“Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21
If you have been around me at all or for any amount of time, you know that my favorite thing to say is: “I love words!” My boys and husband affectionately consider me the grammar police. Yet there is just something precious to me about the beauty and the power of words. Words carefully orchestrated can create the most magnificent masterpiece of art. Careless words, however, that are thoughtlessly hurled about possess the potential for catastrophic effects. The old saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a fallacy. In fact, words can be more devastating to us emotionally than the breaking of our bones can hurt us physically. Perhaps the mindset behind such a saying is that if we say it loud enough and often enough, we will believe our words and feel better, but I daresay the impacts of words linger far beyond what we will ever admit. I learned early on in life that words hold power, both for the positive and the negative, just as the Proverb quoted above states.
Consider for a moment a time when you have been on the receiving end of encouraging words. Did that not make you feel like you could conquer the world? Remember a time when a hurtful or discouraging word was aimed at you. Did it not feel like the wind had been stripped from your sails? In my experience, the negative, hurtful, wounding, and damaging words are the ones we tend to remember. The Harvard Business Review at hrb.org released a study that shows it takes 5 positive statements to overcome a single negative criticism. It is no wonder that the negative impact of words haunt us. I wish the saying were true, but words can indeed hurt us. Not only can words from others wound us, but we can wound ourselves with the words of our own internal monologues. We, too, are guilty of misusing words and inflicting hurt upon others.
I desperately love Jesus and desire Him to sanctify me through and through, beginning with my tongue please. As being on the receiving end of cutting words, I find myself hypersensitive to how I use them, though I fail daily in my words. Recently I was reminded of how much it hurts when someone says something insulting about me. Several years ago, this would have taken me down a negative path, but, thankfully, I took my wound right to Jesus and offered it to Him. His words of who I am in Him were a salve to the cut.
What, then, are we to do? I often find myself relating to the apostle Paul who said that he often did the very things he did not want to do and did not do the things he wished to do. Scripture offers us guidance on how to manage our own tongues and how we use our words. We are responsible for how we respond and what we say. Matthew 12:34 tells us, “For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart.” If our words are damaging and not glorifying to God, then we need to first examine our hearts. James, the brother of Jesus, had much to say about the power of the tongue. I can’t help but wonder if he felt so strongly on the matter because Jesus’ own family members attempted to restrain Him, claiming “He’s out of His mind.” Imagine being the brother of the Savior of the world and calling Him crazy. James saw His brother crucified amidst the cries and demands of the people. He tells us in James 1:19, “Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” Practice the pause before speaking. Open our ears to hear instead. Finally, we should follow the exhortation provided to us in Ephesians 4:29 by Paul, “No foul language is to come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.” And then again in Ephesians 5: 19, “speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your heart to the Lord.” We have the power through the Holy Spirit within us to choose to walk the path of Christ to bless and to encourage others with our words.
While others may injure us with their words, we must follow the example of Jesus who, when insulted, did not insult in return. Jesus knows how it feels to be mocked, ridiculed, and insulted. When we take our hurts to Him, He is close to us and will be our refuge. He will kindly show us in His Word who we are to Him. We are loved, chosen, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven. He can handle our hurts, when our loads are too heavy for us to bear alone. He is the friend that is closer than a brother. Today, in this culture that is so harsh and so hard, in this culture that is so self-obsessed and self-absorbed, let’s choose to intentionally and deliberately use our words for the power of life. Let’s vow to begin a kindness revolution with the words from our mouths and the sincerity in our hearts.
Challenge: For 24 hours, practice the pause and do not say anything negative or hurtful to anyone, including yourself. Choose, instead, to use your words for uplifting others. Reflect back on it and note how different your day was. Then, commit to a week of this, and see if your thoughts become transformed. Remember, the same power that rose Jesus from the dead is also alive and active in every single one of His children. I would love to hear from you if you participate in this challenge. Leave a comment below about your experience! I am praying for you!