"What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." -Emerson

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Power of Words...

Imagine one small ember floating down, finding its way atop a pile of hay. Slowly yet vigorously a once innocuous heap of dried grass begins to burn. Quickly, a wild fire breaks out and devestation ensues. We've heard such stories on the news. We've seen it happen in the movies. How quickly something so small becomes something so big.

We all have floating embers inside of us that if they are released, can reap destruction on our surroundings. I am talking about our words: those tiny little sparks of fire that when released can turn into painful, calamitous blazes around us.

"Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. . The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell."
James 3:5-6 NIV
This is one God is constantly working with me on: that little firestarter in my mouth. Sometimes, I don't even know why have the sparks that are struck are even made in the first place. Most times, I can't even understand why I say the things I say. Am I alone in this?

The thing about our sparks is that they are powerful. While they may be nothing of significance to us, the words we utter can create a sea of flames in another's life. The potency of our words can create a lifetime of hurt and sting, sometimes to those we love the most, and sometimes in ways we don't even realize. Our flesh can struggle so much to keep this tiny, ruinous force in check. Words can destroy reputations, self-esteems, relationships, confidences, and so much more all in the blink of an eye or a wag of the tongue as the case may be.

God talks a lot about this toxic muscle that rests behind our teeth. His view on it shows that He knows it is a force to be rekoned with. He knows it is something that we must learn to control if a.) we desire to not cause destruction and pain to those around us, and b.) we desire to truly be a follower of His words. Here are some important facts about our tongues:

1.) If we truly consider ourselves Christians, we must learn to control it:
"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.
James 1:26 NIV
This is one of those "how not to be a hypocritical Christian" verses. Our words have to match our belief system. If we are known by others as a Christian, yet continue to gossip, slander, say hurtful things, talk with vulgarity, how can the world see us as any different? What would make one desire to be around us if our words are only used as weapons?

2.) We will be judged based on the things that come out of our mouths:
"But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."
Matthew 12:36-37
This is a day I am not looking forward to...the one in which I have to account to God for every stupid, mean, unedifying thing I've said to people. This is going to be tough conversation. Before you go getting all self-condemning, be sure to read the second sentence of this verse. We can be "aquitted" by our words as well as condemned. Thats right, the power our words have to condemn us before God, they also have the power to aquitt us. I think our challenge to get our mouths to speak more aquitting words than condemning ones.

3.) Our tongues are meant to build others up:
"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."
Ephesians 4:29-36 NIV
This verse always trips me up, everytime I look at it because it is very blatent in its verbage. Our words are not to be unwholesome. It says don't let any unwholesome talk come out, ANY...so that means the crude jokes, the vulgarities, the gossip, and anything that is not edifying or pure has to stop. Period.

Then, it says the purpose of our words is to build others up in accordance with their needs. This requires a little outward focus on our parts. We have to recognize what others need in terms of how our words can become blessings and a source of encouragement to them. We have to let our words benefit those who hear them, not destroy or tear them down.

The next part is really when I fall flat on my face. We have to get rid of a lot of "stuff." We can't hang on to any of it. Oh, if you only knew how my fleshly fists like to clench on to bitterness, rage, anger, and malice. Sometimes, I can't understand why I can't just let something go and why I cling to the feelings of anger and bitterness. It wastes a lot of energy to hold on to those seeds and the worst part is, if you don't let go, they grow! Then, pretty soon what really was not a big deal in the scheme of things grows into a garden of acrimonious resentment and bad behaviors. We find ourselves in a stronghold of sin bigger than the one who may have inadvertantly or even purposely sinned against us.

I think this is what fuels our sparks of words sometimes. Someone does something against us, which results in our hurt feelings, which leads to bitterness, malice, anger, and rage. Then, we start lighting fires...first it starts with us repeating the story to anyone who will listen. Then, the rage gets bigger and bigger. Gossip comes next and as we roll down this hill of bitterness, we begin to go beyond gossip into slander. All of which we could have avoided if we would have just gotten rid of our bitterness, rage, and anger. This requires a lot of humility on our parts, accepting any hurt someone may have caused, maybe even extending to them the benefit of the doubt that they didn't mean anything by it. But, man oh man, what troubles we could avoid if we could learn to get rid of it.

It is powerful, that little tongue of ours. It can start a forest fire or put one out. It can tear someone to pieces or put them back together. It can be our demise or our prize. I wonder, how are you using yours? I know I need to take a serious look and get a strong bridle on my own mouth. The good news is I have a God who is a whole lot stronger than my tongue to help me.

Here's to preventing forest fires...

Until next time,

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