Wise leaders allow prayer to be the filter of the words they speak to those around them.
Growing up as a kid, I always enjoyed a good science experiment. In full disclosure, I was never the biggest science buff, but I certainly appreciate a good scientific show. One experiment that always stuck with me was the classic Mentos and Diet Coke combination.
I remember it like it was yesterday. Our teacher took us outside, and we watched her set up a 3-liter Diet Coke bottle on the ground. She then pulled out a roll of Mentos from her pocket and explained that she was about to pour them inside the soda. Just as my young mind was beginning to lose interest, my teacher dropped a few mints into that bottle, and I was immediately captivated by the bursting soda geyser.
Of course, there is a scientific explanation to this eruption. A physical reaction is taking place as those mentos interact with the carbon dioxide of the soda. However, I walked away from that experiment with a much simpler conclusion: those mentos are powerful! Before those mints entered the situation, the soda was perfectly fine. However, all it took was dropping a few mentos to change everything. I learned that one small mint amazingly wielded the power to make one big mess.
I believe our words have much in common with those mints. Every day, we walk into situations that are seemingly calm. We enter boardrooms, living rooms, and classrooms that have an apparent peace in the room. But as we all know, a few wrong words can drop from our mouths and change everything. Our words can fracture relationships, end business deals, and divide churches and homes. A few small words can create some enormous messes in our lives. That is why wise leaders choose their words wisely.
Nehemiah understood the importance of his words. After hearing that Jerusalem’s walls were still in rubble, Nehemiah understood that God was now calling him to act. However, he also knew there was going to be a big obstacle to overcome on his mission: King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king, and he knew it would be dangerous to ask for the king’s permission to go to Jerusalem. This same king had previously halted construction on that exact wall (Ezra 4), and now Nehemiah needs his personal permission to relaunch that project.
Additionally, Nehemiah knew he would not just need the king’s permission, but he would also need the king’s assistance. He could only do this project if King Artaxerxes would grant him imperial authority and provide building materials from the king’s forest.
The weight of this situation led him to pray before he spoke. He prayed, “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man” (Nehemiah 1:11).
Nehemiah is showing us that wise leaders pray. Wise leaders speak to God before they speak to others. We are all tasked with difficult conversations, but wise leaders understand that they need God in those conversations.
When we pray to God, some amazing things happen. First of all, He promises that He will give us wisdom if we just ask for it (James 1:5). But He not only helps us understand what to say, but He also shows us what not to say.
Prayer aligns our hearts and minds with God’s perfect will. Through our prayers, the Holy Spirit will convict us of words before we ever speak them! God in his grace will show us the messes we are about to make before we go and make them. A healthy prayer life is a great blessing to a leader because it helps us reel back in words before we ever say them.
Wise leaders are also slow to speak. Prayer takes time, and so does processing a situation. It is worth noting that Nehemiah spent four months in prayer before his conversation with the king in chapter two. This was a great blessing because Nehemiah entered the conversation prepared. God refined his words through prayer, and Nehemiah had clear answers for the king through his planning.
This kind of slow and thoughtful communication is antithetical to what the world teaches. Culture tells us to say whatever we think, whenever we think it. If you don’t like something, blast it on social media. If you disagree with someone, go to the comments. If you aren’t happy with someone, send them an angry text. If someone makes you upset in public, let them have it.
The world teaches to be slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to get angry. But God teaches us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19).
Are you careful with your words? Or, do you seem to leave lots of messes when you enter into conversations? If we want to be effective in our leadership, we must be selective in our words. The good news is God will help you choose those words wisely, if you will seek out His wisdom.
Pastor Jonathan serves as the Senior Pastor at Austin Baptist Church in Austin, TX. He is a proud Aggie (B.A. Political Science) and received his M.A. from Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary. He is currently pursuing his D.Min at Gateway Seminary in California. Jonathan and his wife Bethany have three amazing children: Emma, Jacob, and Daniel.