Words That Control Us 2

We saw in the first article in this series that people can use words to control us.

This lesson looks at some of the various “words” that impact us and helps us assess which ones we should heed.

Words Control

If someone shouts a command at you and you obey that command then a significant social transaction has taken place.  You show yourself to be under their authority.

Now, someone might call out, “Watch Out!” to warn you of a danger.  Responding to that call does not put you under their authority.  But someone who demands that you do something as they prescribe, such as “Stop!” or “Come Here!” is bringing you under their control by their words.

I recall reading about a man who was driving in city traffic when a police officer called out to him, “Pull over here!” The man simply replied through his open window, “Is there some problem, officer?”

The officer called to him several more times but he did not obey, but simply repeated his question, “Is there some problem, officer?”

The officer soon tired of this and called to someone else, who did pull over.  The officer then commandeered the vehicle.

The man had honourably resisted the control exerted by the policeman.  The driver of the other vehicle did not resist and so came under the officer’s control.

Words Are All I Have

Back in 1968 the Bee Gees released a hit song with the line, “It’s Only Words and Words Are All I Have to Take Your Heart Away”.

And words can at times be all we have.  Yet words are very powerful, as the saying penned in Bulwer-Lytton’s 1839 play puts it, “The Pen is Mightier Than the Sword”.  But this idea traces back to the fourth century Greek poet Euripides who said, “The tongue is mightier than the blade”.

So, while words may seem very lame at times, they are also one of the most powerful tools, or weapons, available to man.  Consider how readily people use them in scoring points against each other, from the children’s playground to the halls of power.

Some Can Speak

I have pointed out in earlier essays on Jurisdiction that God has the ultimate right to speak.  As creator He is immediately and powerfully authorised to speak whatever He will over His creation.  And so the words of God, God’s laws, rule our lives like none other.

Not only can God speak over us, but He gets to identify others who have the right to speak.  God says that husbands speak as the head of the home and that children must obey their parents.  Those who God authenticates are thus able to speak with authority, in fact, with God’s authority, so long as they honour God in what they say.

The schoolyard bully, however, does not have authority.  But then, neither does the teacher!

The teacher does not have inherent, god-given authority.  Nowhere in God’s Word, the Bible, are we told to obey all teachers.  It is up to each student enrolling in the class to submit to the teacher.  If they choose not to do so they will probably be removed from the class.

So, some can speak with inherent, god-given authority (so long as they honour God in their use of that authority), and others have authority because we confer that upon them for the convenience of our circumstances.

Consider, for example, how a child is under the teacher’s authority in the class, but the teacher cannot then invade the family home and usurp the parents’ authority.  The parents have inherent god-given authority, while the teacher has limited authority conferred by the student’s willingness to submit, and limited to a specific place and set of circumstances.

The Toothpick Story

I saw a report of a chap who went to court and defied the court’s assertions of authority.  He had several questions to ask the court which deflected the court’s claim of jurisdiction.  However the chap came undone because of a toothpick. You can find the full account at 1215.org.

“One guy went up there was chewing a toothpick. He knew how to ask the three questions, and he was cruising through them and he got down to the end and then looked a little bit confused as to where to go from there. At that point the judge from the bench said “Take that toothpick out of your mouth”. And the guy reached up with his fingers, took the toothpick out of his mouth, and the judge immediately yelled at the bailiff, “sieze that man and throw him in jail for ten days for contempt”. When he followed the orders of the judge, the judge became the head and he became the tail. What he should have done was continue to chew the toothpick and say, “Do you have a claim against me?”

This toothpick story illustrates the point that when we submit to someone else’s words we acknowledge their authority over us.  If the one speaking has authority then we are being lawfully and duly submissive.  But if the one speaking does not have authority and is trying to exert authority, we are best to deflect the words and not submit to them, or we could be oppressed by their abuse of authority over us.

Responding to Words

A person who is the “head” and not the tail would respond to the attempted impositions from others in a particular way.  They would be free from the imposition.

One way to be free from attempted impositions is to ignore them.

Recall the account of Mary Slessor, the missionary in West Africa who sent a home-made cloth document to two warring factions, instructing them not to fight until she had arrived to explain the significant message contained on the document.  Mary was asserting her intervention.

