Dr. Jamie Jenkins: The Right Word at the Right Time

I have sometimes been accused of talking even when I have nothing to say. Some folks might even say that I just like to hear myself talk. (Did I hear an "Amen"?)

Although I am not always conscious of it, those accusations might have some element of truth in them. After all, I am a preacher and there is an expectation that I can verbalize with some degree of proficiency. The spoken word is one of the tools of my trade. Presenting a sermon or providing pastoral counsel involves a certain amount of verbal communication.

One definition of a preacher is someone who talks in another person's sleep. I suppose the indication is that preachers can be boring. It can also suggest that they are insensitive to the hearer and continue to ramble on even when no one is listening.

I recognize that there are times when it is not necessary to speak. In fact, in certain situations it is best not to say anything. Dr. Grant Shockley was my faculty adviser during my seminary days at the Candler School of Theology. He tried to teach us the value of the ministry of presence. He would often remind us that there are times when just being with someone is enough. Talking is not necessary or helpful.

You have probably heard the expression that "talk is cheap." The intention of that statement is to emphasize the importance of being true to your word. Don't promise something that you can't deliver. Beware that your comments are not just empty words.

The other axiom that comes to mind is the idea that "silence is golden." The suggestion is that quiet moments are precious. It also is a reminder that saying nothing is at times more valuable than any words that can be offered.

In uncomfortable circumstances or embarrassing situations we often say things that we regret. But in such moments our subconscious seems to suggest that saying something is better than saying nothing. In most cases that proves to be a false assumption.

A lot of talking is done when a question is posed and you are supposed to have the answer. It is alright to say, "I don't know." However, rather than appear ignorant or incompetent we (I) often make some other response in an effort to demonstrate that we are knowledgeable. In such circumstances our speech actually emphasizes that which we are trying to disguise.

The wisdom of the Book of Proverbs in the Bible offers this admonition: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver" (Proverbs 25:10-12). The Message says it this way: "The right word at the right time is like a custom-made piece of jewelry."

"There is a right time to speak and a right time to be silent" (Ecclesiastes 3:7). Lord, teach us when to speak up and when to shut up.

If you are still reading, you may be wondering what do you write when you have nothing to write about. Well, now you know.

Jamie Jenkins

[Taken with permission from "Monday Morning in North Georgia," September 5, 2011. North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.]