Revive Our Hearts Podcast

God's School of Speech Arts

Nancy: Mary Kassian says most speech therapy programs try to teach students how to speak. 

Mary Kassian:  But God’s program is different. He doesn't expect us to do anything at all. All He asks is that we attend to Him; that we listen and that we receive from Him.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, January 27, 2015.

Nancy: If you want to learn how to speak wise words, first you need to learn how to listen. My friend Mary Kassian will explain this idea as she continues in a guest teaching series called "Conversation Peace." 

This has been such a helpful and challenging series to me personally, and I know you’ll get a lot out of it as Mary continues all this week. She’s written about our listening, speaking, and glorifying God through our words in a helpful workbook that's called Conversation Peace. We’d like to send you copy this week when you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts. For details, visit ReviveOurHearts.com. Here’s Mary.

Mary: My youngest son, Jonathan, lost his hearing when he was about two years old. When his loss was diagnosed, the specialists agreed that he would need to use sign language as well as spoken language in order to communicate. They told me there was little hope of him speaking clearly, without significant speech impediment. But I was determined that Jonathan would speak as well as he possibly could.

We spent hours each day on the kitchen floor with alphabet cards and homemade games. We sat in front of the big mirror in the hallway, struggling to make sounds that were formed so easily by people who could hear. It was a lot of work.

Jonathan had to learn that though the letter "k" did not have any lip movement, it could be felt at the back of the throat. He had to learn that the letter "n" makes your nose tickle and that the letter "s" sends out a thin, downward stream of air.

He had to learn to make sounds that he could not hear. He had to learn how to perceive the most subtle difference in positions of the tongue and lips. In addition to the work we did at home, Jonathan received speech therapy and went to special classes to help him learn how to talk. And all the hard work paid off.

There came a day when Jonathan was able to form all the sounds, and he was speaking and reading and learning new words continually. He was communicating without sign language. But although he had all the basic skills, and the speech therapists had exhausted what they could offer him, I wasn't satisfied. He had a lot more to learn. His speech was monotone, expressionless. It sounded like he was talking with marbles in his mouth. It was very thick and difficult to understand.

So I enrolled him in singing lessons. Of course, he can't hear the differences in the tones, but I thought that might help him be able to control his voice. I also enrolled him in private lessons with a drama teacher who began to tutor him in "Speech Arts." Speech Arts, as the name suggests, refers to the art of speaking. It is a drama-based program where the students are taught to be expressive and to articulate and to modulate their voices and to control their voices. It teaches them to use the voice, the face, and the whole body to communicate.

I hope that you've benefited from the radio programs that we've done on communication. But perhaps, you've also discovered that you also have much more to learn. Though we'll soon finish this series, we definitely haven't finished learning what God has to teach us about how to use our mouths. So today, we will be talking about enrolling in God's lifelong School of Speech Arts.

Speech Arts helped my son, Jonathan, speak correctly. He's now grown up into an English teacher, of all things. God's program will help us learn to speak correctly and to harness the power of instruction. God chooses unlikely candidates for His school of speech arts. The Bible is chock-full of examples of this.

In Isaiah chapter 6, the prophet sees a vision of the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne. What's his response? In verse 5 he cries out,

"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty."
Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, "See this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?" And I said, "Here am I. Send me!" (vv. 5–8 NIV84).

When Isaiah looked upon the Word of God, holy and mighty, seated on a throne, he began to see that his own mouth was unfit and unclean and his own words needed a lot of. He felt unworthy to speak before God.

When God enrolled Jeremiah in his training program, Jeremiah protested: "Oh no, Lord God, I don't know how to speak since I am only a youth" (Jer. 1:6 paraphrased). Jeremiah saw himself as immature and incapable. And he was afraid.

When God challenged Ezekiel to speak of God, Ezekiel experienced all sorts of wild emotions. The Bible tells us in Ezekiel 3 that he sat dazed for a whole week, feeling totally overwhelmed.

Daniel was speechless when God gave him a vision to talk about. He shook like a leaf and admitted he felt anguished, weak, and helpless. Daniel 4:19 says that he felt stunned and his thoughts alarmed him.

The disciples that Jesus chose in the New Testament were also unlikely candidates. James and John were called the "sons of thunder." They were probably prone to losing their temper. Peter was impetuous. He's famous for sticking his foot in his mouth and saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

The apostle Paul was totally unimpressive. He wasn't a very good speaker. A young man named Eutychus fell asleep and fell out of the window when Paul rambled on and on and on. Paul was talking long past midnight to daybreak (and you thought your pastor went on for a long time).

But the most unlikely speech candidate that we find in the Bible is Moses. When God told Moses to talk to Pharaoh, Moses protested. He said that Pharaoh wouldn't listen to someone so insignificant. Moses reminded God of all his deficiencies. "Please Lord, I have never been eloquent—neither in the past nor since you have spoken to me—I am slow and hesitant in speech" (Ex. 4:10 paraphrased).

