The Discipline That Outranks All Others (And Reaps a Great Reward)
In the 1960s, there was a little doll called "Chatty Cathy." According to the commercial, you could pull the string and never know what she would say next!
No wonder my mother dubbed me Chatty Cathy! The past fifty-plus years have required no small amount of effort on my part to control what flies off my tongue.
James 3:2 says this:
"Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check."
What a great reminder of just how powerful the tongue is. If we desire well-being for our whole self, we need to pay attention to our tongue!
If we unpack this further, we discover that the real challenge may not be our tongues but our hearts.
Luke 6:45 says,
"A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of."
If we want to be physically whole, we need to be careful of what our hearts are full of.
Karen Ehman, author of Keep It Shut- What to say, How to say it and When to Say Nothing at All, says this:
"If we have a mouth problem in actuality, what we really have is a mind and heart issue." She continues, "How I use my words, whether for good or for evil, can often, although not always, be traced back to the quality time I am (or am not) spending with the Lord each day, how intentional I am about investing in my relationship with him, and whether or not I am taking steps to become more like His Son, Jesus Christ."
Ehman is right. Time spent with Him directly influences what is in my heart which directly influences what comes out of my mouth. These things ultimately affect my overall health. For example, I can recall times (whether as a child or as an adult that certainly knows better) when I spoke in anger. I would feel physically ill over hurting someone. Or other times that I would speak untruthfully and feel regret so deep that I was sickened.
It's essential to care for our hearts, but it can be difficult. Fortunately, if we lack confidence in our ability to do so, we can have confidence in the faithfulness of our Father.
Words like these from the Thessalonians 5:23-24 give us hope:
"Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for He who calls you is faithful."
When our deep desire is to tend to the well-being of our hearts, God will make a way.
There are many ways in which we can wrongfully use our tongues:
If we're struggling with what constitutes gossip, let's look at a (paraphrased) list that Ehman created.
Gossip is when:
We share a secret we were asked not to.
We share a secret that even if we weren't explicitly asked not to share, our instincts tell us they would not want others to know.
We share information about someone that has not been verified as true.
We speak about someone in a way that casts them in a negative light.
We subtly suggest something scandalous about someone.
Gossip is not a good use of our tongues.
In so many ways, flattery seems harmless enough, but we usually don't use flattery out of care and concern for the other person. Instead, we flatter because we want to be well thought of. Worse, flattery may tempt us to be less than truthful.
One would think it would be easy to discern when we're lying. And yet, sometimes, it's hard to know.
Do we remain silent because we don't want to hurt someone? And yet, by not being truthful, is it possible we are being even more hurtful?
Can we lie by omission? Are there times when we are silent and don't speak what we believe to be true for fear of rejection or reprisal? Will those around us assume our silence condones the current conversation?
It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we will know when we must speak, and we must be silent. Yet another reason to spend time with God and carefully tend to our hearts.
Fortunately, they are many ways our tongues can be used for good:
Did you know that the word encourage means to literally help someone else be courageous? So who do we know that needs a little courage in something they are facing right now?
Courage to face the illness.
Courage to deal with the rebellious teen.
Courage to ask for the promotion.
Life is hard, and we could all use a little courage. May we be on the lookout for that warrior who needs to know they do not need to be afraid.
Affirmation is different than helping someone be courageous. Affirmation is not flattery, but it is a show of support. Many of us long to hear, "I believe in you." Affirmation is one of the easiest ways to help someone know they are not alone.
I'm awed when I recall that of all the responses Jesus could have made to Pontius Pilate's question, "Who do you say you are?" He said, "I am the truth."
Our words can be used to speak the truth even if our voices shake. We live in a day and age where it can be intimidating to express what we believe is true. We may feel as though we are in the minority. But as Andrew Jackson said, "One man (or woman) with courage makes a majority."
The Holy Spirit gives us discernment when we need to speak the truth. Fortunately, He also tells us HOW we should communicate truth. Scripture calls us to speak the truth in love.
I can't tell you how this verse has helped me navigate challenging conversations many times. When convicted that a particular conversation needs to occur, I ask myself if I'm equipped to speak in love. If I am only bitter, angry, or jealous, I am not ready to speak.
That doesn't mean I may not be struggling with anger, bitterness, or other negative emotions. It means that if a negative feeling is going to dominate the conversation, I need to wait and ask God to do work in me. I need Him to help me love that other individual so the truth (including my negative feelings) can be communicated in love.
There is a deep connection between how we use our tongue and its effects on our overall well-being.
When I employ self-discipline in one area of my life, the benefits tend to leak into other areas of my life:
I tend to be more intentional about my exercise when I'm disciplined about what I eat.
I have more clarity in my productive time when I'm mindful of what I do in my spare time.
I'm more likely to give others the benefit of the doubt when I'm careful to think positive thoughts about a particular person.
The list could go on. But the bottom line is that it is really true ––how we deal with one tiny part of our body (our tongue) can affect our whole being.
We've learned that there is plenty we don't want to use our tongues for––slander, lying, flattery. We just scratched the surface of the harm our tongues can inflict.
But we also only scratched the surface of all the good we can do with our tongues. We can encourage, affirm, and speak truth.
In the interest of cementing what we've learned, let's look at several Scripture that reminds us of all the ways our tongues affect our lives and those around us.
"A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin." Proverbs 26:28
"Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble." Proverbs 21:23
"Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them." Proverbs 29:20
"The mouths of fools are their undoing, and their lips are a snare to their very lives." Proverbs 18:7
"Those who guard their lips preserve their lives…." Proverbs 13:3
Would you pray with me?