Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions
If you’re a fan of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter you may recall the quote from Hogwarts Principal, Professor Albus Dumbledore. He said in one scene from the popular movie, “Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic—capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it”.
How true is that! Words do have so much power that we often don’t realise. Our language does matter. All too often we just forget how much our words affect others until we get a reaction—usually a negative one. I think a lot of us are careless with our language. Words are powerful—they have destroyed nations, words of hatred and violence. But other notable people, like Nelson Mandela, have lifted people up and given hope and inspiration. No doubt about that.
Our verbal language is essential. Verbal language—what comes out of your mouth—does really matter. It’s how people size you up and make their judgement—by hearing what you say. Did you know the words you say have an effect on other people? Of course you did. So why do we still ignore that reality when we open our mouths? It doesn’t matter that you ‘didn’t mean it’ or that you were ‘just joking’. Sometimes, words just hurt. And we who use them have a responsibility to do so with an awareness of the impact they may have. Of course, you can’t completely control other people’s reactions, but you can be aware of how your language affects others.
The average person knows about 20,000 words and uses 2,000 different words a week. Women and men both speak about 16,000 words a day on average. Your words matter. However what matters most is not the number of words you speak but the kind of words you choose and the purpose for which you use them. In the Bible, the Apostle James tells us that although “the tongue is a small part of the body’ it is extremely powerful” (James 3:5). Each day you have great potential: either to destroy or to build with your words. You and I are defined by the words that leave our lips each day.
Words Are Like Arrows
In the ancient times, people believed leprosy was a punishment for slander and spreading malicious gossip. So, the legend goes, you were punished with leprosy—not true of course. Once released, our words can’t be brought back—like an arrow. Once unleashed, it can’t be withdrawn. Sometimes you tell a joke only to find it backfires. Your friend is in no mood for a joke. We can never assume what’s in another person’s mind. Before you open your mouth, make sure you have something good to say.
Words can—and do—destroy a relationship and a family. There is blame and anger that spills over. Joel Osteen says, “Never use your words to describe the situation. Use it to change the situation”. Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless”. In the Old Testament we meet Job who suffered a great disaster—the loss of his family and his belongings. He went through a terrible time. He had a small group of friends who gave him some advice, trying to help him. One of them was a young man named Elihu. He judged Job as a self-righteous man who got what he deserved from God. The suffering was his own fault, in other words.
Elihu judged his friend Job wrongly with his empty words and spoke in a cruel way. We read in Job 35 and 36:
Are you really innocent in the sight of God?
Don’t you honestly believe it pays to obey him?
Don’t turn to evil as a way of escape.”
Elihu says, in fact, that Job is speaking sheer nonsense in the face of a righteous God. How untrue, unkind and damaging. Job was questioning God for his suffering, but Elihu was insulting him with his empty words. False comfort and false words from a so-called friend. How good to read the rest of Job to hear God’s wise words. You see how easy it is to get our words all wrong.
A Word of Advice from the Scriptures
The Bible clearly says we must guard our mouth:
- “Keep what you know to yourself and you will be safe. Talk too much and you are done for” (Proverbs 13:3).
- “Watching what you say can save you a lot of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23). It means think before you speak, and ask God at the start of each new day to guard your tongue—it does take a lot of practice.
- “Kind words are like honey—they cheer you up and make you feel strong” (Proverbs 16:24)
Our words matter to God. Every word you and I say should accomplish something. What are you saying and what effect are your words having on others?
Here is a good practice for living when it comes to what you will say or refrain from saying. We can form an acrostic from the word ‘think’. We should THINK before we speak of another:
- T—Is it True?
- H—Will it Help?
- I—Is it Inspiring?
- N—Is it Necessary?
- K—Is it Kind?
An anonymous saying is, “Silent and listen are spelled with the same letters.”
Have your words put someone else down to the point that you have stifled their self-esteem and confidence? Have you been wounded by words? Try a little patience and ask God to be the divine filter of your words today.