My wife and I were awakened by the hushed voices outside our open bedroom window. I slipped over to eavesdrop in the night. It sounded like teens, both boys and girls, and they had just stolen a toolbox from the bed of a pickup. They had it but didn’t know what to do with it.
They sat against the outside of the apartment wall. We were less than inches apart with only curtains and a screen between us.
One kid wanted to sell the box; another wanted to leave it with a friend; one of the girls seemed to be having second thoughts. They argued back and forth.
I wanted so badly to interject my opinion. But what could I say? My mind raced through what I knew from the book of Proverbs about speech.
I could seize control by quickly blurting out something. Not a good idea according to Proverbs 29:20, “You have seen someone who is hasty in his words there is more hope for a fool than for him.” Been there – done that! I understand.
Maybe I should just keep my mouth shut. It wasn’t my toolbox and doesn’t Proverbs 17:28 say, “…the one who holds his tongue is deemed discerning.”
On the other hand, there is also this counsel, “Open your mouth on behalf of those unable to speak…” (Proverbs 31:8) Someone had to speak up for the guy who had to go to work the next day, without his tools.
OK then maybe I should blast them with righteous indignation. Probably not a good idea. “A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” (Proverbs 15:1) If I were to blast them, they would have their revenge. I didn’t need that.
Plus, my goal was to nudge them toward a good decision. “The one who is wise in heart is called discerning, and kind speech increases persuasiveness.” (Proverbs 16:21) That’s what I wanted to do – persuade them to do the right thing.
But how could I speak kind words, when my attitude was angry and judgmental. Proverbs 25:15 is a reminder that one’s attitude is important. “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a soft tongue can break a bone.” Soft! A soft attitude speaking soft words. That’s what I needed if I were to nudge them to do the right thing.
And it had to be the right words. It would probably not sit well with them if I were to have called them thieves. Again, Proverbs informed me, “Like apples of gold in settings of silver, so is a word skillfully spoken.” (Proverbs 25:11) I had to be sensitive to the situation and the moment.
And the timing, oh yes, the timing had to be just right. If I interrupted too soon, it could be offensive. If I waited too long, their decision might be already cast. Proverbs 15:23 “A person has joy in giving an appropriate answer, and a word at the right time—how good it is!”
I was busy thinking through my lengthy speech when I remembered, “When words abound, transgression is inevitable, but the one who restrains his words is wise.” (Proverbs 10:19) Got it. I need to say as little as possible and yet get the job done.
OK so what should I say and when should I say it?
The debate outside was stalled. One boy said, “I just don’t know, what should we do with this thing?” That was my cue. Hidden by the curtains I spoke up. In a natural and easy voice, I said, “If I were you, I’d put it back.”
There was silence on the other side. They were caught and they knew it. One of the boys said, “Oh man look what we’ve done. We woke these people up.” (like it was the worst thing they did all night.)
Another kid said, “Come on, let’s take it back.” All agreed.
And as far as I know, the man with the toolbox, the teens and me and my wife lived happily ever after.
A PRAYER: Father my mouth gets me in trouble much too often, help me rein it in by the principles in your Word.
All Scripture references are from the NET Bible ®