My late father, a police chief, firearms expert, and marksman, once told me that prayer is like looking down the barrel of a loaded gun. "You're likely to get what you're asking for."

I put flirtation and suggestive conversation in the same category as a loaded gun. Maybe that's because I believe in the power of words, written and spoken. Have you ever noticed that compliments and flattery are always heard? People have reminded me of compliments I have given years before and almost forgotten. They remember criticism too, but flattery all the more.

Idle flirting gets people in trouble because the other person needs and wants attention so badly. Not many years ago I slipped from behind this hedge, not intending to flirt but rather to be funny. It didn't get me in serious trouble, but I was certainly reminded of the reason for my hedge.

On a business trip a woman colleague and I were going to go out to dinner with a male associate of ours. When she came to pick me up, she was dressed and made up in flashy, coordinated colors that demanded comment. I should have just said something about her clothes, but instead -- since she is always a good audience for my humor -- I said the first funny thing that popped into my mind: "My, don't you look delicious."

She laughed, and I hoped she knew I meant that her colors reminded me of fruit, and not that I wished to devour her. As soon as our third party arrived, she told him what I had said. He gave me a look that would have put a wart on a gravestone, but what could I say? I couldn't deny it, and it was too late to explain.

Men, of course, are just as susceptible to flattery as women. Most people think that the man in Proverbs heading down the road of destruction to the harlot's bed had followed his lust for sex. Surely that was part of it, but the text indicates that he also was seduced by her words. Proverbs 7: 4-5 says, "Say to wisdom, 'You are my sister' and call understanding your nearest kin, that they may keep you from the immoral woman, from the seductress who flatters with her words." And Proverbs 7:10, 21 says, "There a woman met him, with the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart...With her enticing speech she caused him to yield, with her flattering lips she seduced him."

Keep Humor In Its Place

Everyone knows that funny people speak the truth through humor. They may exaggerate how upset they are that someone is late by looking at their watch and saying, "Oh, glad you could make it!" But beneath the joke is a barb of truth. The jokester has slipped in a little lecture without having had to embarrass anyone by saying, "Hey, pal, we agreed on 6 o'clock, and now here you come at 6:30! What's the deal? Get your act together!"

But the same thing happens when someone tries to be funny in a flirtatious manner. A man tells a woman, "Why don't we run off together? Tell that good-for-nothing husband of yours you got a better offer, huh?"

How's a woman supposed to react to that? The first time she may think it's funny because it's so far out of the realm of possibility. Each succeeding time Mr. Comedian says something like that, it gets more irritating. That is, unless the woman has always been attracted to him and has problems at home. Then she might hope there's truth behind the humor.

Often there is. The only time a funny flirter is totally putting someone on is when he throws his arm around a particularly old or homely woman and tries to give her a thrill by saying something she's probably never heard before. "Hey gorgeous! Where have you been all my life?"

Women like that know better than to believe such drivel, but they may long to hear it anyway. A colleague of mine once toyed with just such a woman by caressing her cheek. "I'm melting," she said, and I sensed she meant it.

The real danger comes when the man is pretending to be teasing, but he'd really love to flirt. A woman may not suspect the truth behind his humor, and if she responds in kind, there is the opportunity for misunderstanding. Or worse, she may indeed suspect that he means it, and then there is the opportunity for real understanding.

Such a tragedy occurred at a church in Michigan where a couple flirted humorously for almost ten years. They did this in front of everybody, including their spouses, who laughed right along with them. The flirters were never seen alone together, because they never were alone together.

Then came the day when the woman's husband was sick and in the hospital. She needed rides back and forth, and her friend and his wife provided them. No one suspected anything, but on one of those rare occasions when it was just the man doing the driving, the wife of the sick man told him how difficult and cold her husband had been for years.

The flirters began to see each other on the sly until the day came when she told him she had always hoped he'd meant what he said when he had teased her about how wonderful she was, how good she looked, and how he wished he'd met her before she was married. Whether he really meant it was irrelevant now that she had declared herself. The fact was, he admitted later, that this was what he had wanted all along. He would never have made the first move, however. He had hidden his true desires behind a cloak of humor. A little crisis, a little honesty, and suddenly years of innocent flirting had blossomed into an affair.

By the Same Token

Speaking of veiled humor, I have made it a practice not to make my wife the butt of jokes. There are enough things to make fun of and enough funny topics without going for easy laughs at the expense of your spouse.

One of the reasons for this is that I would never want Dianna to think I was trying to tell her something serious under the guise of humor. We have made it a policy to speak honestly and forthrightly with each other about anything that bothers us.

We give the lie to the charge that married couples who never fight are probably as miserable and phony as those who fight all the time. We love each other. We don't always agree, and we get on each other's nerves occasionally, but neither of us likes tension in the air. We compete to see who can apologize first and get things talked out. We follow the biblical injunction to never let the sun go down upon our wrath (Ephesians 4:26).

When a group of adult Christians decides it would be healthy to be honest and to share some of their most embarrassing or petty fights, we always confess that we'll either have to pass or make one up. Slammed doors, cold shoulders, silent treatments, and walking out just are not part of our routine. This comes as a result of being careful with our tongues.

Just as I don't want to make the mistake of flirting in jest or being suggestive in conversation with anyone but my wife, I want to watch what I say to her too. Scripture has a lot to say about the power of the tongue and the spoken word. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life "are in the power of the tongue," and Proverbs 21:23 says, "Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles."

Proverbs 28:23 says, "He who rebukes a man will find more favor afterward than he who flatters with the tongue." In the New Testament, James says that the tongue is a little member but that it boasts great things. "See how great a forest a little fire kindles!" (James 3:5).

Flattery, flirtation, suggestive jesting, and what we say to our own spouses are all shades of the same color. Beware the power of the tongue.

____________________________________________________
From: Hedges: Loving Your Marriage Enough to Protect It by Jerry B. Jenkins, © 1989, 2005. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.com. Download for personal use only.

Jerry B. Jenkins is the author of more than 150 books, including the #1 best-selling Left Behind Series. He owns the Christian Writers Guild, which mentors and trains aspiring professional Christian writers and Jenkins Entertainment, which produces family-friendly films. A former vice president of Moody Publishing, Jenkins now serves as a trustee for the Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. He and Dianna, his wife of 34 years, have three grown sons and three grandchildren. For more information visit www.hedgesbook.com.