"In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches. But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body." James 3:5-6a (NLT)
I recently saw a plaque that read, "Lord, put an arm around my shoulder and a hand across my mouth." I smiled at the saying, but God snagged my heart to understand the power of my words during an early morning phone call.
When I saw the caller ID, I cheerfully sang, "Good morning, good morning, hey it's great to stay up late!" (Envision Debbie Reynolds in the Singing in The Rain movie.)
"We've got to talk. I'm upset," my friend replied.
This wasn't how I wanted to start my day. My heart sunk into my shoes when my friend told me why she was upset. I realized the root of the problem was a miscommunication and my first thought was to defend myself.
But that morning I had been in the book of James, and at this critical moment of conversation this scripture pushed its way to the top of my mind.
"And the tongue is a flame of fire" (James 3:6a).
This verse always reminds me of my 9th grade shop class where I learned welding and the truth that whoever controls the flame, controls the outcome. The power of the small concentrated fire from the welder's torch was lethal. I held in my hands the ability to rip metal in two and burn through tightly soldered seams like a hot knife through butter.
Yet through this tiny flame that burned bright blue and hot yellow, I also had a different power, one that mended. I could repair what was broken and bring together what had been divided.
You and I carry around a similar little flame; it rests inside our mouths. It's our tongue. We can fire up and encourage a broken heart or torch it with a careless word.
So how do we control our tongue? For starters, it's helpful to keep our words to ourselves until we can sort through any raw emotions behind them. In James 1:26 we find that, "Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless" (NIV).
That Hebrew word for "rein" means to restrain and pull back our first reaction. In other words, when you feel like spewing it, zip it. Our lips should be water tight, not allowing unnecessary words to leak out. Like Tupperware secure. In this way, we'll truly live out our Christianity by being examples of Christ's character: kind, loving, self-controlled.
Next, we can choose our words wisely. James 3:3, says, "When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal" (NIV).
Once we've reined in what we say, we choose words that steer the conversation along an encouraging, uplifting path, building up instead of tearing down.
Last, we praise, not curse. In James 3:9 we discover that, "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God's likeness" (NIV).
In Biblical times cursing was the opposite of blessing, and today we should view our words as carrying the same responsibility. Deep scars from hurtful words may never heal.
When my friend lashed out on the phone, God helped me to rein in my first thought and wait until the right moment to respond. I felt led to choose three words, that when said sincerely, turn a conversation around:
"I'm so sorry."
It was true, the last thing I wanted or expected was for my friend to be hurt by an unintentional misunderstanding. I've made a decision to not react with torch-splitting, heated words, but to mend with encouraging conversation from my heart and lips. Would you like to join me? Remember, whoever controls the flame, controls the outcome.
Dear Lord, remind us each day to use our tongues to glorify You and encourage others. In Jesus' Name, Amen.
Reflect and Respond:
Identify the triggers that turn your tongue into a weapon.
Today, choose to seek a mending moment with someone who needs a gentle answer.
Proverbs 12:18, "The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." (NIV)
Proverbs 15:4, "The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit." (NIV)
© 2013 by Luann Prater. All rights reserved.
Proverbs 31 Ministries
630 Team Rd., Suite 100
Matthews, NC 28105