In May of 1889 on Lake Conemaugh in Pennsylvania, people were enjoying the warmth of Summer as they lounged near their cottages.
Many swam with their children and paddled in their canoes and boats. The waters here were a welcomed retreat for rich steel and oil tycoons that would come from surrounding cities.
But then came the rain. It rained day and night for days. Finally, on May 31, the poorly built South Fork Dam that once held the lake back, broke. As the water raged down the Conemaugh valley at one point it reached the flow rate of the Mississippi river. It was at this peak that the water slammed into the small town of Johnstown, PA; where it’s residents were just sitting down for an evening meal.
The water that once soothed and comforted, now killed over two thousand people and destroyed 425 million dollars in property. In the same way our words can be either refreshing to those we encounter or a tool of utter destruction.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” (Prov. 18:21)
Question: Do you want your words to be known as a wrecking ball or as a God ordained builder?
We use to say as kids, “Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But as Adults we know that’s not true. Have you ever considered why negative words hurt? I mean they’re just articulated sounds coming from our mouths!
The destructive words we use toward one another hurt because it is through them we see a devalued version of ourselves. Words are the lens by which we see ourselves.
James, the brother of Jesus, gives us some physical examples to illustrate that there’s a problem when a Christian’s words our tainted:
10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water. James 3:10 (ESV)
James is making the point that if we find that on a regular basis we’re producing toxic words: angry, mean spirited words, cutting sarcasm and humor, inappropriate sexual innuendos and humor….something is wrong with the source.
When we blow up or speak as we should not we say, “That wasn’t me”, but it was. That’s why Jesus teaches us that,
45 The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45 (ESV)
When we get bumped by the stresses, pressures and inconveniences of life, what spills out through our words, is what’s in our heart. I know when I find myself short or irritable with Erin or the boys, there’s a heart issue that needs to be dealt with in prayer. My wife is the first one to add an “Amen” when I tell her I need to go be alone and pray!
It can feel overwhelming as James writes of the tongue that “no human can tame it.” No human might be able to tame the tongue, but God can. We need a Spirit given bridle in our mouths to direct our tongue and in doing so direct our lives.
Yet, Christ can help us turn words of blessing onto our family, friends, co-workers, and strangers! Such as:
“You’re a gift to me. I’m thankful for you. You are loved by God. There’s hope for you. God is faithful to deliver you, I believe in you, You matter, You are fearfully and wonderfully made.”
This inverse principle of how our words impact others is also true: The words of blessing we use toward one another give life because it is through them we see a valued version of ourselves.
A verse referenced in our home often that has served us well has been Psalm 19:14:
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Would you pray that prayer with me?