Friday, September 21, 2012

The Power of Words

"no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison...From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so." ~ James 3:8, 10

I've been thinking a lot about words lately. I have often underestimated the impact of my words. I have also underestimated the longevity of my words.

Once you say them, you can never un-say them.

How often have I spoken without thinking through the implications of my words? How often have I been so short-sighted in the moment that I failed to see how my words would effect the reputation of another. 

The glory of having something interesting to say overshadows my concern for others-- both those with whom I am speaking and also those rarely remembered second and third-hand hearers.

Words are so easy to speak. They are such a little thing in the moment. But a few seconds worth of words can set in motion horrific consequences. Maybe that's why the apostle James compares the tongue to a small rudder that guides a huge ship or a small spark that sets a forest ablaze. 

What Our Words Say About Us

Our words are an expression of our hearts. People perceive things about us by what we say. These words divulge our pride, our prejudices, and our insecurities. They expose what we value, what we love and what we crave. 

It is tempting to be duplicitous.  To speak in a way that is contrary to our heart's true feelings because we think it is what others want to hear. This is not admirable or sustainable.

But because of the indelible nature of words, a motive-searching moment before speaking is invaluable. 

Words that Give Grace

"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."

A Christian's words should have purpose. They should be intentional, thoughtful and strategic. They should be words of healing, of kindness, and encouragement. They should seek to "give grace to those who hear." This may be as simple as engaging in small talk or as complex as counselling a person through a major life crisis. The intention is the same: to genuinely seek the other's good and to draw their attention to the God who saves. 

Even corrective words can be done with gentleness, respect and humility. I love this example of Winston Churchill being confronted by his wife, Clementine. It's an excerpt from a letter found in Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Letters of Winston and Clementine Churchill. The manner of Clementine's rebuke is so loving and respectful that you know she is doing it wholly because she cares about his well being. She says:

I hope you will forgive me if I tell you something that I feel you ought to know. One of the men in your entourage - a devoted friend - has been to me & told me that there is a danger of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates because of your rough sarcastic and overbearing manner...I was astonished and upset because in all these years I have been accustomed to all those who have worked with & under you, loving you - I said this, & I was told 'No doubt it's the strain.' My darling Winston - I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner & you are not so kind as you used to be...with this terrific power [as Prime Minister] you must combine urbanity, kindness and if possible Olympic calm...Besides you won't get the best results by irascibility and rudeness...Please forgive your loving devoted and watchful - Clemmie.
Grace-giving words have the power to bring about change. How different would our conversations be if we felt that it was our responsibility to bless others?

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