We all stumble in many ways. James 3:2 NIV
Maybe I need to go back to school with my grandson, who will be starting kindergarten this fall. I seem to not be able to tell the difference between the “Save draft” button and the “publish” button on my blog.
So, again, I extend my apologies if you’ve received a draft version of this post. One mistaken click has had a cascade of regrettable effects: chasing down and deleting the lamentable words on various social media sites, answering emails from mystified readers, and rushing to finish today when I’d planned to post tomorrow.
I am so thankful that the unplanned release of a few words on this blog are “merely” embarrassing (more like slap-my-forehead-and-groan “not again” humiliating) to me and not hurtful to anyone else. Since the first time I read Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, I have found hope in Anne’s rhetorical question.
Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet? –Anne of Green Gables
I am waiting for a clean and fresh new day–literally. Smoke from lightning-sparked wildfires in northern Canada has been pouring into the Midwest, making the skies hazy with suspended particulates. Doctors have warned that those with breathing problems may be affected and urged them to take precautions.
This hazy photo was taken at 6:30pm, over two hours before sunset. This is the smoke from forest fires hundreds of miles away, not twilight or fog.
Our words can be like sparks that lead to fires. They have consequences at the source of the blaze and downwind. James knew just how powerful our tongue can be.
A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke . . . James 3:5,6 MSG
In a post I read yesterday, Lysa TerKeurst reminded me of the verse later in James.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. James 3:9 NIV
The question she posed to her kids applies to us all. Before I speak, I need to ask myself:
Are my words true?
Are my words kind?
Are they necessary?
If my answers to these questions were being graded, I’m afraid there are days where I’m not working at an age-appropriate level. I should be back in kindergarten. I’ve listened poorly, spoken quickly, and chosen my words haphazardly. I’m not playing nicely with others.
I need to apologize and (try to) clear away the smoke.
Perhaps you would like to join me in this prayer:
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 NIV
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As I write this afternoon, the wind has switched directions, and bits of blue sky are peeking out from grey, splotchy clouds. There’s hope and and a chance for healing. Lungs will breath easier, and hearts will be opening as the smoke clears.
I’ll try to watch my words (spoken and written) and where I click.
Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!
Keep me from stupid sins, Psalm 19:12 MSG
I stood in the plumbing aisle of the hardware store, trying to decide which kitchen faucet to buy:
chrome or stainless steel finish?
sprayer in the main faucet or separate?
longer warranty or lower cost?
As I debated, I noticed the words on a faucet box that transported me from the plumbing aisle to my high school Spanish class:
“escutcheon plate optional.”
I was having trouble remembering a new set of Spanish vocabulary words, one of them escuchar, which means “to listen.” I found a way to associate a word I knew with the Spanish verb that was new.
Escuchan means “they listen” in Spanish, which reminded me of the English word “escutcheon” (an ornamental or protective plate around a keyhole, drawer pull, light switch, or faucet). So I imagined someone listening to a conversation behind a closed door by pressing their ear to the keyhole set in the escutcheon.
While the words “escutcheon” and escuchan are somewhat similar in pronunciation, they come from different Latin roots:
- “escutcheon”–meaning “a shield”
- escuchar–meaning “to listen to, to heed or obey, or to overhear or listen secretly”
It was a complicated way to remember one Spanish verb, but it worked, and I still remember it these many years later.
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For the third week in a row I’ve been thinking about what God has to say about taking care with the words we speak. I’ve studied Bible verses and written two posts: Careful and Fragile Wings: Careful, part 2, but I guess I needed to hear more on the subject.
Last Sunday I was surprised to learn that the text for the sermon was James 3:1-12. Our pastor spoke about the influence of the tongue and how powerful words can be. Wicked words can be like a spark that sets a whole forest on fire. Our tongue can “run wild” and be “full of deadly poison.” Our words have the potential for evil or blessing.
A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything—or destroy it!
James 3:5 MSG
Kind words are balm for our souls. We need to both give and receive kind words.
