Here is a big-old-fat-hairy lie: Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me. Many of you reading today have long forgotten some bruising and beatings from your childhood years. Most of us men grew up fighting our peers on one level or another when we were boys. I was a short little fellow, and often found myself having to defend off presumptuous bullies who painted me as an easy mark. I won a few fights and lost a few, but I would be hard pressed to remember more than a handful of my opponents’ names. Physical bruising heals and life moves on. When it comes to a verbal onslaught, however, we often find the results lingering. Most of us can offer times and dates, names and contexts, even descriptions of facial expressions or clothing worn on past days when we were beaten down with someone’s words. I recall a counseling session many years ago with a woman who was recounting to me some debasing speech she received from her mother when she was a child. The sad words coming from her mouth were from a woman in her late fifties…but the voice behind those words were those of a deeply hurt ten year old girl. The verbal assault was decades past, but the wounds were as fresh as ever.
“Sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness…Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” – Proverbs 16:21, 24, 32
No, sticks and stones are not the only weapons that leave scars; words cut much more deeply. Solomon tells us much about speech in Proverbs 16. I do a whole lot of communicating due to my vocation, so anytime Scripture speaks of “the tongue” my alertness is piqued. An average sermon that I preach is somewhere between 8,000 and 10,000 words. I write a few blogs a week which are usually around 1,000 words. Additionally I exchange some 15-20 emails a day where my words need to be chosen carefully. Like you, I engage in multiple daily conversations where there is always the potential for the mouth to be moving without Holy Spirit guarding. I’m raising two children who are going to be shaped for good (or the opposite) by what I say to them, and how it is said. We may need to be reminded that Scripture warns us that, the more we speak, the more likely it is that we are going to sin (Ecclesiastes 5:3). We are also counseled to keep our words to a minimum in light of the fact that God is observing our patterns of speech (Ecclesiastes 5:2). In the New Testament, James reminds us of the combustibility of the human tongue, and how it can set into motion some pretty significant destruction. Go ahead and read the entire 3rd chapter of the book of James for shock factor. Recalling all of this as I write is motivating me to consider a vow of silence for the rest of the day!
On a positive note, however, let us remember some encouraging things: Solomon tells us in Proverbs 16 that we can use our mouths to persuade people for good. If we can discipline ourselves to proactively speak edification then we are making good use of communication. Your mouth was made for praise of God, truth-sharing, and edification of your fellow human beings. Gracious words are nourishing, refreshing, and delightful. Kind speech stands out in HiDef among a generation of venom-spitters. Our politicians have taken off the gloves and are pounding it out on the television each and every night now. Heated speech is found in every corner of society these days – even among the people who are followers of the One who “sent His word and healed them” (Psalm 107:20). Instead of the honeycomb of sweetness, we are causing some to suspect that we may have had a transfusion with a lemon.
It doesn’t have to be that way with you or me today. Start in the family today and throw a blanket of calm on your tone. Round off your inflection, and take your volume down a notch or two. Look for something affirming to say to those in your home. For every “Please…” that you speak, make sure it is married to a “Thank you…” Compliment your wife on how she looks today whether she’s a supermodel or a size 28. Encourage your husband by appreciating his efforts on behalf your family – many men have given up on excellence in our day, so encourage your man that he is (or can be) a winner. Remind your children how grateful you are that God gave them to you. Write your teenagers a note to simply communicate to them that God has some great plans for their lives, and then back that affirmation with prayers to God to make it a reality. Call your parents and let them know you appreciate their sacrifice on your behalf – your mom and dad won’t be around forever. Your former opponent may need you to stretch your soul a bit, and wave the white flag in surrender so that the war ceases. They are used to your abrasiveness and they usually match it with some of their own. Instead of pelting them today with verbal daggers, lay some cottony-soft communication at their feet. Remember, Jesus called Judas His friend when the traitor had come to deliver Him over in the garden. Douse the fire of your enemy’s aggression with some flame-quenching kindness. Be and architect with your words, not a demolition specialist.
I’m going to start the process right now: I thank God for you. He is so good to let me have an opportunity to pour some influence into your life. You could be reading a thousand other blogs at the moment but you’ve chosen to stop here today. May God enrich your faith, encourage your spirit, bless your endeavors and speak to a generation of people with your own words of care. You’re worth my best, and if I can spread a little fertilizer on the garden of your life, then I have been blessed indeed. One thousand and twenty-four words today in this blog. Hope I practiced what I preached.
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