How do we Know when to Say Nothing?


(SeanO) #1

I’ve been reading ‘Fool’s Talk’ by Os Guinness and he told a very intriguing story from St. Augustine’s life. As most of you already know, Augustine is one of the most preeminent Church fathers.

Before Augustine was saved he was a wild young man obsessed with pagan philosophy. His mother was a Christian and desperately wanted him to come to know Jesus.

So when Augustine’s mother Monica had the chance to meet Bishop Ambrose, a very import figure in Christianity at the time, she asked him to come speak with her son.

But here is Augustine’s description of Ambrose’s response "He told her that I was still unripe for instruction because, as she had told him, I was brimming over with the novelty of heresy… ‘Leave him alone’ Ambrose said. ‘Just pray to God for him. From his own reading he will discover his mistake’.

What?! That is never how I would have responded. And yet, it worked!

Ambrose realized that while Augustine was on fire for his paganism the talk would do little good.

How do we know when we should say nothing and wait upon God as we pray? Can you think of other times in a person’s life when it may be best to simply remain silent and wait?

What do you think of this example?


(Jennifer Judson) #2

My older brother married a beautiful, wonderful woman when he was in his late 50’s (she was same age). Within a year and a half she had a cancer diagnosis with a grim prognosis. It was clear to my younger brother and I knew from the wedding ceremony that neither was a practicing Christian (we already knew this about my older brother).

I happened to be visiting not long after the diagnosis and my younger brother had sent her a letter that disturbed her deeply–as a matter of fact she was very angry. Because of the diagnosis he felt led to write a sincere letter about the Gospel and healing and the importance of giving your heart to Christ.

She brought this letter up to me, letting me know how offended she was that he presumed she was not a Christian. How dare he try to imply she wasn’t right with God, and if God was going to give her cancer, then He’s the last “person” she’d turn to. And so on…

So obviously this was a case of very good intentions with very bad results. People who’ve grown up in a Judeo-Christian culture, and perhaps attended church now and again on holidays over the years, don’t always understand what we mean by being a Christian. I find another code for this type of “cultural Christian” is when they consider one’s faith to be “personal” and it’s rude to discuss it (like your salary or how you vote). So my wonderful sister-in-law fell into that category. We loved her deeply. Not knowing her final “status” is a difficult place in my hearts. My younger brother and I both shared with her near the end, as did others. But her mind was already disconnecting from this world. My prayer has always been that in that place of separation, perhaps a dying soul meets Jesus. I will know one day.

I don’t fault my brother for his attempt. But in a letter you can’t gauge a reaction, you don’t know by body language when they’ve thrown up a wall between you. It was unfortunate that my time with her was spent on damage control and could not be spent in a more productive conversation.


(SeanO) #3

@Jennifer_Judson Thank you for sharing that story. That is very difficult to struggle so hard to reach someone and want so desperately for them to know Jesus. May God grant us all discernment to avoid creating barriers for others to come to know Christ and may He continue to work in the hearts of those in your family who do not know Him - that they might experience His forgiveness, grace and mercy.


(David Roeder) #4

I’ve been right there with you, Jennifer! I’m the only committed Christian among 4 siblings. Over the years (like 30!) I’ve tried to be a living epistle as well as graciously sharing the gospel. Funerals and dire medical diagnoses are the hardest times, because it seems everyone is convinced of a pleasant afterlife, yet genuine believers just can’t get on board that deception. To those who are perishing the “fragrance of Christ” is “the aroma of death” because without the Spirit there is not life, here or hereafter. We must say something, but the sooner the better, and with grace and humility. Who is sufficient for these things? Only the wisdom of God and the power of God.


(Adam Taylor) #5

I’ve witnessed someone I know and love get caught in a long running, supposedly secret sin. When confronted and asked to repent they hardened and took measures to permanently sever the relationship. A few years down the road, they want to reestablish communication, but any attempt to deal with the problem that caused the separation in the first place was/is met with hostility and denial of any responsibility. Its clear at this point they don’t yet understand the natural consequences of the choices they have made, and want to reestablish a relationship without any kind repentance. In other words they want to pretend like nothing ever happened without going through the process of asking for forgiveness because they still don’t think what they did was wrong. So at this point talking will only lead to greater hostility and hardening of the heart. At this point I pray that the Holy Spirit will convict this believer of their sin and draw them to repent to God and those they have hurt. But until that change comes, until there is a recognition of the sin for what it is and a desire to be rid of it and restored to God and others, I can pray for them and allow the Holy Spirit to work.


(SeanO) #6

@kardiaccny I applaud your efforts to reach your siblings. I think one thing Augustine’s story shows us is that if someone has already heard the Gospel or is aware of Christianity, there are times when words are simply not helpful. But it depends on the person and situation.

I agree none of us are adequate for the task of being ambassadors for Christ - may the Spirit of the Lord give us wisdom and may He open up the eyes / hearts of our lost family members in His mercy and love - giving them every chance to repent!

Of course, if we are dealing with people who have never heard of the love of Christ - then let us wisely speak that they may live!


(SeanO) #7

@adam May the Lord open this person’s eyes to their own folly and teach them humility to allow His light to expose the darkness within their heart.


(Adam Taylor) #8

@SeanO I hope so too! And I think there is a good point in not speaking and allowing God to work, at least in this situation!


