Friday, January 20, 2012
The Power of Words
For many of us, since the early days of our youth, especially around the time we started Elementary or Grade school, we were taught that words could not hurt us. In fact most, if not all, of us can recite the nursery rhyme that helped to cement this point into our impressionable minds;
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
We were taught this idea, usually in response to the often cruel and malicious attacks levied by children towards one another. It was an effort to help the victims of this cruelty keep from continuing to wallow in the hurt they were already experiencing.
And in fact they are correct… to a point. The weight of words carries very little force at all. In fact, the substance of words struggles to blow out candles on birthdays and aroma therapy candles around bathtubs. In an absolute sense, words do not have the physical capabilities or characteristics to do us any physical harm. They certainly do not possess the strength or destructive force to kill us.
However, that being said, words are certainly a powerful force in the universe and arguably the most powerful natural force found in humanity. The power of words is not found in their physical characteristics, but in their ability to influence humanity to act! Words are so powerful, they can inspire us either positively or negatively.
I am not alone in my assertions on the power of words. Solomon shares this nugget of wisdom with us in Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”. Note that both death and life, negative and positive outcomes, can be influenced by the words we speak. With the words that we share we have the ability to build up or tear down, to inspire or to denigrate, to motivate or to discourage. The choice is ours.
This is about more than being an optimist or a pessimist, a cup half full or a cup half empty person. Our words have the power to reshape the lives of those we speak them to, either for better or for worse. It’s fine if we choose to be pessimistic with our own lives, but when we allow that pessimism to influence others through the words we speak into their lives, we become a destructive and in the extreme a deadly force.
How many dreams, ambitions and hopes have been summarily executed by the firing squad of discouraging, depressing and damnable words? What about the confidence, esteem and sense of worth that were ruthlessly assassinated by demeaning, dispiriting and disheartening words. Our communities, families and churches are littered with corpses that have been laid waste by words.
Relationships have been slaughtered because of what someone said, or what someone said someone said. Marriages massacred by the hateful words shared in moments of anger, anguish and anxiety. Pastors murdered by their congregations because of the divisive words of the divisive in their midst. Yes, I’m afraid Solomon was true in his assertion that both death and life are in the power of the tongue. But, why is this? Why are words so often destructive? Why does Solomon say Death and then Life are in the power of the tongue? Why death first? Is there any significance to the presumptive order? I believe there is.
The New Testament writer James, perhaps more than any other biblical author speaks to the nature of words and their motivation. In the 3rd chapter of his epistle, James describes the tongue of humanity as a fire, a world of iniquity, a source of defilement for the body, unruly, untamable member of our bodies and filled with poison. (James 3:5, 6, 8) Think about it this way, our tongue… the words we choose to express… often come from undisciplined, uncensored and unforgiving mouths. James calls it unbridled tongues in 1:26.
In other words, we often speak out of our frustration, disappointment or anger and say destructive things. Once those words have left the barn of our mouths, they can never be corralled. As I like to say, that shipped has sailed! How many fights have been started because someone got angry or frustrated and blurted out something unfiltered? And no we cannot blame it on Tourette’s syndrome either… at least most of us don’t have that excuse. How many wars fought because of some despot leader’s uncontrollable rage superseded their better judgment?
Our kids do something that frustrates or angers us and before we could think, those damnable and destructive words raced from our lips and into the ears. Too late to take them back now. Our spouse, whether intentionally or unintentionally, depresses our fire ignition button and all hades breaks forth from our mouth. Who would have thought such words could be heralded towards the same one we said we would love, cherish, honor, etc., etc., etc.
That’s how it happens and all too often, that’s how it happens FIRST! The negativity and destructive force of our tongue is unleashed upon the world, leaving in its wake a trail of lives, confidence, esteem, relationships, etc. all slain by its hand.
But before we are filled with despair, alas there is hope. Not only do we find that death is in the power of the tongue, so also is life! And though death may have come first, we do not end with death, rather we end with Life! I love this about the power of words. Though death may have been brought to us in the beginning by words, it can be overcome with words and result in life…and that more abundantly! (John 10:10)
If we were to look at the intent of words, they were never intended to destroy, they were always intended to build and create. In the beginning God used His words to create. (Genesis 1, 2) The serpent then came and used words to bring about destruction and death. (Genesis 3) You will also note that God declared that what he created with His word was good.
But God always gets the last word… if we allow Him. Though the serpent will bruise the heal of God’s redeemer… referencing the crucifixion of Christ… His redeemer will bruise the head of the serpent… referencing the eternal judgment and damnation of Satan. (Genesis 3:15) God gets the last word, not Satan… good, not evil if we let Him. And take special note of this fact as well, the redeemer of God was also brought to life by God’s word (John 1:1 – 14). Want to talk about the power of words!
There is a valuable lesson to be learned from this. Whenever words are used destructively, we know they are derived from an evil source. Conversely, whenever words are used constructively, we know they come from a heavenly source. This holds true even when we are the ones sharing the words. If we allow ourselves to get worked up and speak negative and destructively, we are allowing ourselves to be manipulated by ungodly influences. Contrast that with speaking positively or from God’s word in the face of frustration. Exercising discretion and control of our tongue speaks to the power of God through His Holy Spirit at work in our lives. (Acts 1:8)
God framed the world with the creative and life giving power of words and in a sense so can we. Imagine what our children will become if every word spoken into their impressionable lives were life giving? Or how our marriages would be if all we had to say to one another inspired life and creativity. What if in our churches we consumed ourselves with learning and expressing a vocabulary replete with virtue, healing, love, compassion, sensitivity, forgiveness, empowerment, faithfulness, loyalty, dedication and the like.
Yes, death and life are in the power of the tongue, but I choose to speak words that bring forth life. This is a power that we all have and can readily exercise.
There is one other element to the power of words that I would like to touch on for just a bit and that is the power to influence the thoughts and actions of others. This is, in part at least, one of the reasons I believe I was called into the Pastorate. Every week I am given an opportunity to speak words that have the potential to influence the thoughts and behaviors of those that choose to listen. Whether I’m speaking from a pulpit or in personal advising meetings, the ability to influence is the same.
This is a powerful position of influence that I and others of this calling have been granted and one that I do not take lightly. Every time I step behind that sacred desk of the pulpit I am reminded that every word that proceeds from my mouth can have a life changing or profound influence upon someone’s life. Decisions and choices related to life and relationships are often shaped, in part at least, by the words that I have been inspired to share. What a humbling and intimidating position to be in. Selah.
While it can be unsettling at times, I relish the challenge of being led and finding the perfect words to express that will help move people closer to God and each other. I believe there is a combination of words, if expressed properly and at the right time that can move anyone under any circumstances in the right direction. We do not always find that right combination of words, but I do believe they nevertheless exist.
This, I believe, is the power of words. The ability to find the right combination of vowels and consonants that will influence the thoughts, decisions and actions of humanity. This power can be used to draw people into battles or guide them towards reconciliation. This is the power of the pulpit. The use of God inspired words to draw people towards reconciliation with Him and each other.
Some with this gift of oratory will undoubtedly use it for less than honorable purposes. However, for me, I have determined to use this gift to the best of my ability to inspire those that read and listen to my words to achieve their created best. To empower them in thought and deed to live up to the noble calling of their creator. To eradicate and bring about the demise of destructive negativity, with the creative and life giving breath whose genesis is found in the heavens.
The power of words? That you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.