of words and wordsmiths, a warning

In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. ~Proverbs 10:19 (NKJV)

From childhood, I wanted to be a preacher. The strongest influences on my life were pastors and evangelists. I had not entered double digits in age when I began to understand the power of a well-spoken word. I was still that boy when I started practicing my craft, first at home, with my sister and her dolls being the coerced-but-captive audience and not long after, the Wednesday night church crowd.

I was a church novelty. Old ladies would pinch my cheek and say how great it was God had chosen one so young to preach his word.

I experienced the power of the spoken word early. It would be years before I came to appreciate even more the power of the word not spoken.

We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out. ~Winston Churchill


Words have been my life...for better and for worse. They have been my greatest contribution and my besetting sin. I have seldom said too little, but often said too much.

No less a Christian influence than John Calvin is reported to have said, "I consider looseness with words no less of a defect than looseness of the bowels."

My obsession with preaching and public speaking in general inevitably led me to the written word. I soon found that when I wrote a better sermon, I preached a better sermon. I found that, by writing my sermons and speeches ahead of time, crafting them, carving them down, culling out the superfluous, I became more effective as a speaker.

I learned the importance and the impact of silence. Mark Twain, the favorite author of my youth, was a renowned public speaker. He was as popular for that as he was his timeless writings. Twain said, "The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause."

As enamored as I was with bursts of eloquence dancing and darting across the flower-strewn fields of imagination, I was surprised to learn that the finest speeches, the ones most remembered, were short and simple. Perhaps the greatest speech in American history, Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, was only 272 words. One would only need about five minutes to deliver it.

From Robert G. Lee's sermon "Payday Someday" to Jonathan Edwards' "Sinners in the hands of an angry God," the most powerful sermons have been simple to understand. One need not own a Lexicon, a dictionary, or a thesaurus to feel their impact. Even Jesus' Sermon on the Mount can be delivered effectively in under 15 minutes and is easily understood.

I have found that one of the most effective tools a speaker or writer has at his disposal is the editor functions in your favorite word processing application. Leave those unnecessary words on the cutting board. Carve out the fat. Write it. Tighten it. Then, tighten it some more.

Not only will you find you are a more effective communicator this way, you will avoid the sins so often attending unfiltered communication.

Say less. Mean it more.

A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy

A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver. ~Proverbs 25:11

Whether they lead to love or war, to peace or conflict, let your words be true representatives of your heart.