“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” Proverbs 18:21 MSG
What were the first words out of your mouth when you woke up this morning? Whether they were spoken aloud to someone or simply words that went through your mind, your words are important. They have the power to give life or destroy, to encourage and strengthen or to demoralize and cause distress.
Last Thursday, we completed the study of Choosing Gratitude: Your Journey to Joy, by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. As I was praying this week about where to go from here, one word came to mind. Negativity. Conquering this habit in both our thinking and our speaking is an essential for a lifestyle of gratitude. And why is this so important? Negativity is like adding poison to your mind and thinking you’ll be okay. It will lead to spiritual decay and even death.
We live in a world where negativity is common place. Add the challenges of life with chronic illness, and our lives can easily be the perfect soil for seeds of negativity to take root and start growing. Did you wake up with pain this morning? After a poor night’s sleep? With anxious thoughts about the future? Our initial thoughts and words each day have the power to set a pattern for how our day will go. If we allow circumstances and emotions to determine how we begin our day, it starts us off in a direction that will rob us of thankfulness and vitality.
The epistle of James, believed to be written by a half-brother of Jesus, has much oneto teach us about the importance of taming our tongues – and the total impossibility of doing this in our human strength.
“For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.” James 3:2-6*
The tongue is like a rudder that determines the direction of our lives. An out-of-control tongue will lead to a life of unrighteousness and constantly falling short of the will of God. Yet in the next two verses James says, “For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” So what can we do to turn this area of our lives around?
Jesus said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
So changing the words that come out of our mouths begins with a changed heart. That is a work of the Holy Spirit, but also a process we have a part in.
- Begin with prayer. Dedicate your heart, mind and tongue to the Lord daily. Pray specifically for a changed heart that reflects the heart of God. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me… Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” Psalms 51:10, 12
- Make a commitment to be a doer of the Word. Agree that you will “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.” Ephesians 4:29 The Greek translated corrupt or corrupting (depending on what translation you’re using) means “to produce rot or decay.” If the words in your mind will have this effect in your life, make a commitment to not give them utterance.
- Rely on God’s strength to follow through on this commitment. Remember, “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Philippians 2:13 Stand on God’s promise in Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
- Begin each new day by dedicating your heart and tongue to the Lord. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
- Put your heart in tune with God’s Spirit by reading your Bible daily. When God speaks to you through a particular verse, slow down and pay attention. Memorize and meditate on the verse. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- Accept responsibility for every word you speak. Jesus said, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37
- Give thanks to the Lord for the good work He is doing in you in this area. Remember, we are still in process, but God will finish what He has started in our lives . “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Philippians 1:6
Let’s keep moving forward in this journey to a consistent attitude of gratitude. Don’t allow yourself to be derailed by poisonous words that lead to spiritual rot and decay. Ask God to do the needed work in you to tame your tongue, to rid it of words that are negative and don’t line up with His ways and His Word. God wants to change our hearts in this area. Let Him do the needed work to make us willing and able to bring this area of our lives under His Lordship.
*All verses in ESV unless otherwise noted