No One Can Tame the Tongue

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As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. I knew better than to allow such nastiness and negativity to take over, yet I seemed powerless to stop it. The hurtful words flew like an arrow, straight and true, piercing the person I love most in this world. And in that instant, a battle broke out as we hurled both blame and insults like sworn enemies instead of treating one another as husband and wife.

When two people—no matter how much they love one another—are tired and stressed, there are bound to be arguments. With both of us working full-time and doing deputation, “tired and stressed” wouldn’t be a stretch. Still, the disagreement wouldn’t have erupted like it did if I had kept my mouth shut. I should have. I had just finished writing a beautiful devotion about love and how I planned to incorporate it into my life this year. As the negativity rolled about in my head, I tried to replace it with the truth: Love is kind. It isn’t easily provoked. But despite my attempts to hold my tongue, I spewed my cruel words like a dragon breathes fire. What is wrong with me?

According to the Bible, the answer to that question is this: the same thing that’s wrong with everyone else. In continuing our series on the Negatives in the Bible, I want to move on to the phrase “no one.” Let’s begin with this:

But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.
— James 3:8

Wow! That’s quite a statement, isn’t it? No one can tame the tongue. Not you. Not me. Not the “saintliest” of saints or the sweetest old lady at church. No one! Why? Because the tongue is unruly. It doesn’t take instruction. It does what it wants and says what it feels like saying. Or does it?  Yes and no.

As I read this morning’s verse, I was heartbroken. “Great! So you’re telling me no matter how hard I try to watch my words, it’s impossible. Good to know! (Insert sarcasm.)” Seriously, though, I found this news discouraging. Over the past decade as a writer, speaker, and Bible teacher, I’ve instructed many to guard their tongue and pay attention to their words. Could it be I’ve been teaching it wrong all along? Again, the answer is, yes and no.

The tongue cannot be tamed. The Bible makes that clear. However, the heart can, and what’s in the heart comes flowing out of the mouth.

A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.
— Luke 6:45

Rewind to the, ahem, discussion I had with Jason a few days ago. The thoughts were rolling around in my head long before I said them, which means the bitterness and resentment had already poisoned my heart. It was only a matter of time before they spewed from my lips. The problem, then, wasn’t my tongue. It was my heart. I had allowed past hurts and perceived injustices to eat away at me until I was harboring “evil treasure.” And once my heart was full to overflowing, all that evil treasure came pouring out, and it was ugly!

So, how do we keep this from happening? How do ensure our heart is full of good treasure? The first thing we must do is spend time with God. Read and meditate on His Word. Allow it to become a part of our lives, not just a few words we read in the morning before starting our day. No, we must allow it to sink in, all the way to the heart. Only then will it change us.

We also need to stay in constant communication with God. It’s challenging to think evil thoughts and nurse our hurts when we’re talking with the Lord. I know we’re all busy, and it seems like it’s too time-consuming to stop and pray, but I’m not talking about ceasing from our daily tasks. We can pray while we work. Use the drive time or the time waiting in the grocery line. Steal away the minutes we use in frivolous activities like social media. We can always find time to pray, and it will do us a world of good.

While we’re at it, let’s praise and worship God. Again, it’s nearly impossible for negativity to find a hold when our hearts are focused on how good God is and how much we’ve been blessed. Praise focuses our hearts on the positive in life and even has a way of making the bad look good.

Lastly, we need to pay attention to what comes in through our eyes and ears. The music we listen to, shows we watch, and people we hang around with impact our hearts. We must guard against allowing garbage into our lives because when garbage goes in, garbage comes out, and its favorite exit is the tongue!

Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
— Proverbs 4:23

What Are You Saying?

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I have a confession to make—I talk to myself. Yes, it’s true. I regularly carry on conversations with myself. Most of the time, the discussions take place inside my head, but occasionally, the words spill out of my mouth. I guess it’s a good thing the only one to witness my crazy behavior is Barnabas.

I have a feeling, though, I’m not the only one talking to herself. Am I right? We all tend to run ideas around in our head and talk them through with ourselves. And that’s not a bad thing as long as the self-talk is positive.

Unfortunately, most of what I have to say to myself and about myself is negative. I complain about things. I berate myself for making a mistake or forgetting an important task. I bemoan my lack of discipline and criticize my valiant efforts.  I am my own worst enemy, and I often forget the power of words.

