I watched the teenage girl in the pew, her arms hugging her torso, cheeks flushed red as she stared at the floor.
My heart ached as I studied her. She had told me of the crippling anxiety that marked her days. Facing each morning with grit was a victory. Just when she had begun to find a measure of security in the solace of church, a member with an acid tongue had sliced her to the quick, accusing her of things that were not only unkind, but untrue. The result were panic attacks every time she stepped foot in the church building.
Sometimes our Goliaths sit within our own pews.
The teenager turned towards me, tears glossing her eyes.
“I’m sorry. I don’t think I can do this. It’s too hard.”
She darted from the sanctuary and fled.
Words have power. Quicker than a snap of the fingers, our words can build up a life, or crush it into rubble. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)
This is not just true of the words we speak, but of the words we text, type and whisper behind closed doors. Everything we communicate yields two results: building others up or tearing them down.
The apostle James had much to say about our tongues. We can say we love Jesus, love people, do all the good, humanitarian type things the world applauds, and rack up accolades for our holiness, but if we have no control over our mouths, we haven’t learned a thing. “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless.” (James 1:26)
Not only is it what we say, but the tone and attitude behind what we say. Negativity and light cannot coexist. Neither can resentment and encouragement. When we say one thing but feel another, we are nothing more than hypocrites…play-acting our way through our Christian walk.
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3: 9,10)
In our own family, we have a simple rule for speaking to each other. It’s the 3 Step Rule of Speaking.
1. Is it true?
Let face it…lots of us think we have the market cornered on truth. We’re right and everybody else is wrong. Maybe sometimes we are. Maybe we aren’t. Truth must always be backed up with God’s Word. Otherwise it’s just opinion, and opinion is usually not worth fighting about.
2. Is it kind?
Kindness is a fruit of the Spirit, so if our words are flung carelessly and hurtfully, we are not being led by God to speak. It’s our sinful self longing to lash out. It’s that simple. Be kind or hold your tongue.
3. Am I speaking from love?
Love should be the motivating factor for all things. If I’m needing to confront someone, I’d better be sure my motive is love and not some kind of buried resentment, anger, hostility or “I’ll-show-you-attitude”. Love builds up. Love seeks the best for others. It isn’t angry. It’s patient. Any other motivation will lead to a mess.
An old proverb describes the power of the tongue quite well.
There once lived a woman who gossiped about another lady in their village. Over time, she discovered she had been wrong about the woman and felt terrible for the awful things she’d said. She visited the village’s wise man and asked how she could take back all the wrong she had done. The wise man told her to go home, kill her chickens, pluck their feathers, and put them into a bag. On the way back to see the wise man, she was to scatter all the feathers along the road.
The lady obeyed. When she returned to the wise man, he told her, “Go back and pick up all the feathers you have scattered.” The woman was astonished at such a command.
“But, sir, by now the wind has carried the feathers through out the village and beyond.”
The wise man nodded. “And so it is with your careless words. They are like the feathers scattered in the wind. You cannot retrieve them.”
Our words carry eternal consequences. Life or death. Blessings or curses. When we choose love, we choose wisely.