Too often I find myself going about my day so quickly that I miss opportunities to extend a simple kind word. Perhaps you do the same?
Have you heard the story about the pastor who preached the same sermon Sunday after Sunday? When confronted by a member of the congregation, the pastor explained that he would move onto the next topic when the people started living out the current sermon. Maybe that’s me–hearing the same message repeatedly until I get it.
God keeps leading me–again and again–to pay attention to my words and be careful what I say and what I write. I don’t have to press my ear to the keyhole to hear what He has to say; God’s words have been pretty plain.
But I do need to listen and heed what God is saying. I need to obey.
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.
James 1:22 NIV
Escutcheons may be optional on my kitchen faucet, but listening–followed by obedience–is not. I need to remember Jesus’ words (in Spanish and English).
He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Luke 11:28 NIV
Él contestó: —¡Dichosos más bien quienes escuchan lo que Dios dice, y lo obedecen! Lucas 11:28 Dios Habla Hoy (Spanish)
linking with Jennifer Dukes Lee
linking with Michelle DeRusha
I love it when I see a theme developing–a God prompted theme. Since I posted Careful about taking care with the words we speak to others (and ourselves), I’ve noticed other bloggers and websites have had something to say about the subject, too. Sometimes it wasn’t their main point, just peripheral, but I heard the still, small voice.
I think God is still trying to teach me something. Join me as we look again at the effect our words can have on hearts–hearts as fragile as butterfly wings.
Words matter, and they should edify.
What will you contribute to your world today? Endless-mindless chatter or pontifications or soliloquies or slams against anything or anyone with whom you don’t agree? Or life-giving words that build up and challenge and leave the hearer wanting more?
“Edify” means to instruct or benefit, to uplift. The Latin source words are aedes “a dwelling, temple” and facere “to make.” So when we speak edifying words to others we have the privilege of helping to construct the dwelling, the temple for the Spirit of God in another human being.
Watch your tone or Lessons from a lab
I watched our trainer use positive vocal tone and food rewards. She never once used physical force or harsh words.
Maybe if I spoke words of love more often than complaints and demands, my family and friends might respond differently.
Rose obeyed her trainer. Why?
Because she associated the call to come with good—with pleasure—with reward.
Warning: Fragile Hearts Ahead
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15 NKJV
What if occasional hurtful words become a pattern of humiliation and abuse?
Focus on the Family recently did something out of the ordinary. Due to the huge response to a show on emotional abuse, they aired it again only a few months after the first broadcast. The show’s guest, a licensed clinical social worker and author, Leslie Vernick said
The Bible is quite clear that reckless words pierce like a sword …. God validates the reality of our harsh words on someone’s soul, spirit and body. And I think we as Christians need to validate that, too.
Need to learn more about emotional abuse?
By reading this article series [on the Focus on the Family website], we hope you will help you learn to listen to your friends’, neighbors’, relatives’—or maybe even your own—waspish, hurtful words. And if you are a recipient of this type of domestic violence, first hold yourself in high esteem, re-evaluate your relationships and then ask for help.
Handle With Care
Ann Voskamp at A Holy Experience shares The 1 Thing You Have To Stop Doing If You Ever Want a Harvest and talks about mudslinging and angry words. We need to remember to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Read all the angry and sign up for the culture wars and pump your angry fist and you sign up to take down the very people that Christ took nails for.
Read all the angry and go ahead and sling a bit of mud and you find yourself the one going a bit blind. Been there, done that: You forget how to see people as souls, you forget that you’ve never once talked about a mere person, but always and only about God-fashioned souls so handle with care.
You forget that the person you’re slamming is a person who Jesus loved so passionately for, He busted open His heart and bled for.
In a Facebook conversation about these words from Ann Voskamp, I read of my friend Berny’s desire:
Constraint of pen and mouth . . . and keyboard.
I pray for grace and gracefulness.
I don’t want to harm . . . only bless.
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Photo of dogs and trainer by Heather MacLaren
Photo of cross and shadow by Barb Briggs