The warring parties could well have rejected her imposition.  They could have thrown her cloth into the fire or sent it back to her.  It had no inherent power of itself.  The only reason it had influence over them was because they allowed it to have such influence.  And, of course, there was the moral conscience of the men and Mary’s prayers for them.

Similarly for Gladys Aylward, the wild-eyed murderer could easily have cut her to pieces.  Her presence awakened the conscience and brought God’s grace into an otherwise godless situation.

Your Responses

In the next lesson I will explore the options you have in responding to the imposition of words into your life.  You may be rejecting words that you should heed.  And you may also be responding to words that you should ignore.

Words That Control Us 1

Those who control us do so by “Words”.

This series of articles walks you through an understanding of the Words that Control Us and what we can do about it.

This first lesson looks at the fact that Words impact us.

A Shout

The Deputy Headmaster at my high school (St Marys High – not a Catholic Girls School as some thought) was Jack Curry and he loved to catch people off guard with his shouted cry “You Boy!”

Just about everybody in earshot would freeze when they heard that distinctive, commanding call.  We would all turn around to see if “Curry”, as he was called by the boys out of earshot, was calling to us or someone else.  It was always a relief to realise he had someone else in his sights.

Occasionally the senior boys would mimic the “You Boy!” call, first creating a shock, then a chuckle as people realised it wasn’t Mr Curry.

Jack Curry was promoted to Headmaster at a nearby school and we were spared his intimidating call.

Getting Your Attention

If someone calls loudly near us we usually turn around to see if someone is trying to get our attention.

Someone may be calling to us, or to someone else.  So unless we check the matter out we won’t know.

They may be warning us of an approaching car or similar danger.  They may want to get our attention so they can sell us something, as happens when westerners visit some tourist destinations and the sellers want to hawk their wares.  There may be some official wanting our attention, or someone who simply wants to say “Hi!”

When people call for our attention we tend to naturally look in their direction and then assess the situation from there.  We can stop and listen, or walk on and ignore them.  We can heed the warning and adjust our actions as we see fit.  Or we can be completely dominated by the demands of the other person.  It is up to us to decide how to react to someone wanting our attention.

Speaking With Authority

While most of the voices we hear around us are just those of other people with no authority over us, it is possible that the person speaking has some right to be demanding our attention.

We use the term Jurisdiction to describe the right to speak word (diction) that have authority (juris).  The Deputy Headmaster of a school has a lot of authority and speaks with Jurisdiction.  But one of the junior students can be ignored, because they are without authority.

Yet at times a junior student would turn up in a class with a message demanding that some student report to the office.  That demand did not come in the name of the junior student, who was without authority, but usually came in the name of the Headmaster.  If the junior student was ignored then the Headmaster who sent that student was also being ignored, and that was a serious matter.

Someone doesn’t have to possess personal authority to speak with authority, if they are speaking under the authority of someone else.

When I Say “Jump”

Speaking with someone else’s authority is clearly illustrated in the words of a Roman Centurion who history records meeting with Jesus of Nazareth, 2,000 years ago.

The Centurion described his authority as follows:

“For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goes; and to another, Come, and he comes; and to my servant, Do this, and he does it.” Matthew 8:9

The Centurion’s men did exactly what he told them to do, but only because the Centurion was “a man under authority”.  When the Centurion said “Jump” the men jumped.  But that is because when the Centurion’s bosses said “Jump”, HE jumped.

So some voices that call for our attention will be voices with delegated authority, giving them jurisdiction.

Imposing Our Words Onto Others

It is interesting to note that people tend to defer to those who are assertive.  If someone starts to assert their authority or speak in a compelling manner it is likely that a good percentage of people will at least pay attention.

Those of us who are trained in civility, to honour others, do as we are told, respect authority and so on, are highly likely to pay attention to someone who appears to have authority making assertions.

This is the process of imposing words onto others.  Most people do that, even in casual conversation.  Mostly it is an innocent negotiation for the attention and interest of others.

In official matters, however, it is a serious subject demanding our understanding.

Mary Slessor and Words

An amazing example of a person imposing their words on others comes from the legendary English missionary lady Mary Slessor who went to the remote tribes of Nigeria where no white man or woman had been before.

From 1888 she worked with the godless Okoyong tribe which delighted in bloodshed.  She often stood between war parties to stop them killing each other.

