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Posts Tagged ‘public speaking’

I think about words a lot. After all, I am a writer. As I weave my sentences together, even in a short blog, I am always asking myself, ‘Can I put things in a better way? Will this be relevant to my readers? Am I saying something worthwhile that may comfort or encourage or challenge?’ Beyond that, I also ask, ‘Is this something God wants me to write—or am I off course? Does it honour God? Does it line up with God’s Word?’

When it comes to novel writing, there are many more questions I need to ask. Is this part necessary? Does it move the plot forward? Is this character believable? Do I need more or less description here? With non-fiction, there are questions too. Should I expand this or that point? Do my chapters each build on what I am trying to say? Should I add more illustrations—or quotations—or Bible references? On it goes.

As COVID allows, however, I am also a speaker—and this is where I need to think even more about my many words. Here they are not tumbling out of my mind onto my computer screen where I can then edit them. Instead, they roll off my tongue so easily and, once spoken, are very hard to take back. I may have been invited to speak somewhere to inform or entertain a secular audience for an hour or so, but I want to honour God in it all too. And in a church context, I want to share a message that will enable those present to draw closer to God in some way and allow God’s Spirit to touch hearts and change lives. What a responsibility! And how careful I need to be to listen to God through it all.

Yet we all need to be so careful in our normal, everyday lives too with the words we speak and write—a quick instruction here and there, a sharp response, a friendly chat with a neighbour, an email, a Facebook comment. Sometimes it can be so hard, can’t it, to reign in that tongue of ours, as James reminds us (James 1:26), or those words that can flow out so thoughtlessly into cyberspace? Before we know it, we can either build up or tear down.

In recent weeks, I have been thinking even more about the power of words as a possible topic for yet another book project of mine, along with trying to plan my speaking schedule for the year as best I can in our COVID context. And no doubt that is why I sat up and took more notice than usual when I read the following verses in Proverbs one morning:

Wise words satisfy like a good meal; the right words bring satisfaction. The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Proverbs 18:20-21 NLT

Wow—gulp! What power we have at our disposal each day with those words we wield!

I want my words to be wise and satisfying, don’t you? And I definitely want to bring life and not death via what I speak or write. Words matter indeed—to God and to our listeners or readers. May we each choose them carefully. And may we always harvest good fruit from them.

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I sat there waiting, the talk I was about to give clutched in my hands. I had known there would be a business session first, followed by morning tea. Then, as guest speaker, I was to address everyone physically present, as well as those joining in via Zoom from home. My husband and I had arrived early to set up my book table and check in with the person in charge of technology, with whom we had already liaised via email, text and Zoom, but I was still nervous. What if I could not share all those power point slides during my talk? What if our Zoom connection via my mobile phone did not work?

As the meeting began, my heart sank. The first speaker seemed to have no idea how to use Zoom—or the microphone right in front of him. Only the top of his head was visible on the screen showing us all what those at home could see, while the microphone obscured the rest of his face. And he spoke so softly, it was hard to hear him. The technology expert seemed busy with other things and took ages to act. And as I watched, I became more and more anxious.

But worse was to come. As one particular person approached the microphone, the slide presentation he needed to show could not be found. A frustrating fifteen-minute wait ensued, until it was eventually located. But this episode did little to inspire me with confidence.

A string of people then came to promote upcoming events, but they all moved so slowly and took so long to share what needed to be shared—and much more too! I stared at my watch and saw those precious minutes ticking away, shortening the time available for me to speak.

Just then, my husband noticed my anxiety and leaned over to me.

‘Relax,’ he told me. ‘God’s in charge!’

At first, I felt angry. How could I possibly relax, when these people seemed unaware how time was slipping away? And how could I shorten my talk, yet still say what I needed to say? But then I took a deep breath and tried to focus on God. Yes, I could not deny God was right there with me and was indeed in charge. I had prayed about the morning and I had also invited my prayer team to pray for me as I spoke. In this moment, I needed to trust God and simply do my best in the time I was given to share from my heart.

At last, the moment came. All our technology worked perfectly and everyone could hear and see me. I left out certain parts and finished exactly when I was supposed to, to my great relief. And afterwards, there was even time for some book sales and several interesting conversations with people.

Yes, God was there, in the midst of the chaos and failures and anxiety. And God is right there now too for us all, whatever is happening in our lives, walking through each moment with us. God knows. God cares. Our God is sufficient—always.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:19 NLT

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Jo 17I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with a certain TV show on at the moment that pits one singer against another. I enjoy hearing the contestants sing, but I fear for them as they put themselves in such a vulnerable position, slap bang in front of thousands of viewers, not to mention a live audience and those judges who will choose between them. I hate to see so many head home disappointed, with their dream of success shattered.

You might not be about to get on a stage and sing, but perhaps you can think of a time when you had to put yourself out there in some way and risk being judged. Perhaps you had drawn or painted a picture. Perhaps you had to play a musical instrument in public. Perhaps you had to read aloud something you had written. Can you remember how you felt?

I suspect I relate to these music show contestants so strongly because of my many experiences when younger of playing the piano for scary music examiners and also playing or singing in eisteddfods, while the judges busily wrote notes about my performance. Yes, these experiences made me feel so vulnerable, but they stood me in good stead for playing and singing in churches in later years—and also for getting up and speaking in public, as I still often do. And I believe that, by the grace of God, they have also armed me well for my current writing journey.

Yes, giving your new manuscript to others to critique can be a daunting prospect. And having books published can be even more daunting. It has been said that, to be an author, you need a sensitive heart, but the hide of an elephant! Yet, if we know God has called us and gifted us to write—or paint or sing or play or dance or bake or create in some other way—how important it is to keep putting ourselves out there, whatever others might say or think!

