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Posts Tagged ‘integrity’

We have a very cute grandson. He is five months old now and has reached the stage of making interesting noises when you smile and talk to him. He has his own little language and loves it if you repeat the sounds he makes to him.

One day last week, I caught our daughter trying to teach him to say ‘Mum, Mum’. She’s hoping to get in quick, before he decides to say ‘Dadda’ first! How anxious we are to hear those first words from our children and grandchildren! It’s like they are real little people then, able to communicate with us on another level.

At the same time as my daughter was trying to get our grandson to say his first ‘words’, however, I was busy editing my two latest books. With the shorter of the two, I dispensed with over five thousand words. With the longer book, so far, over seven thousand words have wafted off into cyberspace somewhere. And that’s even after many previous edits. Now the irony of this situation soon struck me. Here was my daughter, trying hard for that very first real word from our Zain, while I, on the other hand, was wishing I had not been so verbose!

Words come so easily to so many of us – particularly writers. Yet with them comes a big responsibility. How many glib statements can slip from our tongues or end up on that computer screen when we dash off an email? Recently, I found an interesting verse in Ecclesiastes 5:2:

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

It reminded me of a time years ago when I was speaking regularly in our church. I felt then that God warned me not to get up and speak until the words I planned to say were burned into my own spirit. I felt God was pointing out I had no right to say things that were not true in my own experience and that I was not putting into practice myself. I am still glad of that strong warning today, as I prepare to speak somewhere and even as I write these blogs. No, my words are not often ‘few’, I have to admit, so in saying or writing the ‘many’, I know I need to be even more careful to honour God through them all.

I am reminded, too, of Jesus’ very stern words to the Pharisees on one occasion:

You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matt 12:34-37)

Now I will rejoice as much as our daughter when our little grandson says those first words – but I will also pray for him to speak words that honour God throughout his life. And may this be true for each of us. May our words, as the writer of Proverbs puts it (Prov 16:24), always be ‘sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

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I had a humbling experience this week.  It happened like this.  I was in the middle of a rather heated phone conversation with a business associate when this person, during the course of a prolonged harangue, declared that he and his colleagues were ‘not unintelligent’.  He then proceeded to defend his actions (or lack of them) even further, but at that point I cut in – or tried to.  I wanted with all my heart to strike back, so began telling him, I’m sure in equally heated manner, that that was in fact how I felt he was treating me – as someone quite unintelligent and stupid.

But here’s what happened next.  As I began hurling my own insults back, he spoke over the top of me – even more so than he had already.  But this time he told me he couldn’t hear me clearly because the line was ‘crackly’ – that sometimes it did that, that he was very sorry but would I please repeat what I had just said?  At first, I was unsure I had heard him correctly myself.  The line wasn’t ‘crackly’ my end – except with my own fury!  I could hear perfectly well – so well that it made me very sceptical he was in fact speaking the truth.  At that point, however, I regained a little more sanity.  What was the point of playing ‘tit for tat’?  How would any rude comments of mine help?  With wisdom way beyond my own, I therefore told him, albeit rather curtly, that what I had said didn’t matter.

With the beauty of hindsight, I believe God rescued me.  I believe God stepped in, called a halt, and put a firm hand over my mouth!  Little did this business associate know God was using such lack of self-discipline and possible lack of Christian integrity on his part to shock me into realising I could respond in a much better way.  Indeed I have to, if I am going to take seriously what God says.  Listen to Proverbs 17:27-28, for starters:

A man of knowledge uses words of restraint

                And a man of understanding is even-tempered.

Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,

                And discerning if he holds his tongue.

And then there is James 1:26 – and what a punch it pulls!

If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

That certainly doesn’t leave me with many excuses.  Neither does Ephesians 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.

I did not feel built up or encouraged at all at the end of this particular phone conversation.  But I would have felt much worse if this person had actually heard all the words I had tried to hurl at him.  I suspect he has lots of needs.  I don’t know what would benefit him most, but hopefully there are those closer to him who do and who will act in love towards him.  In the meantime, I’m so grateful that God reached out to me in love, put his hand over my mouth and reminded me to close it!

