At the core of our integrity is the way we use words. I think God would agree. He never says anything He doesn't mean—completely.
It wasn't long ago I was again drawn to evaluate the weighty issue inherent in that statement. I remembered the first time I truly came face to face with the concern that I never use words lightly. It took place when I first chose, on occasion, to use the words "loved ones" when addressing my congregation.
I've used them for decades, usually while addressing my congregation in moments of warm embrace or with words of distinct passion. I feel they are pastorally appropriate because they are from the Bible and because I truly felt that way toward my flock. I felt the preciousness of their worth, the fragility of their souls and the significance of their intended purpose in God's will—each one.
But from the beginning of my employing those words, I have always spoken them with a sense of accountability to their weighty potential. It was (and is) my belief that only if spoken with true feeling would they ever be believed and received by the hearers. I knew that if that receiving took place, something deep and lasting would be added to their souls and something wider would open in their hearts toward the Ultimate Father's love.
My heart and voice must represent His with as total a commitment as the Holy Spirit can make humanly possible. I know if my words are spoken without deeply felt sincerity—if only a mere formality—even the least discerning hearer will soon recognize a "gong-like" dissonance. I feel bound to never speak if my words contain anything less in my heart than a quest to extend love as the Father speaks it.
Like you and so many other fellow servants, I am a teacher and speaker—a communicator of many words. As such, I am determined to maintain the purity of full value in anything I say. This is particularly relevant when we express gracious or affirming words. Generous expressions can wear thin if they become too common. Worse, I may risk conceding to a worldly use of words—saying "nice" things, but only to schmooze or to leverage a personal agenda.
Our world is filled with the superficiality of using words as a formality and not expecting them to be taken at face value. It's a reality that calls me to guard my own heart and lips and requires me to consider what I say as I speak. Honesty lives within the boundaries of what is actually being spoken.
Words spoken without such an honest "heart-measurement" inevitably suffer a reduced dynamic as their pure gold substance becomes treated like small change. Words are intended to transmit life, not simply sounds.
So, my fellow shepherd-leader: We do well to weigh, to think and to feel this matter deeply, because words always count—even when they aren't valued. But when carefully chosen and used with integrity, words may become dynamically life-giving in their impact. Thus used, they are freighted with life—with durability—because by the integrity attending their use, God seems willing to invest something of His heart—yes, of Himself—into them.
And that is why, after fifty years of shepherding, I have come to believe that speaking the truth in love is ultimately equal in importance to declaring God's love in truth. The message and the messenger are both to be totally true. n
Jack Hayford is the founder of The Church on the Way in Van Nuys, Calif., chancellor of The King's Collge and Seminary and the president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel..