‘May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.’ (Psalm 19:14)
I know the sayings, ‘Actions speak louder than words’ and ‘After all is said and done, there’s a lot more said than done’. Yet today I want to say something in praise of words. For today’s reading exhorts the people to ‘take words’ with them as they return to the Lord (v 2). Of course, we want to avoid empty words and idle talk – but words matter, or I would not be writing and you would not be reading. Words shape our thinking and our doing. Indeed, speaking is a form of doing. Without words, it is difficult, perhaps impossible, to express our thoughts, hopes or regrets, our sorrows, dreams or cares. Words are essential to expression and may be necessary even for thought.
In evangelical circles, we tend to prioritise spontaneity and extemporary expression, but this passage favours the careful use of words. ‘Take words’, says Hosea. Then he specifies what words should be brought. He lays down a form of liturgy. ‘Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount war-horses. We will never again say “Our gods” to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion’ (vs 2,3).
When we are insincere, we ‘weary the Lord with our words’ (compare Malachi 2:17). Yet this is true whether our words are spontaneous or rehearsed. The advantage of using prepared liturgy is that we can take the time to think about what we are going to say. Whether we write the prayers ourselves or use the work of others, the act of poring over a text can help sharpen our focus and hone our commitments. Especially when praying with others, thoughtful words can become the vehicle for transformative prayer.