Mind your Ps and Qs

The number of verses in the Bible about the power of our words seems innumerable. My hope is that after this entry we all become a bit more careful about what comes out of our mouths and what is in our hearts. The power of our words is overwhelming. Words cut through age barriers and innocence, even cultures. I’m sure many of us can recall a time when somebody’s words turned out lives around, for the better or worse. Or maybe you remember a time when your words cut through someone and you were unable to realize the significance at the time. There are various resources that differ, but the average amount of words spoken a day is between 2,000 and 20,000. Regardless of what side of the spectrum you land on, you speak thousands of words on an average day. What is coming out of your mouth?

While working in a Honduran orphanage one summer I remember standing in front of three 14-year-old girls. I was 19 at the time and spoke Spanish very poorly. I remember specifically trying to talk to these girls and tripping over my words horribly. They whispered something to one another, looked at me and laughed. I have no idea what those words were, but they cut through me. I walked away crying, somewhat amazed that 14-year-old orphans could make a 19-year-old American college student cry.

Going back to high school, without getting into why, people I barely knew and barely knew me would cut through me with their words. I was barked at and called bitch, what seemed like every chance they had. Was I invested in them as friends? Not always. Was I affected by their words? Yes.

Even in elementary school I remember a few girls telling me I could be so much more popular if I “dumped” one of my dearest friends. My friend was considered socially awkward, a nerd, maybe even a freak. I didn’t care, but I’m not sure I stood up for her. I’m not sure I protected her from hearing those personal attacks and judgment calls. I regret this.

On a more positive note I can remember words that encouraged me. After I came back from Honduras my mentor thanked God for giving me such courage to do that on my own. In high school I had teachers praying for me, writing me passes out of their classes to pray with a friend, and other peers who would tell me those people speaking ill of me were wrong. And in elementary school I remember being so loved at home. I was told I was smart, pretty, talented, etc. so the threat of becoming more unpopular didn’t have the affect on me I thought it might.

The book of Proverbs is full of verses relating to our words. We are given a comparison list of what the words of righteous people do compared to the fool. Proverbs shows us the option we have to either build and encourage or bring down and destroy. It says just with our words we can either defuse someone’s wrath or stir it up. This leads me to believe when we speak to our children, our peers, our co-workers, spouses, or friends there is an opportunity for healthy and helpful conversation and an opportunity to tear down that relationship.

Scripture tells us the foolish man’s words conceal violence, cut themselves off, destroy their neighbors, overthrow blessings, wait for blood, bring strife and invites flogging, brings ruin and usually is a snare; and finally we are told a foolish man’s words are useless.

The righteous man’s words are life-giving, feeding those around them, bringing wisdom, delivering men; they are deep waters that avoid trouble and spread knowledge. Words have the potential to bring joy, riches, wisdom, instruction, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

Clearly our words have much power in them. I wonder if we are aware at how our words come off, how our words affect those around us. Are you the righteous or the fool? Good intention doesn’t do much for us in the midst of an argument or even a casual conversation when we become careless with our words. Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:34, “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” This truth is haunting. What comes out of your mouth is ultimately what is overflowing from your heart. Said more plainly, what is in your heart comes out of your mouth. Listen to what Scripture says about our hearts, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” (Jer. 17:9) It’s obvious to me that we are prone to speaking words of violence, destruction, strife, and ruin. We are the fool without Jesus. Our hearts will remain deceitful without Jesus. Our only hope for speaking like a righteous person is if we have Jesus.

James 3:3-10

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small ruder wherever the pilot wants to go. 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. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.”

I am not the righteous man here. I am very aware that when I’m driving on the road and am cut off by a driver the overflow of my heart is ugly. What comes out of my mouth is out for blood. I need Jesus. I cannot control my tongue. I am unable to naturally speak life-giving words, wisdom, instruction, or health to the body. I need Jesus. I am the fool. I need Jesus.

You’ll notice I mentioned my grandpa this week in “Life as a Student”. One of the major teachings he has given me is that minimizing our sin minimizes God’s grace and our need for Jesus. We must not do this. We must acknowledge the weight of our words. We must recognize our hearts as beyond cure. If we do not, whether we mean to or not we will bring down and destroy those around us.

My prayer for any of us is to recognize what is in our hearts. Maybe we need to pray as David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” (Psalms 51:10) I pray we confess we cannot tame our tongue and ask the Lord to do so for us. I pray we teach our children the power of words. May we only speak what builds up and encourages and avoid bringing down and destroying those made in God’s image. Please take time to read the verses below and meditate on them. Let them penetrate your heart (Prov. 4: 21)…

Proverbs 13:3 – “Those who guard their mouths preserve their lives; those who open wide their lips come to ruin.” (NRSV)

Proverbs 10:19 – “Too much talk leads to sin. Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.” (NLT)

Psalm 19:14 – “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer.” (NIV)