(Helen Tan) #9

Hi @SeanO, I’ve learned when to say nothing from all the mistakes I’ve made in saying something at the wrong time and in the wrong context. From RZIM, I’ve learned to listen more than speak especially during the initial parts of conversations. Holding back and be keenly interested in where the person is at and asking probing questions to understand the what and why of their position reveals more to me as to what I should do. Sometimes it’s about sowing little seeds into lives and letting others water and grow them. It’s about building relationships and trust and I’ve seen those who had spoken vehemently against my faith come to me later on for prayer when the need arises.

It’s not easy holding back, particularly in situations where there’s a sense of urgency, such as the one described by Jennifer. Praying for wisdom for timing and the right words is what directs me. There have been times when I’ve sensed that I’m just the wrong person to do it and stepped aside and prayed for someone else to do it. The Holy Spirit knows how to reach a person’s heart and what I need to do is obey Him in each individual case and not get in His way.


(SeanO) #10

@Helen_Tan Amen!


(SeanO) #11

@adam Yes, when I read the example it really challenged me, so I am thankful for Guiness’ book.


(Jennifer Judson) #12

Thinking about this yesterday a takeaway from the mistake my brother made was in not first trying to understand what she did believe. That would be hard with a letter, but not impossible if it involves a series of correspondence.

So going forward I need to keep in mind seeking to know their heart first before I share mine.


(SeanO) #13

@Jennifer_Judson That is some great wisdom :slight_smile:


(Andrew Bulin) #14

I was a prodigal son who needed time alone with the pigs. What I wanted to do was rebel against God and be manipulative and in denial. No sort of discussion or argument would help. I could turn around any talk to rationalize what I was doing. If someone tried to “love me through it,” I would have used them, or worse yet despised their efforts. I just had to grow tired of living with the pigs, reach maturity on my own, and realize my folly. I can honestly say it was the constant prayers that I felt most, and likely kept me slowly searching and protected through it all. I feel fortunate and grateful now.

There was a family difficulty that influenced this rebellion and rejection of all authority. However, even in the middle of my lowest point, I still knew that I was ultimately responsible for my own actions. I’m glad I was left alone with the Lord, who is most able to save, and to wrestle with my own sins.


(SeanO) #15

Thank you for sharing @andrew.bulin. That sounds very much like Augustine’s own experience. It is encouraging to hear that the prayers of the saints brought God’s presence alongside even in your wandering and how God patiently walks with those who are broken if they are willing to heed the still small voice!


(Andrew Bulin) #16

I did love hearing about Augustine’s story and his is one of my favorite testimonies. Sometimes I wished in the Protestant church we did a better job of sharing just a little church history with regard to the early leaders. I think others could relate to those testimonies.


(SeanO) #17

Yes, it is astounding how many of the questions and struggles we face today are old ground trod by the saints and how much we can learn from simply listening to the stories of their lives.


(Stephen Lee) #18

Your question hit the nail on the head, the main culprits of effective evangelism I believe. General rule of thumb as we know is “do not offer your pearls to pigs in the slum, they will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you”. We know this to be true from scripture as something like that.
Knowing when to be silent is crucial to prevent any damage or harm done. Especially to a person who’s state is not ready for truth, the best thing is to give time.
We can often tell from their response. If there’s no genuine honest interest, it is unlikely will lead to an ideal pathway. Often my experience tells me even if there was genuine honest interest and have them home, it didn’t last too long. So that’s when prayer in petition come in I believe.
We have no idea where the person is at in God’s plan. ‬‬When God has set the course of a life for the person, we can’t change it and we should not. At least for the time being because God may have a better plan in order to turn the person around more powerfully.
My wife lead me to Christ but she turned her back on God recently due to an event that resulted significant financial loss even with diligent prayers and relying on God. So instead of re examining herself, her anger and bitterness caused her to depart from the belief system she had all her life and going through investigation whether or not God even exist. Nothing I say or do helps her in fact, it only irritates her and avoids talking about the subject. Often she would say things like “that’s what Christians always say” etc. but I started out by praying for her and then one day I asked her if I can pray for her. And I made a habit out of that and prayed for her very quick prayer before bed time on a daily basis. Until I was able to convince her to do a prayers together. We finished 40 day prayers together and now continuing on without an end in mind. Because it strengthens our marriage and works as devotion often. The power of prayers are undeniably miraculous. Although she hasn’t come together with her faith yet, (yes it is strange to see a person praying without confirmed faith, but there are many forms, mythical belief, prosperity belief wishing for blessings, etc) I have no doubt that God has His timing for her a great testimonial encounter. In the meantime, I will continue to pray for her as well. And she asks as well in our prayers together that God would give her the faith or to experience meeting Jesus our Lord. Many times she has said “I wish I can believe but I can’t. What can I do?” I am sure there are many out there facing the same problem, their hearts are not open and it is not in their control to open them up easily, only the power of God can.


(SeanO) #19

@Steve Thank you for sharing. May God open the eyes of your wife’s heart to see the glory of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ! It is so difficult to hope in God for something and then be disappointed.

While it may not be the right time to speak into your wife’s life, consider reading some of Yancey’s books - I have found he is very tactful in speaking to those who have experienced deep disappointment with God and helping them find their way back onto the road of faith.


(Stephen Lee) #20

Thanks @SeanO! I downloaded the book! Really appreciate your suggestions.