One of the most powerful things on earth is the tongue. Proverbs 18:21 tells us that the power of life and death are in it. The words you choose to say to someone can make or break their day and even their life. According to a study done by the University of Arizona, the average person speaks about 16,000 words a day. How many of those words are we being intentional about? How many times do we say something in passing or jokingly that could hurt someone? The more we speak, the greater the chances are that we become less intentional about what we say. More than that, a UCLA study showed that 93% of communication is nonverbal. So beyond what we’re saying, how we’re nonverbally communicating it to someone is more important when it comes to how they receive it.
Several years ago in Israel, I was touring Jesus’ hometown of a Nazareth. The guide there shared that while Joseph taught Jesus to be a carpenter, that word had a broader meaning back then. It wasn’t just wood that a carpenter would have worked with. They would have also worked with stones. 1 Peter 2:5 says you and I are living stones being built up into a spiritual house. Think about what he’s saying with the context that Jesus would be a stone carpenter. Also think about how buildings were built out of stone back then versus wood today. You are a building block of God’s Kingdom that Jesus is shaping and placing in just the right place. Now think of how you and I are to be Christlike in building each other up. We are stone carpenters ourselves.
Jude 1:20-21 says, “But you, dear friends, must build each other up in your most holy faith, pray in the power of the Holy Spirit, and await the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will bring you eternal life. In this way, you will keep yourselves safe in God’s love” (NLT). Each of us have a divine command to built each other up. We must use words, prayer and the Bible to encourage one another and build each other up. If we’re constantly putting others down, we’re in essence trying to undo the work that Jesus is trying to do in their lives. We are partners with Him in this, so let’s work together with Him in building up the lives of those around us. Pray each day asking the Holy Spirit to give you the right words to say to build up others when they need it most. You might just speak life into someone and save their life.
Photo by Andre Moraes on Unsplash
They say there are four things you can never take back: the stone after it’s thrown, the moment after it’s missed, the time after it’s gone and the word after it’s spoken. There are many things in life you can undo, but words spoken in anger or in the heat of the moment usually hit their intended target and do damage beyond repair. Words can be powerful weapons that destroy or they can bring life to someone. It’s amazing how much they can affect us.
I was training a sales psychology where we look at reluctances of people. As we went through them one by one, the test showed that a person in my class was afraid to admit he was in sales. He had made a good living at it, but in that moment, a lightbulb went off. He said, “I know why that’s there. A few years ago, my mom asked, ‘When are you going to get a real job?’” Her words echoed in his subconscious and were affecting his ability to make money.
Those words were spoken only once and in a passing moment, but they stuck. Each of us have words that were spoken to us somewhere along the line that are limiting our ability to love ourself, to make more money, to love certain people, to see our own potential or to have a higher self esteem. Those words float around in the back of our mind, and keep us from so much. We need to set ourselves free from their power and quit letting them hold us back.
Along the same lines, we need to learn to speak the right words to ourself and to others. In Psalm 141:3, there is a prayer we all need to pray. It says, “Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips” (NLT). Whether it’s words you are telling yourself or to others, give control of what you say to God. Let Him be your filter so you can live a limitless life, and allow others to do the same. You can never get your words back, so choose wisely.
I was recently training a sales psychology class, and I got to the point where I revealed to the class their individual psychological reluctances. I explained that some were gained through heredity, some medically, and others through watching others. I challenged them to go back to the root of the issue in order to deal with it. One person immediately said, “I know were this one came from! I can pinpoint the moment.”
He told me he had Role Rejection, which is the struggle to admit to others you work in sales. He said, “Several years ago, my mom said, “When are you going to get a real job? You have a degree. Go use it.” Those words cut straight to his core and he buried them there. Even if he made close to $100,000 a year and his degree would earn about half that, he would feel inferior because of what his mom told him.
I said to him, “Isn’t it incredible how powerful words are? One sentence your mom said years ago has affected how your career and how you see yourself. We have to be careful when choosing our words. We never know which ones will stick in someone’s life and hold them back.” We have to learn to use our words to encourage and build others up. Proverbs 15:4 says, “A soothing tongue [speaking words that build up and encourage] is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue [speaking words that overwhelm and depress] crushes the spirit” (AMP).