In Joel 3, the Scriptures describe a battle and a day of judgment. God is calling out all of those who have stood against Israel down through the ages and is issuing a challenge to them. He urges them to prepare for war, and notice what He says in verse 10:

Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong.
— Joel 3:10

The first half of the verse seems logical. If you’re preparing for war, one of the most important things you need to do is ready your weapons. That’s just common sense. But note the latter half of the verse: “Let the weak say, I am strong.” That, my friends, is positive self-talk, and God Himself recommended the armies use this tactic before going to war. For them, it would do little good because they were acting against God instead of with Him, but for us, this tactic could change our lives.

I’m not talking about being vain or arrogant. No, I’m suggesting we speak the truth as God sees it rather than our warped perception of life. Most days, I do well to get by physically, and I don’t praise myself for my strength because I don’t see strength. I see weakness. I feel pain. And I comment on these things. But I have forgotten that Philippians 4:13 tells me, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. With Christ working in and through me, I am strong.

Let the weak say, “I am strong.”

Let the ugly say, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Let the confused say, “The Lord directs my steps.”

Let the weary say, “The Lord is my refuge and my strength.”

Let the anxious say, “My times are in God’s hands.”

How would our lives change if we regularly spoke positive truths into our hearts and minds instead of allowing ourselves to meditate on and talk about all that’s wrong with the world? I dare say we would be happier, healthier, and more peaceful.

God’s battle plan for these soldiers involved preparing their weapons and preparing their hearts and minds for battle by strengthening their resolve with words. I wonder if that’s why military commanders often give motivational speeches before setting off to war. It makes sense. Friends, every day for the Christian is a battle. We are in a war against Satan, the powers of this world, and our flesh. God has provided us with our armor and weapons (Ephesians 6), and He’s even given us the guidebook for our positive self-talk. The Bible holds all the truth we will ever need.

I must stop putting myself down. I’m defeating myself in the battle before the enemy even has the chance to take a swing at me. With my negative thoughts and conversations, I’m setting myself up for failure and defeat. It’s time for me to remember that I hold the power of life and death, and that power resides in my tongue. May I use it wisely!

Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
— Proverbs 18:21

Worse Than a Four-Letter Word - A Repost

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Why do they call cuss words four-letter words? I mean, not all cuss words are four-letter words. A lot of them, sure, but not all. Besides a lot of good words in the English language are four-letter words. For example, "good" is a four-letter word, as is "four" and "word." Am I the only one baffled by this terminology?

I guess it doesn't matter right now though because the word I want to discuss is a three-letter word. But be warned! This three-letter word is dangerous. It can wreak havoc in our lives. And unfortunately, it's used too frequently in the nasty now and now. Okay, I'm about to tell you what it is, but before I do, you may want to plug your child's ears (or perhaps the dog's). I don't want to be a bad influence.

Ready? The word is "but." Yep, that's it. It looks innocent enough. Just a common little conjunction. What harm could it possibly do? Read the following examples and see if you can figure it out:

I know smoking is bad for me, but it makes me feel better, at least temporarily.

I know I shouldn't eat this piece of chocolate cake, but I've had a hard day.

I know this isn't the best decision, but I'm just tired of trying to figure it out.

I know God's promises are true, but I don't see Him working in this situation.

I know I have a loving wife at home, but my secretary understands me.

I know I should read my Bible more, but I don't have the time.

Whether the situation is big or small, the word "but" seems to make our excuses permissible. We know what's right, but we still do what's wrong. And for some reason, we act like it's okay because we know better. How messed up is that? It's not better; it's worse. The Bible says so.

Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.
— James 4:17

It doesn't get any clearer. If we know to do right, and we don't do it, we're sinning against God. No "ifs", "ands", and especially no "buts."

The Lord brought this to my attention a few weeks ago, and I've not been able to shake the lesson. Every time I catch myself using the word "but," I force myself to go back and examine the sentence. More times than not, I've found that I use the word to justify my fleshly desires. Then I have to seek forgiveness and proceed with my day, doing those things I should do and not the things I shouldn't. It's convicting; there's no doubt about it. But at the same time, I feel like a new person. I feel like I have more control over my thoughts and attitudes. Why? Because I'm not excusing them anymore. I'm dealing with them appropriately. It's refreshing.

Yes, we must watch out for those four-letter words, but some of those three-letter varieties will get us in just as much trouble. Remember the old children's song, "Oh be careful, little mouth, what you say"? Might it be time for us to practice what we preach?

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to walk (another four-letter word) my dog. I would say I'm looking forward to it, but. . .well, never mind.


I apologize for not having the audio to today’s post. It seems my head cold has shifted to my chest, and my voice is not cooperating today. Lord willing, it will clear up by tomorrow, and I’ll have audio for you again. Thanks for understanding!