Motivational speaker Jim Rohn famously said that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. I have heard this repeated dozens of times. As a young pastor, I chafed each time I read this or heard someone quote the statement. It is hard to articulate what it was about it that rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps I did not care for the fact that I had to choose my friends by calculating how much value they would bring or the help I would receive! So as I ignored this statement, I did notice some things among my colleagues. Namely, people gravitated to people who viewed the world as they did and to people who held the same opinions. At one meeting a group I was hanging out with spent nearly every spare moment criticizing the politicians at the local, state and national level. Then it was the leaders of our denomination, which then extended down to individual evangelists, missionaries, and even fellow pastors. It was downright depressing! As I watched my friends, I noticed when one spoke against a particular person they all nodded agreement. Not one positive thing was said, and nothing of any value or substance came from the conversation. Allow me to highlight a couple of observations: Proverbs 4:23 made sense after this encounter. “ Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” My friends were not just sharing their thoughts or their minds; they were mostly sharing their hearts. Every time I speak I am mostly sharing what is in my heart. Granted if I am speaking, I am trusting I am sharing things I believe and have learned or observed, but mainly what comes out is a picture of my heart. It is a painful confession. For there have been times that I have said things that I am distressed that the words and sentiments are a reflection of my heart. As a painful as it may be, it is a fact! It applies to all of us, including myself.
Another thing I learned from that group conversation from 30+ years ago: most of us are not very self-aware! People were criticized for things that when those of us in the group was criticized for the same stuff caused us to be offended. At times criticizing others makes us feel as though the pressure is off of us. How amazing is it that people who complain about being criticized are at times some of the best critics themselves? I must say that the people doing the talking that day were and are good people. The habit of complaining and criticizing has become so ingrained that it is difficult to recognize it as it is happening. If someone would have stood up and said ‘friends, let us change the subject and start speaking encouragement and blessing to one another.’ I am sure the conversation would have turned more positive. You see we weren’t guarding our hearts very well and we were demonstrating that you may be the average of the people you hang out with! To be self-aware, you have to focus your attention on others and not yourself. Self-awareness comes when I see myself as a person entirely dependent on the grace and mercy of God. Self-awareness is when I understand that there is power in our words, a power to bless and power to curse.
For the past few years, I have asked the Lord to convict me when my words are not edifying. Lord keep my heart tender and sensitive to your voice and sympathetic to the people around me. May people feel more blessed than burdened after coming into contact with me. But mostly Lord, help me to guard my mouth, for in reality everything does flow from my heart.