spiritual, emotional, and social well-being (and that of others). However, this was not the case with this particular fast. I do not believe now that my friend's motives were pure when he suggested I do so. He had a bent for putting God's name on whatever he thought I (or someone else) should be working on at the time.
Because of his own words, I began to see my own as unimportant, unworthy, and unnecessary. If and when I did speak up and/or ask questions, I did so with a gnawing sense of inadequacy and unworthiness. All of this just prior to my first preaching class in seminary. Not good.
Fast forward to a new semester. I begin preaching class, horrified to find out that we must deliver each sermon without notes. I believe I told someone that it sounded a lot like a lamb being fit for slaughter. I entered with raging insecurities as to my ability to deliver a word at all, much less a word from the Lord! This is ironic, given my long history in speech, drama, and public speaking. I had delivered many a speech or drama scene in my life.
After much prayer (about said anxieties and concerns) and preparation (as every sermon demands), I delivered my first sermon with relative ease. I may have been a little tied to my words (as per Dr. Kalas) and a little speedy in my delivery (as noticed by myself), but it went mostly well. Dr. Kalas told me in so many words that I did have something to say and he was glad to hear it. Each new sermon delivered in that class brought with it constructive criticism and encouragement. The fear was still and will always be there. But, as Dr. K always said in class, "We should approach the delivering of a sermon with a measure of fear, as we are representing God Himself."
It was only on the other side of this first preaching class that I could pinpoint the reason for my initial anxiety about preaching class. I began to realize how I had allowed one person's criticism to shape me and tell me I was less than I was. All because he put God's name on something that might not have been from God.
I believe we can know when such a word is from God and not from man. God's word to us is always life-giving and good. Yes, the Lord disciplines those He loves, but it always comes from a place of deep love and mercy. God's thoughts toward me are good. To summarize Andrew Murray, "I am his delight and all His desire is in me." He thinks I have something worth saying and it is He who empowers me to say it (or encourages me not to!).
Don't get me wrong, I believe in the value of fasting, silence, and solitude. Ask anyone who knows me well and they will tell you as much. I am very passionate about engaging in the spiritual disciplines, most notably fasting and silence. However, I am also now careful to discern whether God is calling for it or I am allowing someone else to speak it into my life.
I have many more thoughts swirling around in my head about the power of words. I'll share those as I get them organized in my mind. Suffice it to say that marriage and life-in-general are teaching me a lot - good and bad - about this these days!