Words with Friends

By Gwen Sellers

Words. They're a powerful thing. Hawk Nelson's Words has been playing a lot on our local Christian radio stations. The other day a friend sent me a devotional written by Henri Nouwen on words becoming flesh, "carry[ing] love on their wings." Both remind me of the importance of my words.

When Christians talk about words, we often refer to the book of James. He had a lot to say about taming the tongue. James compares the tongue to a bit in a horse's mouth or a rudder of a ship—though small it directs the whole course of a thing. He also compares the tongue to a fire—a powerfully destructive force when out of control. Perhaps most notably James writes, "no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God" (James 3:8-9). The tongue has the power to destroy, but also the power to give life. It can bless. Fires, when under control, are a life-giving source of heat. Our tongues, when under the control of the Holy Spirit, can be the same. In fact, James 1:26 says, "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless." The way we speak reflects the extent to which we are yielded to the Holy Spirit's refining work.

Jesus said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34). The content of our words reflects the content of our hearts. That is why the more we yield our hearts to the work of the Holy Spirit, the fuller of life our words will be.

Ephesians 4:29 says to, "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Our words should be fitting to the moment, gracious, and edifying.

Many of us know how to speak kindly to other people (or at least that we should try to), but have you ever considered the words you speak to yourself? Often we are able to keep snide remarks or hurtful comments about others in check when around them. We may have judgmental thoughts about our friends, but we seem to catch them while still in the thought stage. Sometimes we are called upon to speak painful truth to our friends, but by the time we build up the courage to do so, the words generally come in love. Most of us don't want to say hurtful things to our friends. But we often are not so careful with ourselves.

How often have you berated yourself? Called yourself an idiot? Judged yourself for being inept or somehow less valuable than another? Compared yourself to societal standards and come up pitifully lacking, and then been consumed by thoughts on what you must do to be less of a failure? Are you aware of the things you say to yourself?

I know I am not always aware of my "self-talk." But when I do pay attention I find out that I can be a real jerk. Some of the things I say to myself I would never dream of saying to a friend. So why am I saying them to myself? Do I think that's how God really thinks of me? Would He say those things to me? No. God tells me He loves me and has adopted me into His family (Psalm 139:13-16; John 15:9-11; Romans 8:15-17, 31-32, 37-39; Ephesians 5:1-2). God tells me I am a sinner but that He has paid for my sins (2 Corinthians 5:21) and is sufficient in my weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9). God tells me He is at work in my life (Romans 8:28; Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 1:6).

On the flip side, I am sometimes too generous with myself, saying prideful things, taking the glory for the blessings in my life. Is that being honest? Would I play into a friend's prideful self-glorification? Would God say those things to me? No. God would say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" (Matthew 25:23). He would communicate His pleasure and His delight (Zephaniah 3:17; John 12:26; John 17:22-26). But He alone is God and He does not share His glory with another (Isaiah 42:8; John 14:12-14).

Both forms of self-talk—overly self-debasing or overly self-glorifying—are indications of a heart that is in the wrong position. The words are the overflow of the heart. When the words are rotten, so is the heart. It's not so much our words that matter, then; it's the heart from which they flow. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." When our heart is properly kept, life comes forth, even in our words. When my heart is right, it receives true life from God. It speaks in truth and love to itself, and it shares truth and love with others. My words will become "rivers of living water" (John 4:38). So rather than try to tame my tongue, I am going to try to yield my heart and allow the Holy Spirit to guard it (Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 5:10-18). I am going to request wisdom from above, which is "pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere" (James 3:17). I am going to try to follow Paul's instruction: "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things" (Philippians 4:8). Rather than attempt to modify my behavior and conquer the blaze that rages beyond human ability to control, I am going to ask God to truly change my heart (Psalm 51:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

What will you do with your words, and your heart, today?

Photo Credit: Kersley Fitzgerald

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Published on 6-27-13