Her methodology was to call the leaders of the two fighting groups to account to her the reasons for their arguments.  She would set herself up in the shade of a tree with her knitting, and listen as each side put its case.  Her aim was to keep them talking until they had cooled off or it was too late in the day to do the fighting.  By this means she saved many lives, and did a great deal of knitting.

On one occasion she learned of a fight about to take place at some distance from her.  She cut out a piece of cloth and quickly made various ink markings on it.  She then rolled it up and closed it with a wax seal, giving it the appearance of something very important.  She sent it off by a man who ran to the scene of the fight and presented it to the leaders, saying that the white woman would be along soon to explain the meaning of the mysterious, and obviously important document.

When Mary arrived she unwrapped the cloth and made up her explanation of the random symbols, and thus averted the bloodshed that would otherwise have occurred.

Gladys Aylward and Words

Another feisty English lass who went to remote places was Gladys Aylward who ended up in the mountains of northern China.  On one occasion she was called to deal with a bloody riot in the local prison.  The local mayor and prison commander were terrified and so they demanded that she go into the jail and stop the riot.

She was pushed through a small door which was hastily locked behind her.  She then walked through a darkened tunnel to emerge into the courtyard where dismembered bodies lay about.  A huge man with a blood soaked meat cleaver stood nearby, his chest heaving.  Others were fleeing, crying in pain, or lying dead.

In what became her typical fashion, Gladys scolded the man for his bad behaviour and demanded that the man give her the cleaver, which he did.  Her unexpected appearance and forthright manner quelled the whole drama in a matter of moments.

Yet all Gladys had on her side, apart from her faith in God, was a forthright manner and a bunch of words.

Gladys later used the same demanding manner and calls to people to rally a village to deal with the aftermath of a deadly strike by Japanese war planes.

Imposing Words

In the examples of both these ladies we see the use of words which imposed something over the audience.

Asserting authority and using words enabled both of these godly women to bring about a positive change.  Yet what they were doing involved imposing their will onto others, by their resolute demeanour and their commanding words.

We too are impacted by those around us who use those techniques.  And those techniques are not always used for our good.

People in uniforms or with official positions, using their fancy words on fancy paper, or shouting their commands with an air of authority, can quickly herd people into the responses those people impose.  Yet, like the cloth sent by Mary Slessor, the documents and apparent significance can be completely fictional and of no real substance.

Under Control

You are already under the control of others who have used nothing more than assertion and words to impose their will onto you.

Some of those may have the right to speak.  They may have true “jurisdiction”.  But others may have assumed and asserted control that they do not have.

The purpose of this series is to explore the impact of other people’s words over you and the control they assert, so you can make your own decision about how you respond.

Mary Slessor takes Christ up the Calabar River

Mary Slessor was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on December 2, 1848. Her father was a drunkard, but her mother was a godly woman. From the age of 11 she worked twelve hours a day, six days a week in factories.

Known as ‘Carrots’ because of her red hair, young Mary came to know the Saviour when an old widow ‘gathered children around her fire, and used that fire as her text.’ “If ye dinna repent, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, your soul will burn in the lowin’, bleezing’ fire forever and ever,” she said.

Mary Slessor in later life would say that it was fear that drove her to the Saviour, but once inside the Kingdom, she became a messenger of love and mercy.

In 1874 the news of David Livingstone’s death sent a wave of missionary enthusiasm through England. Mary offered herself to the Foreign Mission Board of the United Presbyterian Church. Two years later, at the age of 28, she sailed for Africa, arriving at Duke Town in September 1876.

Africa was the Dark Continent and the region she went to, on the Calabar River in what is now Nigeria, was then the slave coast of Africa and known as the White Man’s Grave. Tropical diseases, cannibals, tribal fighting, wild animals, witch doctors and swarming insects were among the hazards new to the confident young woman from Aberdeen.

To a place where life was cheap, murder and revenge was common and morality was absent, Mary Slessor threw in her lot at the small mission station. But her heart burned to go where what man (or woman) and the gospel had not gone. This may be due to the example of Livingstone, whose life clearly impacted her sense of call to Africa.

After a short furlough Mary, having learned the local languages, was allowed to go alone to a new mission outpost, Old Town. From her mud hut, with the assistance of a Christian chief, King Eyo Honesty the Sixth, Mary worked tirelessly with the natives.

