Michael D. Sedler. 2003. When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up: Principles for Conversations You Won’t Regret. Minneapolis: Baker Publishing Company (Chosen).
Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra
Years ago I made a promise to myself not to give up on life for lack of courage. Courage involves things like trying something different to keep growing; being available to my family (and to others) even when it hurt; finishing the race one step at a time—even if the race is a marathon. Courage—often it has meant being fully present in my own life when important words are spoken. So when I ran across Michael D. Sedler’s book, When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up, I knew that I needed to order a copy.
What does it mean to be fully present in our own lives?
After recounting a marriage counseling session where he [as the counselor] let himself down for not speaking up and defending his own values, Sedler writes:
“This truly is a book about love . . . loving one another enough to understand when we should remain silent and when we should speak…” (16)
He further observes that:
“Our very lives, both physical and spiritual, depend upon our ability and willingness to speak out at the proper moment. And by the same token, silence can bring pain, destruction, and the inevitable onslaught of sin.” (16)
This onslaught of sin is not a throwaway comment; Sedler asks: “Was the ‘original sin’ Eve’s eating the forbidden fruit or was it Adam’s silence while his wife was deceived?” (21) Phrased in this way, Eve can be seen transgressing (doing bad) the law of God while Adam committed iniquity (failure to do good)—technically, both are sins.
An important lesson that Sedler offers comes from the story of David and Goliath found in the first book of Samuel, chapter 17. In the ancient world where battles were crudely fought and carried a horrible penalty for all involved, it was common to delegate the battle to a champion who fought on behalf of the entire nation. The Philistine champion was a giant named Goliath and he made this proposal:
“He stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, Why have you come out to draw up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not servants of Saul? Choose a man for yourselves, and let him come down to me. If he is able to fight with me and kill me, then we will be your servants. But if I prevail against him and kill him, then you shall be our servants and serve us.” (1 Sam 17:8-9 ESV)
No one in the army of Israel dared to fight him, except for a young shepherd boy named David (1 Sam 17:32).
Sedler sees 4 principles for speaking up or remaining silent in David’s response to Goliath that enabled him to gain the confidence of King Saul who allowed him to become Israel’s champion. These principles are:
- David was prepared (30). As a shepherd, David had battled with bears and lions in protecting his father’s sheep (1 San 17:34-36)
- David had a servant heart (33). Today we would say that he had a great attitude—he wanted to encourage his brothers, serve King Saul, and honor God.
- David asked questions (34). In preparing to battle Goliath, he asked others about the situation and checked out the reason for their fears.
- David concentrated on the problem (Goliath’s challenge), not on criticizing his brothers who appeared to lack courage (37). David was not trying to show off and worked to encourage his brothers (1 Sam 17:45, 47).
What Sedler sees in this account of David and Goliath is that David was a problem-solver and a team player. He was also courageous—he spoke up and stood his ground.
Standing up to giants is one thing, but silence can also be golden. Sedler suggests asking a few questions in contemplating silence:
- Why am I silent?
- What is my motivation—is it of God?
- Will silence further God’s kingdom, clarify the issue, or allow me or others to grow?
- Am I second-guessing myself?
- Did I suppress the urge to speak? If so, why? (92)
Here again we see Sedler engaging in problem solving and reflection in his decision process rather than reacting hastily.
Sedler describes himself as an ordained pastor, consultant, and adjunct professor at several universities. His degrees are in political science (BA), social work (MS), and ministry (DMin). He has also taught public school and has a Jewish background. He lives and works in Spokane, Washington. Sedler writes in 10 chapters:
- Never Again,
- When Silence Isn’t Golden,
- A Kingly Voice,
- Communication Breakdown,
- A Question of Authority,
- The Code of Silence,
- The Purpose of Silence,
- Walking in Peace,
- Taking a Stand,
- Winning the Race (7).
The appendix recounts the story of Sedler’s conversion to Christianity at age 22.
Michael D. Sedler’s When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up is a short (156 pages with appendix), accessible, and an interesting read. He targets a Christian audience. Small groups might find this book a helpful resource in discussion.
Later, he cites the wisdom of Solomon: [there is] “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak” (Eccl 3:7; 17)