Moses probably had a stutter, lisp, or other speech impediment. A lot of the commentators feel that was probably the case. He was terrified of the thought of having to speak in front of people. He was even terrified at the thought of having to speak to one other person. He complained to God that he felt incompetent and insecure. He complained so much that God agreed to let Aaron, Moses' younger brother, help Moses speak.

There are no toastmaster graduates or nationally certified speakers in this line-up. It's not the type of people you would choose to go out and speak on God's behalf. The candidates that God chooses for his program are ordinary people—people like you and me. People who struggle with our words. People who struggle to say the right thing at the right time.

Maybe you feel insecure, fearful, or overwhelmed. Or maybe you have a temper or are impetuous with your mouth. Or maybe you don't say anything because you don't know what to say. You may think you are the most unlikely candidate, but God wants you to enroll in His school. He is asking you as he asked Isaiah, "Whom shall I send? Who will go?" He's asking, "Whose mouth is open to receiving instruction?"

What would you think, if, on the first day of school, your child returned home with a letter guaranteeing their success? What if the letter said, "Suzy will succeed because the teacher will sit beside her and help her and give her the answer to every question." I don't know what you would think about a letter like that, but that's the type of guarantee God gives the students who enroll in his speech arts program. It is a unique guarantee.

Listen to what the Lord promised Isaiah:

"As for me, this is my covenant with them," says the Lord. "My Spirit, who is on you, and my words that I have put in your mouth will not depart from your mouth, or from the mouths of your children, or from the mouths of their descendants from this time on and forever," says the Lord (Isa. 59:21 HCSB).

I love this verse, "I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand" (Isa. 51:16).

A covenant is a contract. In making a covenant, God is binding himself to a legal obligation. He is making a guarantee. Legal contracts always identify the parties involved in the contract. Who is God's contract with? The verse says that it is with His people—with everyone who is in relationship with Him. He also stipulates a time frame for the contract, "from this time on and forever," is what the Lord said.

"Forever" means that God's commitment extends to you. His commitment to put His Words into your mouth, to cover you with the shadow of His hand, that extends to you. His contract with us, His guarantee, is that His Spirit is with us and that He will put His words in our mouths. Because of this, we need not worry about the tests of life. Whenever we face a difficult situation and do not know what to say, if we wait on Him, He will provide the right words. He will provide answers for test questions. Guaranteed.

Jesus told his disciples in Luke 12:11–12,

When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say (NIV84).

When Moses protested that he couldn't speak well, the Lord asked him,

"Moses, who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say."(Ex. 4:11–12 paraphrased).

I don't know about you, but I am very suspicious about guarantees. I don't believe it when the laundry detergent company guarantees to get my clothes cleaner than all the other brands or when the herbal product guarantees to magically melt the pounds off my body or the cream guarantees to erase my wrinkles. I just don't believe it.

But I feel much more confident when someone gives a guarantee in the form of a contract, if they are willing to sign their name to it. And when God makes a contract, I am confident, and I am certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that He will deliver on His obligation.

God gives a guarantee for what He will do with my mouth through His school if I enroll as His student. All He requires from me is that I show up for the program.

When I was teaching Jonathan how to talk, I used some unconventional methods. I tried everything I could think of. We cut letters out of sandpaper so he could feel the letter and feel the sound he was making at the same time. I changed the rules of board games so he would get rewarded if he could say words correctly and finish off the words and start the words correctly. We drew and we played and we moved our bodies to sounds. To me, everything that happened in Jonathan's day was an opportunity to teach him to speak.

[She demonstrates method with exaggerated speech.] I would take his little face in my hands and say: "Jonathan, don't put one fork on the table, put five forks on the table." I didn't talk to my other children that way. They would have thought I was crazy. They didn't learn to talk that way. But Jonathan needed that kind of instruction. He needed to hear the ending of every word and the beginning of every word because he couldn't hear that. It was an unconventional way to teach him how to speak.

God's program is also unconventional. You have all heard of "hands-on" education in which the students physically touch and interact with the material. God's program is "hands-on," because He physically, so to speak, interacts with us. He puts His hands on us.

He put his hands on Isaiah. He had the seraphim touch and purify Isaiah's mouth with a hot coal from the altar. He also put his hands on Jeremiah: "Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, 'Now I have put my words in your mouth'" (Jer 1:9) God's program is a hands-on program. He wants to put His hands on us. But He will not violate our wills. We must agree to it.

And if we allow Him to touch our mouths, His fire will purify, cleanse, and empower our words. God's program is also unconventional because it focuses on reception instead of production, on hearing instead of speaking. Isaiah said, "He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being [taught]. The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears. . ." (Isa. 50:4–5 NIV84).

The Lord told Ezekiel, "When I speak to you, I will open your mouth" (Eze. 3:27). So the Lord opens Ezekiel's mouth so you will say the right thing. The Lord instructs us in Psalm 81:10: "Open wide your mouth and I will fill it!"

Most speech programs focus on production: students learn to make the right sounds, use the right expressions, and deliver effective speeches. God's program is different. He does not expect us to produce anything at all. All He asks is that we attend to Him; that we listen to Him and receive from Him.

I love the encounter Jesus had with a man who was having difficulty speaking in Mark 7:31:

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. Then he spit and touched the man's tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means, "Be opened"). At this, the man's ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly (vv. 31–35).