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Is there one overriding quality in a person you find essential for any deep and lasting relationship?  There definitely is for me.  And that quality is honesty or, if you like, integrity.  I like to know that you are undivided, that you say what you mean and mean what you say, that there is no duplicity going on.

So you can imagine how, when I first saw the plant lunaria or, as it is more commonly called, honesty, growing in a friend’s garden a few years ago, I desperately wanted it for my own garden.  I was duly given a few seedlings and, to my surprise, they survived, eventually developing into quite tall plants with large, dark green leaves and beautiful purple flowers.  I loved watching my honesty grow and flourish and burst into bloom – truly a challenging parable unfolding before my eyes.  But it was what happened subsequently that I loved even more.  As the plant began to die off, the dry stems and the oval shaped seedpods were left behind.  And I soon discovered how to remove the outer skin of these seedpods so as to leave the translucent, pearly inner membrane attached to the stems, which I then placed in a large vase in our lounge as a special, home-grown dried arrangement.  And it is still there to this day, reminding me of the value of integrity in my life.

It’s so easy, isn’t it, to opt for half-truths in order to get ourselves out of a sticky situation or to embellish the truth to make ourselves look better than others.  Some time back, in a phone conversation with a business associate, I was left wondering whether to trust his word about anything, as he asserted he would do this and that and tried to explain away various broken promises from our past dealings.  That is disquieting to me – particularly when this person claims to be a Christian.  But I know within myself it is very tempting at times to claim more holiness or more wisdom or even more integrity than I actually possess.  As Jesus pointed out once, it’s very easy to judge others without honestly taking a look at oneself:

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

Jesus certainly didn’t mince words when it came to hypocrisy or pretence.  On other occasion he said:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything uncleanIn the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.  (Matthew 23: 27-28)

So I get the picture that God values honesty and integrity – that it’s really important for what we say to match up with how we live and act.

Is that what you figure too?  Is that how you live?

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Have you ever had the experience of seeing something on display in a shop that you want so much you simply have to buy it?  It’s happened to me only a few times, but fortunately, in each of these cases, the particular item has turned out to be relatively inexpensive.

Take, for example, a greeting card I saw in a gift shop over fifteen years ago now.  I was with my sister and both of us groaned out loud as we identified with the words printed in bold, black brushstrokes on the front.

She who trims herself to suit everybody will soon whittle herself away.

For me, it was one of those moments when you are brought face to face with issues inside you in a way that is impossible to ignore.  I was at a time in my life when I was feeling pushed and pulled in all sorts of directions, when I was trying to meet people’s expectations on every side (or was it my own?) but losing myself in the process.  I was aware there were things deep down inside me causing me much frustration and angst, but somehow could not find the courage to speak out.  Yet, in a split second, this simple card opened my eyes to what was happening inside me and around me and empowered me to begin to approach things in a different way.

For years, I had the card on display in my workplace and later at home, but today I moved it into my new study where I can see it from my desk.  And as I did, I reflected on those words again.  They still impact me – but God has done a transforming work in me and I have definitely moved on.  Now, by God’s grace, I believe I am much more secure in who I am and much less dependent on the opinions of others.  Not that I ignore others’ needs and selfishly go through life ‘looking after Number One’ – after all, Paul warns us clearly in Philippians 2:3-4 that that isn’t the way to live:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

But that doesn’t mean trying to please everyone and fit in with what they believe or how they want us to act, at the expense of our own integrity and wellbeing.  I think now at this stage of my life, I understand much more clearly that it’s as I look to God to tell me who I am and am constantly filled with God’s Spirit that I am best able to reach out from this place of strength and truly encourage others.

So how about you?  Feeling a bit fragile – as if there’s not much left of you?  Remember, God is the one who gives you strength.  God is the one who tells you who you are.

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