Still she yearned to go further into the interior, but was warned repeatedly that she would be killed. Her determination won out and King Eyo offered his grand canoe to take her up river in June 1888 to reach the remote Okoyong tribe. These godless natives cared only for weapons to give them power, chains to hold their slaves and alcohol. They knew of these things from the white traders and soldiers who had made occasional forays into the region.

The first village she came to she was given permission by the chief to live among them, due to the reputation which had preceded her. Here, however, she found wickedness beyond her expectations, where daily bloodshed was to be expected. She personally intervened in the regular battles of vengeance and drunken rage, by standing between the warring parties. She would take the two groups into the shade so they could explain their grievances, while she knitted. After hours of talking the fight would be abandoned.

She even resorted to sending official looking notices with symbols painted on them and official wax seals, to keep the waring sides busy deciphering until she could get there to intervene. She ultimately quietened their drinking and fighting by introducing them to the rewards of enterprise, showing how their palm oil and yams could be traded downstream for things they had never had.

After four hundred years of white involvement in Africa Mary Slessor did what no soldier or diplomat had achieved. The love of Christ changed the hearts and the lifestyles of these natives.

But Mary was not satisfied. She pressed on yet further upstream to reach the Ayo cannibal tribe, where she worked until her death. When she was too frail to walk she was supplied a cart by friends back home. And so she laboured until her death in January 1915 at the age of 66.

For nearly 40 years she had laboured tirelessly for the souls of the Dark Continent. Her legacy can still be seen today in the ongoing vibrancy of the Nigerian church, which shines bright in the continent where many of the Lord’s servants gave their lives.

This post is based on notes by my late friend Donald Prout. I have updated these historical posts with information gleaned from other sources. I am indebted to Don for awakening in me an interest in Church History. Don’s notes can be found at: www.donaldprout.com

Philip Doddridge Speaking into Lives

This is the day that … Philip Doddridge was born in 1702, the 20th child of a London tradesman.

“So feeble the spark of life that he was first laid aside as dead” – until a servant girl noticed a movement … and the child lived. Except for sister Elizabeth, all the other children did die in infancy.

By the age of 13 he was orphaned, and a prosperous gentleman named Downes became his self-appointed guardian. He grew up in a godly environment, both at home and school. “Although he could never tell when he was first conscious that Christ was his Saviour, he knew that he loved Christ and was in fellowship with Him…” (Life of Dr P. Doddridge, by H.J. Garland, page 14). He “openly confessed his Lord and joined the Church” (of England) on New Year’s Day, 1718.

The Duchess of Bedford offered to send him to university and pay all fees for his theological training. But by this time Philip Doddridge had swung to the non-conformists (those who did not ‘conform’ to the state church or ‘conform’ to the rules of the Prayer Book).

Thus it was that he became pastor of the Chapel Hill Congregational Church in Northampton for 22 years, during which time he opened an Academy where 200 young men were trained for the ministry. It is said that he had a student read to him, even whilst he was washing and shaving…” (Gospel in Hymns, by A. Bailey, page 66).

He married Miss Mercy Maris on 22 December, 1730 … and he wrote The Rise and Progress of Religion in the Soul, which is mentioned in the biographies of William Wilberforce, C.H. Spurgeon, Henry Martyn and Mary Slessor as having an influence upon their lives.

He wrote 364 hymns, many of which are still to be found, and used, to the present day. One of the best known is …

O happy day, that fixed my choice
on Thee, my Saviour and my God …

Others include :

Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve
And press with vigour on …

Hark the glad sound, the Saviour comes
The Saviour promised long …

O God of Bethel, by Whose hand
Thy people still are fed …

His hymns were usually written to be sung after his sermon, “given out by the presentor and sung a line at a time” (Life and Hymns of Doddridge, by H. Garland, page 30).

Philip Doddridge died in Lisbon, Portugal, on 26 October, 1751. Among his final words, spoken to Lady Huntingdon, were: “My tears are tears of joy. I can give up my country, my loved ones and friends into the hand of God; and as to myself, I can as well go to Heaven from Lisbon as from my own study in Northampton. I am more afraid of doing wrong than of dying” (ibid, page 53).

This post is based on the work of my late friend Donald Prout whose love for books and Christian history led him to collate a daily Christian calendar. I continue to work with Don’s wife, Barbara, to share his life work with the world. I have updated some of these historical posts and will hopefully draw from Don’s huge files of clippings to continue this series beyond Don’s original work. More of Don’s work can be found at www.donaldprout.com.