Early in my career, I arrived at the office and was told that the Colonel wanted to see me. I reported to his office and was offered a seat. He came from behind his desk and sat down next to me. He looked at me and asked, “Sergeant Camacho, is everything okay? Are you having any problems that I can help you with?”
I replied, “No, everything is fine.” I told him about how much I loved my job and was looking forward to contributing to our mission. When I was done speaking, he looked at me and said, “I’ve been worried about you. Your work has been good but I know you can do better. I find myself having to do some of the things that, frankly you should be doing. This has to change because if I have to do my job and yours too, one of us isn’t needed. And since I get to pick who stays that’s not good for you.” It was a tough message to hear, but I’m glad he spoke it. How many times have you heard someone say they lost their job and didn’t even know there was a problem?
Leadership requires that we serve and enrich the lives of others. Whether we are leading our organizations, homes, churches or families, one of our greatest responsibilities is to help grow and develop people. This requires above all else that we speak truth. Not the kind of destructive, vindictive, or judgmental truth; the kind of truth that speaks life. The kind of truth that comes from a position of authority rooted in the desire to edify those we serve.
“Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you (Ephesians 4:29 GNT).”
Speaking truth, especially in our commitment to developing ourselves and others, requires “knowledge, wisdom and discernment.” “The word knowledge in the Bible denotes an understanding, a recognition, or an acknowledgment. To “know” something is to perceive it or to be aware of it. Many times, in Scripture, knowledge carries the idea of a deeper appreciation of something or a relationship with someone (www.gotquestions.org).
Speaking life isn’t just about using the right words. It is about setting an example. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Actions speak louder than words.” Ephesians 4:29 explains it simply by saying:
“When you talk, do not say harmful things. But say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will help those who listen to you.”
Wisdom requires an appreciation of knowledge. Wisdom is knowledge gained through life experiences. Yet oddly in our society, once you reach retirement age or are considered too old, we seem to discard or minimize the value of our life experience. We would be wise to remember “wisdom is with the elderly, and understanding comes with long life.” (Job 12:12, MEV)
However, knowledge and wisdom, by themselves, aren’t enough to speak truth or help develop others. Life experiences are often filled with the regret of wasted opportunities. I believe most of us can relate to lyrics of Lane and Woods (1973):
“I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger.”
Along with knowledge and experience, discernment is needed to fully appreciate, develop and serve the needs of others. Discernment is the ability to see, grasp and comprehend people, things or situations clearly. It requires that we know when to speak and when to be quiet, when to intercede and when to step away. It requires that we know when and where it is appropriate to speak the truth.
It is becoming clearer that the older I get, the smarter my parents become. The truth is that they were always smart, I just wasn’t ready to hear, understand or appreciate their wisdom. Remember that just because you feel the need to say it doesn’t mean that others are ready to receive it.
Jesus, through His teachings, shows time and time again how knowledge, wisdom and discernment join in speaking truth. In speaking truth, Jesus didn’t focus on personality. He didn’t spend His time justifying or excusing behavior and He didn’t provide feedback just to check a block.
In his book Speak Life, author Brady Boyd says, “Jesus refused to be reckless and brash with his words, choosing instead to be encouraging and wise.” Jesus knew how to speak life. Even in those instances when He had to deliver feedback, He focused on behavior. He knew that we aren’t perfect; He knew we are human.
Boyd says that speaking life requires “spiritual discipline.” To speak life, Boyd says there are four conversations that are needed, and modeled by Jesus:
- Conversation between You and God. Communicating with God, through prayer, allows us to proud out our hearts, and opens us to receive His guidance.
- Conversation Between Your and Yourself. When we explore our motives for confronting the behavior, or in delivering a needed message, we can often identify if we are serving the needs of others or our own.
- Conversation Between You and the Enemy. The conversations that we have with ourselves often identify our fear, insecurities, and sometimes our pride. If we are not aware of these, the words we use will often hurt rather than help others.
- Conversation Between You and Me. After we have worked through the previous three conversations, we are ready to talk to others. It is at this point that our words will have the most significance.
When we speak life, to quote Toby Mac, we can “look into the eyes of the broken hearted. Watch them come alive as soon as you speak hope.”