Updated: May 18, 2020
We live in a crazy world. Everyday we hear about another tragedy or injustice that has taken place. Sometimes we see it first hand or experience it ourselves. It can feel overwhelming, and it’s often hard to know how to respond. Sometimes I would rather just ignore it all and focus on taking care of me and my family. But it seems pretty clear to me that God cares about those who are hurting and hates to see evil prosper. He also calls me join him in the work of bringing his kingdom to earth.
Proverbs 31:8-9 says,
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.
For a lot of years, I let fear and insecurity stop me from speaking up. I didn’t think that I had anything important to say that others would actually want to hear. I didn’t feel like I was an expert in any particular subject. I thought others were doing a better job sharing their messages than I ever could. I wanted to avoid confrontation as much as possible. And I honestly was scared of what people might think if I was open and honest about my perspective.
Over time, several things happened to start to change all that. I was part of a community that really valued standing up with vulnerable people. I built relationships with people from different backgrounds and learned about the struggles they face, and I had some great examples of people who were speaking up when we saw the injustices our friends were experiencing. I was also invited into leadership in my community, and I had the opportunity to speak into important decisions that were being made. Little by little, I began to recognize that my voice matters.
As I began to speak up about issues that were important to me both publicly and in private conversations, I started to recognize the unique voice that God has given me, and I began to see the value in it. God has designed me with a lot of empathy, with an ability to look at various sides of an issue, and with a peacemaker’s heart. Those are qualities that shape my perspective and the ways that I speak and write.
Different people respond to different types of voices. While what I have to say might not resonate with everyone, there are people who will be encouraged or challenged by what I say. And there are people who will listen to my words because they know and love me, even if they don’t agree with me. I don’t have to have all the answers. I don’t need to know all the facts. I don’t even need to have the right words to change someone else’s mind. My role is not to bring about the transformation but just to offer another perspective. There is power in reminding others that another perspective exists. I can offer what I have experienced, what I have learned, and how I understand the world around me. There might be a lot of other people out there who can articulate their messages better than me, but that does not mean that my words don’t have value for the audience (however small it might be) who will hear or read them. What I have to say might be the truth that someone else needs to receive.
I also recognize that not everyone is called to speak in the same way as me. There are many different types of voices out there, and there is great value in that. There are those who boldly call out the injustice they see and raise up a rally cry for those who are oppressed. There are those who remind of us of the things we have in common and draw us to collaborate for the benefit of the whole. There are some who paint a picture of what progress would like and inspire us to move in that direction. There are some who simply ask good questions that cause us all to stop and think. There are those who share stories, others who share facts, and still others who share their artistic expressions. We need each one of these voices. I don’t have to sound like anyone else. But I also don’t have to discredit the voices that don’t sound like mine. Each person has something to bring if we’re willing to listen.
To be clear, this does not mean that all the words that people speak are true or beneficial. Lies and messages of hate are antithetical to progress and growth. That is why it is so important to work out what is going on in my own heart before I speak out. I think that we can all agree that sometimes the conversations that take place in the media and on the Internet end up contributing to noise pollution and greater divides rather than anything resembling resolution. If my intention in speaking out is simply to gain favor for myself, to win an argument, or to belittle those on the “other side,” my words will cause more harm than good. The purpose of speaking out should be to call out injustice, to point us all toward truth, and to lead us to the greater good.
Luke 6:45 says,
The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
If my heart is full of pride, self-righteousness, hate, or insecurity, the words that come out of my mouth will be likely be wielded as weapons. It is definitely ok to feel anger, frustration, and fear, and it is important to be honest with myself about the emotions I feel. There are even times when it is appropriate and necessary to express those emotions to a greater audience. But there are also times when those emotions can blind me. That is why I need to take time to examine my heart. I need to be aware of my own intentions, biases, and even the lies that I believe. If I truly desire truth and justice, I need to speak from a pure heart.
I also need to be aware of my limitations. It is not my responsibility to change everybody’s mind and heart. It is also not my obligation to tackle every issue that presents itself. I have a tendency to hear about what others are doing and feel like I need to do that, too. I have an internal voice that is very self-critical, so I often hear the lie that I am not enough. I’m not bold enough. I’m not wise enough. I’m not doing enough. That voice is not from God, and it is not truth. I need to learn to silence that voice so that I can hear from the Holy Spirit.
There is not an easy answer to when and how I need to speak up. It’s not cut and dry, and it’s not the same for everyone. Sometimes I will feel a lot of peace and confidence in the words that I feel called to share. Other times it might be necessary to speak up in ways or spaces that are uncomfortable for me. And sometimes, I might actually need to stay quiet and elevate the voices of others. All of this requires the leading of the Holy Spirit. I often don’t need to respond to right away. I can take a breath, take time to process, and discern if and how to speak up.
I’m learning as I go. I don’t get it right every time. And I often still feel vulnerable and insecure when I share what’s on my heart. But I recognize that we all have a role to play, and I cannot sit on the sidelines and expect others to do all the work of confronting injustice.
I recently heard this quote from Ethics of the Fathers (ancient Jewish rabbinic teachings) and it resonated deeply with me…
It is not your responsibility to finish the work but neither are you free to desist from it.
In what ways are you called to speak up?
Here are some tips if you don’t know where to start…
Take the initiative to learn. Before you can speak up, you might need to learn more about the issues that bother you. Some of this happens in relationships and some of it happens through reading books and articles, listening to podcasts, and watching videos.
Take a chance. It probably won’t be comfortable at first, but you have to start somewhere. When you hear or see something that doesn’t sit right with you, speak up.
Release your expectations. Don’t focus on winning an argument or changing someone’s mind. Simply speak what you believe to be true without trying to control the outcomes.
Show grace – both to yourself and to others. You might make mistakes sometimes. Be willing to own up to that and ask forgiveness when needed. And recognize that the person to whom you are speaking (or maybe who is yelling at you) is an image bearer of God and is human just like you.
Sometimes people need an invitation or some encouragement to recognize that they have something important to say. Who can you invite into the conversations? Who can you encourage to speak up?