In 2008, tragedy struck the family of Christian singer-songwriter Steven Curtis Chapman when one of his teenage sons arrived home, turned the corner of the driveway, and didn’t see his 5-year-old sister Maria Sue, who had darted directly into the path of his SUV.
Chapman saw the accident take place from the front porch, but he doesn’t remember much about the immediate aftermath. “I do remember running around to the back of the house and finding my wife, of course, just in hysterics,” he said. “It was a lot of blood.”
Chapman also doesn’t remember something that others witnessed in that horrible moment. As he was leaving the scene to go to the hospital (where little Maria would be pronounced dead on arrival), he looked over and saw his son crumpled up in a ball on the ground, his older brother on top of him, holding him and praying for him. At that moment, Steven told the driver to stop. He rolled down the window and called out, “Will Franklin, your father loves you.”
That scene chokes me up every time I imagine it. To think of a father, in the throes of shock and grief, in that terrible fog of horror and chaos, instinctively assuring his son of unconditional love instead of casting blame or bowing to bitterness—the moment says something about the character of a man. Out of the overflow of a heart smitten by hardship comes a word of consolation.
Storeroom of the Heart
In Luke’s version of Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain, we’re told that “a good person produces good out of the good stored up in his heart,” while “an evil person produces evil out of the evil stored up in his heart.” In both cases, what comes out of the mouth is “from the overflow of the heart” (Luke 6:45, CSB).
I’ve always read that verse and applied Jesus’s saying to the question of speech. How should we talk? What do our words say about us? How can we control the tongue? After all, Scripture has much to say about taming the tongue and blessing others with our words (including James 3 and multiple proverbs).
But the real application of Jesus’s saying lies further back. To take his words to heart, our focus should be not so much on what we should say as what we should store. To apply Jesus’s insight, if we want to be the kind of person who speaks words of wisdom and grace, then we have to begin by storing up wisdom and grace. The question isn’t “What should we say?” as much as it’s “What should we store up? What should go in the storeroom?”
J. C. Ryle claimed the test of a person’s religious character is his “conduct and conversation.” The test reveals the character. But even there, if you want to pass, you don’t focus on the moment of the exam. You focus your attention on the weeks or months before the test. It’s about preparation, what you put in the storeroom of your mind and heart.
Guard Your Heart, Not Just Your Lips
Too many times, we try to control what we say at the surface level. We try to avoid saying things we shouldn’t, and we try to say the things we should. Well and good, as a start. But Jesus’s words push us deeper. Further back.
Why? Well, I may try my hardest to speak words of life, only to be appalled at my own occasional missteps, the overspill of polluted waters that have remained deep in my heart. I surprise myself at times when the muzzle on my mouth malfunctions and something I wish wasn’t in my heart suddenly becomes visible.
Paul Tripp in War of Words says we’re prone to blame others or blame the situation whenever we say something wrong. Instead, we should recognize that “word problems reveal heart problems.” It’s not the people around you or your current circumstances that make you speak a certain way. Even when you’re around people who drive you crazy or when you’re facing difficult challenges, your heart—if good—will reveal itself in words of truth and grace.
No wonder, then, that Proverbs says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Prov. 4:23, CSB). We spend so much time guarding our lips that we forget the importance of the storeroom. The preparation takes place there. “A holy practice must of necessity flow from holy principles and heavenly affections,” wrote Charles Simeon.
What Are You Storing Up?
Store up gunpowder and you’ll blow up when something lights the fuse. Store up bitterness and your words will ooze with resentment when someone crosses you. Store up pride and your speech will drip with mockery and condescension. Store up envy and you’ll find yourself giving voice to biting remarks that chip away at another’s character or credibility. Store up judgment and another’s failures will trigger harsh and overly critical words.
But store up grace and you’ll return good for evil. Store up compassion and you’ll pray when persecuted. Store up conviction and you’ll speak with courage when everyone else compromises. Store up humility and you’ll acknowledge when you’re weak and fess up when you fail. Store up gratitude and you’ll bless those who grumble. Store up faith and you’ll draw closer to God when the trial arrives. Store up love and you’ll speak with wisdom and grace when everyone else falls prey to anger.
None of us knows when we might face a tragedy as severe as the one faced by the Chapmans. Whether we’re days or weeks away from a trial, know this: what you fill the storeroom with is what will come out. So, what are you storing up?
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