I may be the Thomas Edison of preschool Bible lessons. He found 10,000 ways a light bulb wouldn’t work. I found 10,000 ways not to teach preschoolers the Bible. This is exactly why I’m thankful that during my first year of teaching, my day school director, Bev, employed this method when evaluating my lessons: THINK Clearly. She may have thought I was the worst teacher ever, but she never voiced it. Before she spoke, she considered whether what she was about to say was true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind, and clear.
Because Bev chose to THINK Clearly, I didn’t wither when yet another child interrupted my lesson, saying, “Are you done yet?” Instead, I pressed on until I finally discovered how to tell stories that taught the children deep gospel truths in a fun and memorable way. Her thoughtful leadership allowed me to enjoy the exhilarating day when a child hugged me and said, “You’re the best teacher ever!”
Before we speak, let’s follow Bev’s example and consider if what we’re about to say is true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind, and clear. Let’s remind ourselves to THINK Clearly.
T—Is It True?
I didn’t really lie, I told myself. It was more of an omission. Yet, every conversation with my mom tugged at my conscience until I came clean. Her response was as gracious as I’d expected, but she surprised me by sharing a secret omission of her own. Walking in open honesty before each other knit our hearts even closer and built a special trust.
God calls us to always speak the truth. If we want others to trust us when we share from the Bible, let’s make sure we’re known for honesty in everything.
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Eph. 4:25)
H—Is It Helpful?
I held my breath when the speaker told a group of middle schoolers, “Get up now and seek forgiveness from anyone in the room you’ve treated unkindly.” Then he added, “If you’ve had unkind thoughts about anyone, ask forgiveness for that, too.”
I feared his instructions could wreak havoc. And they did. One shy girl muscled up the fortitude to ask a group of girls for forgiveness. After she walked away, the group’s shocked silence gave way to angry words.
“How dare she say she looked down on us. She thinks she’s better than us.”
“I used to think she was sweet.”
“Yeah. I used to like her, but I hate her now.”
The honest girl’s words may have been true, but they weren’t helpful. She dug a rift where once there had been peace.
Stories like this remind us to measure our words carefully and speak what’s true, but also what’s wise and helpful.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. (Prov. 31:26)
I—Is It Inspiring?
If ever anyone needed a word of encouragement, it was Israel and their new leader Joshua. Poised on the edge of the land of Canaan, he prepared the assembly of weak-faithed Israelites to “take the land” from a sea of fierce warriors (Josh. 1). God’s words inspired them to trust Him with their impossible task:
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh. 1:9).
To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is! (Prov. 15:23)
N—Is It Necessary?
I could see it a mile away. The soccer ball was out, but the referee ignored it. His egregious error required that I not only voice my opinion, but that I voice it with force. Unfortunately, I declared my displeasure at a moment so quiet that the flutter of a butterfly’s wings could have been heard. My loud mouth rang through the silence, to my child’s embarrassment and my own. The referee followed up my regrettable scene with an equal display of displeasure. And he still didn’t make the call.
My words that day were foolish because they modeled rudeness to everyone staring at me, particularly my child. I’d damaged my testimony as a follower of Christ, and for what? I doubt a referee has ever changed his mind because a parent protested his call. This referee certainly did not. But even if he had, my testimony would have been worth more than a good call.
Before we speak—even if we’re blurting out truth—let’s consider whether our words are necessary.
A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion. (Prov. 18:2)
I—Is It Kind?
We were at the tail end of a long drive when I showed off my sarcastic wit to my road-weary friends. It missed the mark with one of them. Her words left me in an emotional fetal position. I cried, she huffed, and the trip dragged on more painful than before.
Later, I thought about what she’d said. She wasn’t wrong. I needed to curb my sarcasm. But neither was she kind. Our trip might have been enjoyable if only I’d been more humble and she’d been more kind.
Years later, another friend’s words cut even deeper. But because she seasoned her words with kindness, my heart opened to the truth she shared.
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Col. 4:6)
CLEAR—Is It Clear?
Jan’s grandkids call her Mimi. One of them, Benjamin, attended the day school where I taught chapel. This eager student taught me the importance of being clear after he ran home and told his mother I’d called his grandma a “no-good, rotten sinner.” Surprised, his mom asked for more information. “Mrs. Jean said that Adam and Eve brought no-good, rotten Mimi sin into the world. And that sin makes our hearts cry out, ‘Mimi! It’s all about Mimi.’”
The next week I tweaked the lesson and explained to the class—and Benjamin—that Adam and Eve brought no-good, rotten Me! Me! Me! sin into the world. It makes our hearts cry out “Me! Me! Me! It’s all about me.”
Clarity matters. And yes, like all of us, Jan is a sinner, but she’s a wonderful Mimi.
For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. (James 3:2)
We all say things we wish we could take back. The next time you do, remember, it’s not the end. It’s an opportunity for God to refine you and help you grow in learning to speak words that are true, helpful, inspiring, necessary, kind, and clear.
The next time your mouth wants to run off on its own, set a guard over the door of your lips, demand your tongue to stop, and THINK Clearly.
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! (Ps. 141:3)