Editors note: During the month of April, we are focusing on “My Words Have Power”. Proverbs 18:21 says that “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.” Our words can speak life or death into those around us. Which will you choose?
Do you remember that little jingle that was exchanged on the playground growing up? I remember singing it as a child after somebody uttered some string of words that hurt me… it went like this:
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”.
Just now, as I typed that phrase, I said aloud to myself: ‘Whoever made that silly thing up knew nothing of the human spirit’. I’ll be honest: I prefer a broken bone from a stick or stone over the spiritual destruction of words any day.
I can think back on times in my life when my spirit was crushed. The kind of crushing that inevitably left painfully salient memories. The most horrendous pain was caused by something someone said to me. Words that cut so deep, creating wounds only Jesus and time could heal.
You see, we carry a weapon of mass destruction around in our mouths. But the same tongue that has the power to speak death, can also speak life. Our words can build others up, or they can tear them down. (Proverbs 18:21)
When I was asked to contribute to the blog on this subject, my mind raced as I began to pray about and brainstorm on what angle to take. I eventually settled on focusing on where we spend most of our waking hours: the workplace.
As an educator, in 8 short hours, I encounter over 150 souls that I directly influence, and who influence me. My eyes widened and my mouth went a bit dry as I typed that sentence…it can be a daunting thought if I’m not confident that my words are life giving. I’m certain that your circle of influence is just as large, if not larger than mine. The sheer magnitude of the responsibility we have every single day to pour life into those around us is staggering. Unfortunately, I’m not perfect and I’m willing to bet you’re not either.
Even still, with all my imperfections and shortcomings, I’d like to give some practical biblical advice on how we can affect those around us positively. And also how we can heal and help those we love to heal from the wounds that others’ words so often produce.
How to keep a gentle tongue
Proverbs 18:21 is possibly the most cited verse when it comes to the power of the tongue. While it describes the life and death our words can evoke, it does not tell us HOW to keep a gentle tongue. Paul tells us how though: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt .”(Colossians 4:6). James also gave us a nugget of gold when he said “But everyone must be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.” (James 1:19). Peter says to lead “with gentleness and reverence” (I Peter 3:15).
These directives on keeping a gentle tongue are so important in every interaction, especially in the workplace. Have you ever been in a situation at work where a superior used unkind words, derogatory words, words of condescension or even sarcasm to get their point across to you? I have. And when this happens to me, a fire is not put under me to work harder. In fact, the opposite happens. I feel worthless, I feel bogged down by the words of the enemy seeping through my veins telling me that I do not have what it takes. I am completely deflated in those moments. The intention behind the exchange may have been to get me to work harder, work better, be more productive… but, the opposite happens in those conditions. People thrive when they feel encouraged, seen, heard, and empowered. People thrive when they feel supported. Let us not diminish the power of encouraging words in the workplace. Words of encouragement light the fire that get our limbs moving and our creative juices flowing.
Jesus was the perfect example of gentleness. “All spoke well of Him and were amazed at the gracious words that were coming from His mouth” (Luke 4:22). When we stay closer to Jesus, keep our eyes on Him, and begin each exchange with a grateful heart, I truly believe it’s nearly impossible to use words that are not gentle. The two are mutually exclusive. When we stay close to our Savior, He speaks through us, and His words are always gentle.
How to heal after words of death have been spoken over you:
For true healing, I think it’s important that we understand what it takes for someone to use words in a hurtful way. It was said so eloquently in our Among Friends Podcast by one of our own, Macy Williams. She said, “Hurt people hurt people”. Simple, yet so profound. When you are hurt by the words from another’s tongue, having an understanding that those words derive from a place of pain in their own experience takes the pressure off you completely. You then understand that you have NOT deserved their hurtful words. It helps you to realize that their words likely have absolutely nothing to do with you at all and more to do with what they’re going through. So, when we’re hurt by another’s words: let’s pray for that person. Pray that God will guide them gently through whatever pain they’re experiencing. When we team up with Jesus in prayer to ask for healing for the person spewing hurtful words, our hearts begin to heal in a real way.
“Kind words are like honey; sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” Proverbs 15:28
May we all be the deliverer and recipient of words like honey. As you start your day tomorrow and all the days to follow, have a grateful heart tied close to your Lord and Savior. Pray for those that you know are hurting and have the potential to use their tongues to destroy, just as we all need prayer when we are in pain. And stay in constant prayer over your own tongue. Just as the Psalmist prayed, let’s also pray: “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Psalm 141:3)
We would like to thank Elizabeth Loeffler for writing this post.