I’ll never forget the morning two years ago, just after my annual physical, when the doctor’s office called to talk about my recent blood work. Specifically, they were concerned by my cholesterol number. (I won’t share it, but let’s just say it was close to double my IQ). There I was, blissfully ignorant, sitting at my desk eating a McDonald’s Tender Pork and Gravy biscuit, when the telephone interrupted my gravy-induced bliss. Little did I know that this would be my last glimpse of those delicious biscuits. I have not had one since.
Despite my irritation at being disturbed during breakfast, I did recognize the serious nature of my situation. High cholesterol runs in my family, so ignoring the problem obviously would not make it go away. I did not want to take cholesterol medicine, mainly because I hate taking any medicine, so with a heavy heart I accepted the one option left in front of me. For the first time in my life, I went on a diet.
Since this blog post is about something more important than my eating habits, I won’t go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that the next three months involved carefully monitoring how many total fat grams and saturated fat grams and cholesterol grams I ate every day. It was actually easier to track than I had thought – did you know they have a label on food that tells that information? It’s right on the package! For three months, I did not eat anything until I read the label. As a result, I lost 60 cholesterol points during that time. Believe it or not, a healthy died worked!
I said all of that to say this – since I went on my diet, I’ve noticed that lots of you follow some sort of eating plan. You track your calories and your caffeine and your refined sugars. You eat only organic produce or free-range chicken or fair trade coffee. You stay away from high fructose corn syrup and red dyes and petroleum-based preservatives. You cook with olive oil and real vanilla extract and freshly milled grain flour. You even drink bottled water from a tropical island . . . which leads to this point:
Almost everyone has some sort of diet to closely monitor what goes into their mouth, but very few of us pay close attention to what comes out? Really, do you apply a fraction as much energy, and planning, and self-discipline to controlling your speech as you apply to controlling your calories, or your fat grams, or your carbohydrates? I know I don’t. But maybe I should. After all, the things that come out of the mouth can cause as many problems as the things going into it. Our words have that much power!
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On Sunday morning, May 26th, we talked during Church about the power of words. Specifically, we discussed the negative impact of “words gone wild” – how gossip and complaining and criticism destroys other people, and why God cares about those words so much.
If you missed the service, you can hear the complete sermon HERE. A one sentence summary looks like this: Your untamed words have the power to steer the direction of your life; to reveal what is in your heart; and to break fellowship with God and other people. As a result, we need to find a way to battle the nature of our tongues.
As you ponder the impact of your words and whether you have fallen into bad habits surrounding your words, here are a few thoughts about what you can do you do if you struggle with your tongue:
#1 – Admit your problem – Yes, this seems silly, but it is always the first step to correcting a problem. You can’t fight a battle until you admit that the battle is real. For many of us, this first step is the most difficult.
Almost everyone can identify someone who is a “complainer” – someone who can barely function in a conversation that doesn’t involve complaining about their job or their family or their friends or their Church or the weather or government or the fall schedule on television or the lines at the supermarket . . . or whatever. Everyone knows someone who fits that description. But not many people describe THEMSELVES like that. We see the bad habit in others, but not so much in ourselves.
The same is true in almost every variation of “untamed” words. Other people are critics. I just “tell it like it is.” Other people gossip. I share “prayer request”. Other people get mad and “blow up”. I just vent some “righteous anger”. Other people really need to control their tongues. Thank goodness I’ve got mine under control.
Before we can get well, we must diagnose the illness. Admit that your tongue is a problem, and then you can move to Step #2.
#2 – Repent – Remember, James said that “no human can tame the tongue”. (James 3: 7-8) God CAN tame it. Surrendering your tongue to God begins with repentance. Confess your weakness to God and give Him control. He will tame your tongue by working on your heart.
#3 – Pray – Every day. Often. Ask God to help you use words of life instead of words of death. Ask Him to use you to encourage and strengthen others instead of carelessly tearing them apart.
#4 – Fight The Battle Between Your Mind And Your Mouth – How often have you spewed some thoughtless words only to wish you could stuff them back into your mouth? That’s because most of us habitually speak before we really think about what we are saying.
The battle for your tongue takes place in the distance between your mind and your mouth. Force yourself to intentionally pause before you speak. If someone makes you angry, take a moment before you respond. If an opportunity for an edgy joke presents itself, wait before you tell it. It will still be funny in a few minutes. Be certain that you want to say it. Do you feel frustrated and want to complain? Force yourself to swallow those words. Taming your tongue means teaching it to be still.
#5 – Replace negative with positive – After you learn to swallow hurtful words, the next step is to replace them with words of life. (Proverbs 18: 21) Some words tear down; others build up. Learning to use words for good, however, is tougher than it sounds. After all, when you want to complain, the idea of verbalizing PRAISES seems laughable. When you want to criticize, saying words of love seems impossible. On the other side of obedience in this area, though, lies peace and contentment and joy. Your counter-intuitive words will change more than the people around you. They will change you!
One last thing – on Sunday I used an illustration that came from Paul Tripp. Here is that illustration in its entirety along with a few other thoughts on the power of words.