That certainly applies too when speaking about the things of God, whether in a formal setting or informally in our daily lives. Right now, when so many in our world are particularly vulnerable, there are opportunities all around us to share that encouraging word with others and to show them God’s love. But sometimes it can be hard, can’t it? Sometimes, sadly, I still choose to keep quiet and stay in my comfort zone, rather than risk being rejected.

Years ago, when I was about to start theological college and feeling very vulnerable as an older student in my late forties, a visiting speaker came to our church and, prompted by God, gave me the following verse:

Be on guard. Stand firm in the faith. Be courageous. Be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13 NLT

So many times, these words kept me going through all the challenges of college, helping me focus on the final goal. But these words speak to us at every stage of our lives, don’t you think? So, whatever is happening around us right now, may we all stand firm, knowing we are secure in God’s love. Then let’s step out, put ourselves out there and grasp hold of the things God has given us to do with courage and strength!

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Jo 12Our grandson has a wonderful way of keeping me humble—and this skill of his came to the fore recently when I tried to help him complete his Maths homework. He is only in Year 2, yet sadly I had great trouble understanding some of the questions he had to answer about shapes. What on earth were ‘cuboids’, ‘vertices’ and ‘edges’? I had no idea!

‘I don’t think you have that answer right,’ I told Zain at one stage, as I stared at the cube alongside the first question. ‘I think it has six edges.’

‘No,’ he told me firmly. ‘You’re counting the faces, not the edges!’

I was unconvinced, but decided to go along with him. We counted those edges together and somehow I came up with eight, while he found twelve—or was it sixteen? Another interesting discussion ensued but, in the end, he wrote down my answer of eight. Later, we wrote the same answer for a cuboid—which of course Zain knew straight away was a rectangular prism! Surely everyone knows that, his look implied.

We proceeded then to travel through what for me was the even rockier, more dangerous territory of cylinders and cones and square-based triangles. But when it came to answering an interesting question about whether cylindrical shapes could be stacked, we differed again. While Zain maintained they could not, if they were lying with their curved surfaces lengthwise, as they were on his homework sheet, I maintained they could if they were standing upright on their flat bases. In the end, I felt Zain worked out a clever answer to this one—‘Maybe!’

Eventually, I enlisted my mathematician husband’s help and asked him to check our work. And guess what his first comment was?

‘You have two answers wrong here!’

Yes, I had been wrong about those ‘edges’—and Zain had, I think, been right from the beginning. But, when I told Zain this, to add insult to injury, he responded: ‘Well, you’re just an old lady!’

Now that put me firmly in my place.

Later, as I pondered Zain’s words, I decided that, while I may be ‘just an old lady’ to him—and there is nothing wrong with being an ‘old lady’—I know I am more than that too. I have done many things in my life. I have two tertiary degrees and a couple of diplomas. I have worked in a variety of occupations, including high school teacher, editor and pastor. I have written eight books. I have spoken publicly well over two hundred times in recent years. Along with my pastor husband, I have raised three children. I have had an interesting and varied life and am grateful for that.

But the best thought that came to me was this. Even if I had done none of that in my life, I would still be of such worth in God’s eyes. Whatever my age, I am still God’s precious child. Through Jesus, I have been born again into God’s family. I belong to God. Jesus loves me, this I know.

That’s what really counts in the end, don’t you think?

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 3:1

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Jo 17I wonder if you can remember what you were afraid of most as a child. Our little grandson can become quite fearful when a certain character appears in the TV show ‘Peter Rabbit’. Whenever Mr Tod the fox turns up, Zain has been known to run and hide under the table! Now we try to reassure him and remind him how Peter Rabbit always gets away from Mr Tod—and Mr McGregor, for that matter! But Zain still takes some convincing.

I wonder what things make you fearful now you have grown up a little. Perhaps it’s heights or crowds or enclosed spaces or flying. Or perhaps it’s speaking in public, which apparently is the most common phobia adults experience. To be exposed to possible embarrassment, shame and even ridicule is just too much for many people.

My husband, who has been a minister for many years, well remembers the first time he spoke in public in his late teens. It was in the days of open air preaching and, one Sunday evening, he found himself standing on a street corner about to begin. But alas, after a few words, his mind went blank. He stumbled along until, thankfully, someone rescued him. Yet he summoned the courage to try again soon after—and, over the years, he has now given hundreds of sermons and college lectures.

In recent years, I have spoken many times as well, both in local church ministry and then as an author. I love it, but this year, I gave myself a ‘semi-sabbatical’. Then, somewhat to my surprise, when asked to speak again, I found myself feeling a little fearful. Could I still do it? Would God continue to use me in this way? Would what I say be understood and well received?

Then one day, I found myself reading the account of the resurrection in Matthew 28. Here we read that when Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to the tomb where Jesus’ body had been laid, an angel appeared in the midst of a violent earthquake and rolled the stone away. The guards were so freaked out that they ‘became like dead men’ (4). But the angel seems to have ignored them, instead addressing the two women:

Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Matthew 28:6-7

But that is not all. As the women hurried away to tell the disciples, suddenly Jesus met them as well and spoke to them:

Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. Matthew 28:10

I love how, in the midst of such a cataclysmic event, the first thing both Jesus and the angel did was to reach out and reassure the women, urging them not to be afraid. And surely that is still Jesus’ heart for us today—man, woman or child? Whatever fear battle we are facing in our lives, our powerful and loving Lord is right there with us, urging us to trust him and not be afraid. And I’m so glad of that.

The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Hebrews 13:6

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