This month I had the privilege of speaking at my church here in Bangkok, which coincidentally has is the same name as my home church is California, New Song. It’s a small bilingual church (English and Thai) and is quite unique from any other church in Bangkok with an eclectic mix of Thai university students, western international school teachers, young professionals, refugees/asylum seekers, Thai and foreign families, and NGO workers. It was such a treat, because although I get the opportunity to teach at NightLight morning chapels pretty regularly, it was really fun to be able to teach in English again (though working with a translator comes with its own challenges!) We were finishing up a series on the power of words and I got to finish it up. So, in preparation, the whole month leading up I really challenged myself to focus only words to see what God would teach me through it. Today, I want to share with you what I learned, so below is a short written adaptation of what I taught on Sunday:
When I was asked to teach on the topic power of words,I got a little nervous. I thought, I don’t know if I am qualified to teach about words, because that is an area that I really struggle with. I know these things about myself: I gossip, I say things that are not nice, I struggle with remembering to encourage other people. I have been known to use a bad word now and again.
I mean, I’m not constantly yelling mean things at people, but I wouldn’t say nice words are a strong quality of mine. I guess its just one of those things that I had stopped being that intentional about. Which is sad, because the Bible is pretty clear about how powerful our words are.
The writer of proverbs tells us that our words have the power to destroy and the power to build up (Proverbs 12:6). And that, “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
So when something is said to have the power to give life give death, I would say that is a pretty serious thing to think about. So I figured in preparation for teaching about this, I would do a little activity. First, I began to take inventory. At night I would think about my day, specifically about the words that were coming out of my mouth. And it was really challenging.The first challenge was trying to remember my day, the second challenge was facing the reality that I was not using my words well.
Everyday we have the power to build people up with our words, to speak life into people. And mostly, I let that opportunity pass by. It wasn’t just that I was saying mean things to people, which I was doing a little of if I’m honest. But I wasn’t really being intentional about saying nice things to people either.
To help us understand better the power of our words, I want us to read James 3:
James 3 – New International Version (NIV) Taming the Tongue
1 Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. 2 We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.
3 When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6 The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
7 All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. 11 Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.
Words are powerful, just like a bit in the mouth can move a large animal or a small rudder has the power to steer a large ship, our words are that powerful.
Anyone in this room has the power to say something to devastate someone. We have that kind of power.
Think about it. Think about some words someone has said to you that just wrecked you.I can remember discouraging things said to me from when I was a kid. Even things that people say that you know aren’t true, and it still gets inside you. What comes out of our mouth is so powerful, so many times, we forget.
Verse 5 -Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.
I grew up in Southern California. And every few years we have these huge wildfires that burn acres and acres of land and burn down hundreds of homes. It’s very dry in California, and there is never enough rain. Like the opposite of Thailand. And we have this thing called the “Santa Ana winds” which are very strong, dry winds that happen a certain time of year. So if a fire starts when the Santa Ana winds are happening, it drives the fires further. The smallest spark can set off a huge fire and destroy thousands of acres of land.
One of the largest wildfires in California history was in 2003. The wildfires were estimated to have burned a total of 800,000 acres and burned down almost 3,000 homes and buildings. When crazy fires like this happen investigators have to find out what started them. And it is hardly ever something like an explosion or anything big like that. It’s usually started by something really small, like a kid playing with matches or someone throwing their cigarette out of their car window. In the case of the 2003 fire, it was a hunter who got lost and decided to start a campfire to see if someone would see it and come find him. But the brush was too dry, and he wasn’t able to contain the fire.
It started with one match… one spark…3,000 homes gone. So really, when we speak, it’s kind of like we are playing with fire, we need to be careful. That is the power we hold with our words.
Verse 6 continues…”The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”
This verse says that our tongue itself is set on fire by hell. Thats intense. Our words so powerful that Satan himself, wants to use this weapon for his purposes. That is how careful we have to be. We have a weapon in our mouth. When we are not intentional about taming our tongue, we can unintentionally be working for the enemy.That’s a really serious thing to think about.
So the question is, how do we tame our tongue? If our words have the power to destroy, they hold equal power to give life. So, how might we utilize this powerful weapon for its greatest potential for God’s Kingdom?
