I have always felt comforted during thunderstorms. Having grown up in Iowa, strong thunderstorms are a given every summer. When my daughters were small children and frightened by the loud clap of thunder, I would say to them, “That’s just God letting us know he is powerful and watching over us.”
God spoke and stirred up a storm… So, they cried out to the Lord in their distress, and God brought them out safe from their desperate circumstances. God quieted the storm to a whisper; the sea’s waves were hushed. (Psalm 107:25, 29-30, CEB)
God’s very voice is the source of all power. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth – with words. The Lord Almighty spoke the entire world into existence. God’s words are generative, that is, the speech of God creates and gives life. When God’s voice goes forth, things happen:
God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light… (Genesis 1:3, NIV)
God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water….” And it was so. (Genesis 1:6-7, NIV)
God said, “Let the waters under the sky come together into one place so that the dry land can appear.” And that is what happened. (Genesis 1:9, CEB)
God said, “Let the earth produce plants—some to make grain for seeds and others to make fruits with seeds in them. Every seed will produce more of its own kind of plant.” And it happened. (Genesis 1:11, NCV)
God said, “Let lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. Let them be signs to mark the seasons, days, and years. Let these lights in the sky shine down on the earth.” And that is what happened. (Genesis 1:14-15, NLT)
God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:24, NIV)
God creates and gives through speech. Yes, the mechanism of God’s provision for us is words. This means language is vitally important. The Lord creates, gives, sustains, and blesses creation through language – with humans as the only creatures formed in the image and likeness of God.
God said, “Now we will make humans, and they will be like us. (Genesis 1:26, CEV)
People, then, are capable of speech. Even more, with our ability of language, we also have the capacity to form generative words. We have the God-given means to give life with our speech.
I believe we all intuitively know this is true. As we reminisce the history of our lives, we can observe events where another’s words impacted us so significantly that it was as if they gave us the gift of life. We never forget those words. We also have had times when another’s words cut us emotionally and it felt as if a part of us died. We tend to remember those as well, and they hold us back in our own life-giving speech to ourselves and others.
“The godless destroy their neighbors by their words, but the righteous are saved by their knowledge.” (Proverbs 11:9, CEB)
We must listen to the voice of the Lord. God’s speech does not disappoint or destroy. God’s Word is eternal life. The better we listen to God, the better we can have the generative power of words to provide life for others. It only takes a cursory look at Holy Scripture to realize that words are powerful and are to be used with great care. We are all to continually develop the craft of wordsmithing so that we might ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name as well as bless the world.
“As a tree gives fruit, healing words give life, but dishonest words crush the spirit.” (Proverbs 15:4, NCV)
The language we use—spoken and written words, sign language, facial expressions, bodily gestures, singing—helps us understand ourselves and lets us create relationships with others. Our words give us the power to describe our past, define our present, and dream of our future.
“Words from wise people are like water bubbling up from a deep well—the well of wisdom.” (Proverbs 18:4, ERV)
“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”
We need to speak mindfully, paying careful attention to give people words of encouragement and compassion. We must discipline ourselves to use our words in a way that conveys respect, gentleness, and humility.
We adults may balk at the notion that words are anything more than a creative expression. Yet, as I believe is typical with most things, children are closer to the kingdom of God. They effortlessly make connections between words and reality whereas us older folks barely have an idea this even occurs. My grandson once remarked when I was talking to him about being cautious at the playground, “How am I supposed to meet new people if I can’t talk to strangers?”
The voice of the Lord exhibits a mighty God who has the power to create, recreate, and renew with but a word. As people in God’s likeness, our words are powerful tools to be used with wisdom and care. Our speech allows us to praise God and encourage one another. Even more, the use of language enables us to speak into existence new realities for ourselves and others. May those words bring forth hope and blessing to a world in need of healing.
In 1899 four newspaper reporters in Denver, Colorado almost succeeded in tearing down the Great Wall of China with their words. The reporters from four different newspapers were having drinks together at a local bar. The men had been sent out to dig up any kind of story for the Sunday editions, since there was not much happening in the news cycle. After bantering around some ideas for going after stories, one of them proposed that he was going to make up a story. With more beer drinking, they began hatching a story together that would be a big whopper. They would write about China. It was on the other side of the world. No one would know the story was a phony. Nobody would verify the source.
This is the story they came up with, in order to sell newspapers: “Group of American engineers are bidding on a job to demolish the Great Wall. Chinese are opening their borders to international trade and goodwill.” The Denver newspapers carried the fake story. But it did not end there. Eastern newspapers like the New York Times picked up the story that China was opening up to the West by tearing down the Great Wall. People took the story seriously to the point that the Chinese found out about it. There were extreme patriotic groups within China that were suspicious of Western influence to begin with, and they ended up slaughtering hundreds of foreign missionaries. Within two months of the story, 12,000 troops from six Western nations joined forces, invaded China with the purpose of protecting their own countrymen. All the bloodshed that followed was originally sparked by a journalistic hoax invented in a bar in Denver by four men, and became the international crisis known as the Boxer Rebellion.
The tongue is so powerful that it determines the direction of a person’s life (James 3:3-5a).
The horse is a strong animal; yet, even an eleven year old girl who knows what she is doing with a bridle and a bit can make the horse do whatever she wants him to do. The power of the tongue is also like a large ship that is completely controlled in its direction by a very small piece of the ship, the rudder.
Our words might seem small and insignificant, but they have incredible power to determine the course and destiny of human lives. A rider who does not know how to handle a horse is in trouble. An undisciplined pilot of a ship who is not careful puts the passengers at risk of a shipwreck. Likewise, the loose undisciplined tongue is on a one way course of destruction.
The tongue is so powerful that it can destroy a person and those around him/her (James 3:5b-6).
Just like fire, our words have an awesome potential for harm. The Chicago fire of 1871 killed 250 people and destroyed 17,000 buildings. It was all started by a cow kicking over a lantern in Mrs. O’Leary’s barn. The Yellowstone National Park fire of 1988 torched 783,000 acres and took 13,000 firefighters at a cost of $120 million to contain. It was all started by flash of lightning.
The tongue has the same capacity for destruction. Those who misuse it are guilty of negligent spiritual arson. We take our God-given power of speech for granted when we allow stray words to fly off the tongue. The power of the tongue destroys when it resorts to gossip (saying something behind somebody’s back that you would not dare say to their face); flattery (saying something to someone’s face that you would never say behind their back); negative criticism; sarcastic humor; boasting; and, a whole host of other sins of the tongue that all have as their end game the destruction of people’s lives.
We are never to take our words for granted in the church. They have the power of speaking life and adding immense value to others’ lives. Conversely, words have the ability to destroy both the speaker and the hearers. The answer is not to keep our mouths shut, but to use the tongue as it is intended by God to be used:
· “The tongue of the wise brings healing” (Proverbs 12:18).
· “The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life” (Proverbs 15:4).
· “My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long” (Psalm 71:24).
· “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise” (Psalm 51:15).
· “Do not repay evil for evil… every tongue will confess to God” (Romans 12:17, 14:11).
May the love and grace of Jesus direct your every word and guide your tongue so that the church is edified, the world blessed, and the lost are found.