We all need to add in a filter into our brain that asks, “Will these words become a tree of life in them or will they crush their spirit?” When talking to our children, spouse, family or friends, we need to make sure we are planting life. There’s enough words out there spoken to them each day that can crush their spirit. Let’s be purposeful and make it a habit to have a soothing tongue that speaks life.
Several years ago, when I was going through a rough time and was barely hanging on, my Sunday School teacher and his wife spoke life into me. Week after week, I’d show up for class and he would say, “I’ve been praying for you this week. I feel like God wants you to read this verse.” Or he would say, “As I was seeking the Lord for you this week, God spoke this to me for you.” When the voice in my head wanted to end things, I would remember those verses or what God spoke through him and keep going.
His words and prayers were life to me. I looked forward to going to Sunday School each week because I knew that he would have something for me. I needed the life giving words that he would show up with. I’m reminded of Proverbs 18:21 that says, “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose” (MSG). I’m thankful that he chose words that give life. He could have easily condemned me, but he didn’t.
Another proverb I love is Proverbs 10:11. It says, “The mouth of a good person is a deep, life-giving well, but the mouth of the wicked is a dark cave of abuse.” These verses always make me question what words I choose to use. Am I speaking life from a deep well or death from a dark cave? It’s one or the other and we get to choose. Today, find someone and speak words of life to them. You never know if they’re just barely hanging on and need the encouragement like I did.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten in trouble after saying something. The first question to me is usually, “Why would you say that?” My response is, “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking.” I speak so much that sometimes I forget that I need to pay attention to them before I let them leave my lips. As a result, I’ve said some pretty hurtful things to people. Those words could have been chosen more wisely or better yet, left unsaid. Once words leave our lips, we can’t get them back again or undo the damage they cause.
On the other hand, I’ve had some people speak words to me that have brought healing to some of my deepest wounds. Their words have brought hope into my hopeless situations, lit up my dark paths, and built me up when I’ve been down. Their words were wisely spoken at just the right time. My prayer has been that I would be that type of person. I want to be someone who uses my words to bring healing instead of pain.
I’ve been reading Proverbs since I was a kid. I can tell you that Solomon understood the power of words. Over and over in that book, he tries to get us to see just how powerful they really are. One such example is in Proverbs 12:18. He wrote, “Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal” (GNT). Many of us can attest to how deep someone’s thoughtless words have hurt us. As they echo in our mind, the wound gets deeper and a root of bitterness can easily spring up in that environment.
It’s critical for each one of us to choose our words wisely. Whether we are responding to someone who has hurt us with their words or we are just having a conversation, our word choices matter. We can’t afford to speak without thinking. We can pray each day and ask God to help us to choose our words wisely so that we bring healing instead of pain. The power of life and death truly is in our words. Never take that lightly.
When I was a kid and someone said something ugly to me, the appropriate reaction was to say, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It wasn’t until later in life that I realized what a lie that was. Broken bones heal, but the wounds from words rarely do. They cut deep into the subconscious of people and alter their self-image which changes the future they could have had.
When we hear words about ourselves that are negative, we often use those to replace the thoughts about ourselves that God gave us. We become insecure and self-conscious about everything we do and how we look. Words spoken in a moment can create damage for a lifetime. Some people never get over the words we use to describe them or to hurt them. I’m always amazed to hear stories from people about how a simple phrase changed their identity. That’s why it’s so important to speak life into others.
Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the mind and healing to the body” (AMP). Some translations say, “Kind words are like honey.” An interesting thing about honey is that it never goes bad. There’s no expiration date on it just like there’s no expiration on kind or pleasant words. They’re not only sweet, but they’re long lasting in someone’s life. You can change someone’s mindset for the better by choosing your words wisely.
This verse says that pleasant words are sweet to the mind. What I’ve learned is whatever you put into your mind is what comes out in your actions. If you put anger in there, you tend to have violent actions. If you put bitterness in there, you tend to have sarcastic actions. But if you put sweetness in your mind, it will produce actions that are pleasant to others. So when you speak pleasant words, you’re actually creating a ripple effect in the lives of others.
I like how the verse ends. It says kind words are healing to the body. At first thought, I wondered what that meant. Then I started thinking of all the psychosomatic illnesses people have because of hurtful words spoken to them. When your mind is negative, it produces stress and illness in your body. Conversely, kind words bring health to people. It gives them a positive mindset that keeps the body in balance thereby, bringing health. Proverbs 18:21 says the power of life and death are in the tongue. So choose your words wisely today and speak life.