September 16, 2020
When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts.
When was the last time you got really close to a horse? Our neighbors have a barn full of draft horses – the kind used for pulling wagons and farming equipment. It’s hard to get close to them without feeling a sense of awe at their size and power. Some of them are 5 feet tall at the shoulder and well over 1,000 pounds. When it comes to draft horses, they are actually on the small side – a foot shorter and 1,000 pounds lighter than their heavyweight cousins. Compare that to the bits used to control them. It’s a piece of metal roughly the size of a pencil – less than 6 inches long. With it, an animal weighing thousands of pounds can be directed and led.
James says that our tongue is like that bit. Though small, it has the power to direct us. That’s different from words merely describing “what is.” Think of the enormous power of small words like hate or love. Speaking the phrases “I love you” or “I hate you” can permanently alter the trajectory of a relationship. I have heard adults say, with great pain, things like, “I knew my dad loved me, but he never said it.”
Have you ever been on the receiving end of hurtful words, only to have the other person say once the crisis has passed, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it when I said . . .”? How easily were you able to forget their criticism or accusation? It’s almost impossible, because spoken words have a power beyond mere assumption or insinuation. For good and for evil, words have the power to change what we believe and how we act.
It’s one of the main reasons my wife and I decided, at the very beginning of our marriage, to never utter the word “divorce” in the context of our relationship. Not in the middle of a fight, not as a “what if”, not even as a joke. It’s not on the table as an option. Speaking it, even in anger or sorrow or hurt allows it to go from idea to concrete. We refuse to give it power or space in our marriage. We will not allow the dissolution of our marriage to become a concrete conversation or idea. Like it or not, the only way through for us is forward, together.
Thankfully, this power is also true in the positive words we speak. By speaking things that are true over ourselves and others we can initiate a move in a positive direction. I am talented. I am worth loving. I am brave. You are strong. You are loved. You are kind. It’s not a hopeless mantra, it is walking in a promise of the gospel. Today, look for those promises in the Bible, and try to hear God speaking them over you. Say them out loud if that helps you imagine. If you have an extra 5 minutes this morning, check out this video – it’s the personal story from a neurologist on the power of spoken words in her life.