At NightLight we have this group come help every year from a ministry school in California. This team is always a bit different then a lot of the other teams that come visit us because as soon as you meet them, they notice things about you and continually say nice and encouraging things to you. You don’t really want to trust it at first. If you think about it, most of us do not live or work in environments were people are always encouraging you, so when it happens, you almost don’t know how to handle it.
I found out later that this school teaches their students about something called creating a “Culture of Honor.” They make it clear to every student that they have the power to cultivate honor by the words that come out of their mouth. And what happens is honor creates safety and freedom and protects a community.
They teach that When people feel honored, they feel loved, and when they feel love, they feel safe. People and communities thrive in safe environments. So the idea is, if we use our words to honor people, to show people how loved they are, we can change things, unhealthy working environments, unhealthy relationships and so on. Instead of creating environments of fear and mistrust, we can help create environments of love and trust with our words.
So we have to ask ourselves, What in others are we willing to uplift and promote? What if we looked at everyone that way? Even the difficult people? What is we help others believe in themselves by helping them know God believes in them? Look at them how God sees them and tell them? Don’t just see the failures or what they do wrong or their flaws. If we see people and help them see themselves as God would, it can change things.
Not many people know this about me but in college I used to be a part time princess. My sister owned a company that rented out actors who would dress up as a cartoon character and show up at birthday parties to entertain the children. The most popular characters were disney princesses for 4 year old girl birthday parties. So to make extra money, I worked for my sister part time dressing up as a princess. The most popular princess was Ariel from the Little Mermaid. Which was a really weird costume to wear with with shells and the skirt that looked like a fin. You are supposed to look like a mermaid, but you clearly have feet and are walking around. But somehow 4 year olds don’t really pick up on that, because they still believed I was a mermaid.
Truthfully, though, I was not very good at the princess thing. I’m not really an actress and I mostly felt really awkward. To make things worse, part of time I am at the party, I would have to do face painting, and I’m no artist either. They would come up to me and ask “Can you paint a princess?” And I would say, “How about at heart?!…. or a star?!”
Part way into the party though. things would change. Because, honestly, these little girls REALLY believed that I was a disney princess and they treated me like it. They adored me. All the words that game out of their mouth was about how pretty I was and how much they liked my movie and so on, that by the end of the party I almost believed I was actually a princess. I always left feeling so special and confident and beautiful. It was amazing how awkwardness left when it became pretty clear that they actually believed I was a princess.
And so I wonder if that is what it can actually be like with our words. If we said things to people that called people higher, honored them, then maybe things that they didn’t necessarily believe about themselves before they would start to believe and live up to. What if we can change they way they are for the better with our words.
I ended up in ministry because someone told me what they thought I was capable of. He took me aside and said he saw me doing great things for God. It changed the direction of my life.
Our words have so much power.
So then, how do we train our tongue, how do we learn to honor people? Practice!
After I took an inventory of my words I thought through how I could be more intentional with my words. I made a goal that I would everyday, once a day, go out of my way to say something honoring or encouraging to someone. And it was actually really difficult to remember to do that. It’s amazing how self centered most of my day is that being intentional about saying something nice to someone seemed like this difficult. So a few times at the end of my day, I would end up just sending an encouraging message to someone on facebook
But the practice was good, because I find now that I think about it more. I am actually thinking more about the words that are coming out of my mouth, which is progress.
So today if you want to be challenged in the same way, I want to ask you to do something. Think about three people in your life that you have trust with or some kind of influence over. Could be family, people at work, someone sitting in this church, a friend. It doesn’t even have to be someone you particularly like.
The simple challenge is to say something honoring to each of these three people this week.
Be a blessing to them with your words. Really think of a way to speak into their lives, to speak honor into them, find pieces of God’s glory in them and speak it to them out loud. If you can’t say it out loud, write a letter, think through the words, take this opportunity to speak life into someone. You never know who’s day you will be making, or even helping someone make some life changes, or live up to potential.
The women we work with at NightLight, we spend a lot of time speaking God’s truth to them, telling them that they are valuable daughters of God, and not a commodity to be bought. We speak value over them until they feel valuable. I get to see these women’s lives change as they get soaked in truth.
This is the power we have, use your words wisely!