We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
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 rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.
– James 3:2-5, NIV
Isn’t it astounding, the immensity of the effect of our words to other people? Lin Pearson tells us in Effective Children’s Ministry, “We can never hear the warning often enough. The tongue (or typing finger) may be small, but oh so deadly when not under the sanctifying grace of God.” What does it mean to put the tongue under the sanctifying grace of God?
We read and know that the tongue can be the hardest thing of all to control (like in James 3, above), and so I believe that on our own, without the help of the God who made us, we are incapable of keeping our tongue under control and keeping our words acceptable to God. I have come to believe that we can only reach the point of achieving that – keeping our tongue under God’s ‘sanctifying grace’ – if we surrender it to Him. May we lay down before Him the way we speak to other people; the way we speak of other people; our responses to people in all situations.
Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.
– Ephesians 4:29, NLT
As pointed out in James 3 (above), this is not always as easy as it sounds. But with God’s help and through regular surrender to Him of the tongue, He can mold and shape us, bringing this passage to life within us and bringing His will to fruition in and through our lives. As Blaise Pascal reminds us, “Kind words do not cost much. They never blister the tongue or lips. They make other people good-natured. They also produce their own image on men’s souls, and a beautiful image it is”. The difference in outcome is obvious, between kind words and unkind words – as Claude de la Colombiere wrote, “Of all the sins which a human is capable, none is so easy to commit [as back-biting], none so difficult to repair”.
Our words truly make an impact on the world in which we live! When we make an effort to use our voices to speak words of encouragement and life and light into people, this impact is positive – and of course very much preferable to God than other kinds of comments or remarks. Theodore Epp puts it this way, “Perhaps we have been guilty of speaking against someone and have nots how it may have hurt them. Then when someone speaks against us, we suddenly realise how deeply such words hurt, and we become sensitive to what we have done”.
Why do we want to avoid foul language and use our words to build people up and encourage people in the kindness of God? Other than a desire not to cause harm to people, we as Christians are also to be God’s representatives here on earth, His mouthpiece to a broken world. If an organisation wishes to make a deal or form a friendship with another organisation but sends a foul-mouthed spokesperson, this is unlikely to aid the fulfillment of the goals and wishes of the sending organisation. Likewise, God wishes to convey His love and grace and joy and forgiveness and beauty to His beloved Creations, and wants to offer all people the merciful and glorious invitation into a loving relationship with Him. As His people we are His messengers and His spokespersons: what does this say about the way we should speak to people?
As we know from Luke 6:45 (NIV), “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” When the mouth and the heart are in the hands of God, we are united with Christ and learn to speak what He wants us to speak. So may we surrender to God our mouths and the words we speak! Samuel Hurwitt makes a very worthy point when he counsels us to “Never trust your tongue when your heart is bitter”. When we surrender to God and let Him plant within us His words and His heart, His life-giving Spirit, we can be confident that He will use us for good.
I don’t want to talk about You like You’re not in the room
I want to look right at You, I want to sing right to You
– Misty Edwards
This is one of the most challenging lyrics I’ve come across. We can be ‘evangelistic’ – even by accident – and talk about God to people, which is of course a wonderful thing and it is what Christ calls us to do. But arguably it is all meaningless if we cannot look right at God while we speak, and say all our words in the knowledge that He is with us, right beside us throughout every situation and every conversation. May we surrender to God our mouths, and invite Him to reveal His presence to us, making it easier to speak in a way that is pleasing to Him, to bring a smile to His face in every conversation.
When we are tired, stressed, frustrated, hungry, bitter or upset, we can easily begin to believe that our words do not matter very much, or slip into mindsets of “it was just a comment, they will forgive me – I did nothing really wrong”; or, “they deserved it”; or, “I have the right to speak my mind”; or even “I’m just sharing of my struggles with annoying people”. In these situations it can be easy to lose sight of the love that God has for those we are talking to, or talking about. We can forget that the way we treat any of God’s created people is the way we are treating Christ. We ignore the fact that God has plans and purposes for every person we come across and interact with, and that God might want to play a part in our interaction with them – using us for His Kingdom and for good. We are, of course, forgiven by God for not always speaking to others in the ways that God may want us to, but that does not make it right to continue this way. May we surrender to God our mouths, and let Him use them and speak through us even when we are tired and grumpy, or in the middle of our own struggles and distresses.
When we think about it, we know that we do not intend harm towards others when we speak. As we surrender our mouths to God, may we make a conscious effort to build up, encourage, refresh and uplift others. And instead of cursing or talking down to those who frustrate us, may God provide us with the cleansing alternative of prayer for those people! Leonard Ravenhill makes a very good point when he reminds us, “Notice, we never pray for folks we gossip about, and we never gossip about the folk for whom we pray! For prayer is a great deterrent”. When we feel tempted to use our tongues in ways that contradict God’s plans, may we remember His presence and His love – and, instead, pray for the people to whom or about whom we are tempted to speak.
Even jokes and witty comments can sometimes be the strongest in putting down and destroying a person. Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Those of us who are endowed with the dangerous gift of humour have need, sometimes, to stop and take the word out of our mouth and look at it, and see whether it is quite to edification”. One ‘passing comment’ or witty remark can ruin a person’s day, and can stay with them for much longer. Similarly, positive ‘passing comments’ can work wonders in brightening a person’s day or building someone up. I was very fortunate, when I lived in Bolivia, to share a room with someone who is an expert at this. Every time I saw her she had something lovely to say, which made each day that little bit more enjoyable – and put me in a mindset of seeing the world with joy. It also made her a real pleasure to spend time with!
Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.
– Philippians 2:14-15, NIV
Thank You that You are always with me.
Thank You that You have entrusted me with the responsibility of being Your mouthpiece to the world!
I’m sorry for not always living up to that; for speaking words that do not always please You.
I surrender to You my mouth – please shape it and use me to speak Your words of life and light!
I surrender to You the ways I speak when I’m happy and excited.
I surrender to You the ways I speak when I’m upset or annoyed.
I surrender to You the ways I speak when I’m tired, hungry or in pain.
Please help me to be Your representative and bring honour to You.
I surrender to You the ways I speak to those in authority over me.
I surrender to You the ways I speak to those closest to me.
I surrender to You the ways I speak to my friends.
I surrender to You the ways I speak to those who frustrate or hurt me.
I surrender to You the ways I speak to those who challenge me.
I surrender to You the ways I speak to those whose company I enjoy.
I surrender to You the ways I speak to anyone under my authority.
Please make me aware of the consequences of my words.
I surrender the way I live as a result of knowing Your presence.
Please teach me, Lord – and shape my understanding.
I give You my mouth and I ask that You replace it with Your own.
May I live in Your ways, with a hunger for You rather than for what my human nature craves!