The word for "opened" means "to open thoroughly to full capacity." When Jesus stuck his fingers into the man's ears He symbolically took ownership of them and opened them to full capacity. His fingers filled the ear canals.

Even if that man were a hearing man, all other sound would have been blocked out by the presence of Jesus' fingers. Then Jesus spit and transferred some saliva from His own mouth onto the man's tongue. Maybe He was thinking of that guarantee he gave to Isaiah: "MY words in your mouth." 

It is interesting to note that, in the end, Jesus did not need to tell that man how to speak. He merely opened the man's ears and opened the man's mouth and put His own words on the man's tongue. After that, the man had no trouble speaking. The following verse implies that he couldn't stop talking . . . he couldn't stop talking about what Jesus had done for him. He couldn't stop talking about the Lord.

The root of our speaking problems are normally listening problems. We don't speak correctly because we don't do a good job of listening to God. That's why, in God's school, we learn to listen and receive.

The thing that is the most unconventional about God's Speech Arts program is that the process is a continual one. There is no graduation date. There is no final thesis or dissertation. Instead, we go through this ever-deepening process of trust and ever-deepening dependency on our Teacher.

All other educational programs aim to sever the student's dependency on the teacher. The student is expected to become an independent authority. She becomes confident in her own knowledge and judgment. Through education, she becomes the teacher.

Not so in God's school. In God's school, honor students are the ones who do not graduate . . . at least not in this lifetime. They are the ones who, over time, become more aware of their deep need to hear from God and their deep need to listen to His instruction. One would think that unlikely candidates, a unique guarantee, and an unconventional program could lead to failure. But God's results are uncommon.

And nowhere is that more evident than in the life of Moses. At eighty years of age, when Moses entered God's program, he felt insecure, impaired, and incompetent. He was embarrassed to speak. But at the end of his life forty years later, Moses stood with quiet confidence to address an entire nation.

The Bible tells us that Moses recited the words of a long song from beginning to end in the hearing of the whole assembly of Israel. At the end of the song, Moses did not stop. His speech continued. One by one, he blessed the tribes. His oratory fills two entire chapters of the Bible.

The book of Deuteronomy concludes with the assessment: "No prophet has risen in Israel like Moses . . . For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel" (34:10, 12). Wow! What a change!

By the time my son, Jonathan, was in grade three, his speech had improved so much that his speech arts teacher entered him in a competition. Jonathan entered in three categories: poetry, prose, and monologue. In the first category, there were four contestants. One contestant forgot all of his lines; another stared at the floor in embarrassment and mumbled. Jonathan came in second.

In the second category, there were three contestants. Jonathan tied for second place. The judge was compassionate and couldn't bear to place him last. He didn't have a chance to place first, not against children who could hear. But in the final category, monologue, Jonathan was the one and only entrant. Only a handful of people dotted the auditorium. Most of the contestants and parents had gone for lunch.

It was obvious who was going to win. He only needed to get up on the stage and open his mouth to do so. When Jonathan completed his "Snoopy Versus the Red Baron" soliloquy, and the judge rose to put the gold medal around his neck, I was so proud.

In God's school, you're in your very own category. He doesn't compare you to Moses, Isaiah, Daniel. . .to me, or to your small group leader. If you're enrolled in His program, all you need to do is listen to Him, stand up and open your mouth, and victory will be yours.

Nancy: Whether you’re more of an introvert, as I am, or an extrovert, listening to the Lord and His Word and then telling others His truth is the most important thing you can do. Mary Kassian has been showing us this, and she’ll be right back.  

Mary is our guest teacher this week here on Revive Our Hearts. This teaching series has been rooted in God’s Word and it has practical application for all of our relationships. As you are listening to these messages, maybe you are thinking, I'd like to study more on this topic. You can do that and let this message go even deeper in your heart by getting Mary’s Bible study called Conversation Peace. As you go through this workbook, whether by yourself or with a friend, you’ll evaluate what Scripture says about listening and speaking in ways that build others up. She’ll guide you through practical implications of this study by asking questions that will help to make these biblical concepts even more personal. 

When you support Revive Our Hearts with a donation of any size this month, we’ll show our appreciation by sending you the workbook, Conversation Peace. Not only will you get this practical workbook, but you can know that you are helping Revive Our Hearts continue to come to you each weekday. You'll be part of helping women discover freedom, fullness, and fruitfulness in Christ.  

You can make your donation online at ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959.  

One of the hardest things to do is to bless others when you have been cursed. How can you do that? Mary Kassian will talk about that tomorrow. Please be back for Revive Our Hearts. To close today’s program, here’s Mary to pray that all of us will enroll in God’s School of Speech Arts. 

Mary: Heavenly Father, thank you for being our instructor. Thank You that the pressure is not on us to perform, but You just want us to lean in and to lean on You and to learn from You. I pray Father that You will transform our speech; that You will give us a heart to press in and listen and to listen for Your words and Your way and allow You to touch us and put Your words in our mouths. We pray it in the mighty name of Jesus, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

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