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The Power of Words


Isa 45:19 I publicly proclaim bold promises. I do not whisper obscurities in some dark corner so no one can understand what I mean. And I did not tell the people of Israel to ask me for something I did not plan to give. I, the LORD, speak only what is true and right.

What a powerful proclamation: I speak only what is true and what is right.

Every mother teaches: if you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Another saying I like: It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt. (“Mrs. Goose, Her Book” by Maurice Switzer, 1907).

Our words are potent and can be powerful allies or powerful enemies. God “spoke into existence” all of creation. As Children of God, we are able, to a lesser extent, capable of speaking into creation our own circumstances. As Romans 4:17 teaches, The God within us “calls into existence the things that do not exist.” As I have mentioned in previous talks, the declaration comes first and then the manifestation. Divinely guided words, thoughts, and actions help create and maintain peace in this world. They are the medium through which we share love, respect, joy, compassion, and understanding.

Matthew 12:37 says, “By your words you are justified; by your words you are condemned”. It is our word, spoken and written, that defines who we are. In particular, it is the words we speak in our idle time, when we are with friends, or don’t think anyone else is listening. It is during our private times that we reveal our true nature. It is possible to publicly state positive ideas about a subject so that we can manipulate and mislead others yet revile the same issue in private. We call this two-faced or unauthentic.

Words can heal and nourish. Job 4:4 says, “Your words have supported those who were stumbling, and you have made firm the feeble knees.” There was a man who wrote to a newspaper columnist that he thought it was useless for churches to provide talks and sermons because he hadn’t ever remembered one. So what good are they? The Columnist responded that for over 50 years his wife has provided complete and varied menus of delicious food, which has nourished him and sustained him, but he cannot remember the specifics of any particular meal. Does that mean the food that his wife has given him is useless?

Here is the pledge of an organization called Words Can Heal.

I pledge to think more about the words I use.

I will try to see how gossip hurts people, including myself, and to work to eliminate it from my life.

I will try to replace words that hurt with words that encourage, engage and enrich.

I will not become discouraged when I am unable to choose words perfectly, because making the world a better place is hard work.

And I pledge to do that, one word at a time.

We can commit to the idea of the Words Can Heal pledge or we can use our words recklessly and be a Dot Person, an Appraiser, or a Gossip.

A Gossip, as we all know, is someone who tries to bring attention to themselves by divulging private and personal information about others, without permission, whether it is true or not. Gossipers range from innocent to malicious. Some gossip casually, mentioning harmless details because of some personal need. At the other end of the spectrum is the malevolent gossiper, who seeks power and control by defaming a person’s reputation. This behavior is an insidious strategy: to belittle others and spread lies.

Ephesians 4:29 teaches, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear”.

Regardless of where we are on the gossip spectrum, sharing details of someone’s life without their permission is inappropriate. Proverbs 11:13 tells us: A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret. I know this is not written anywhere, but if someone shares something with you it is meant to be confidential unless they specifically give you permission to share that information with others. Some of us take the exact opposite view: well, they didn’t tell me not to tell anyone else. If that is how you think, you may have a gossip tendency.

Rather, Christ encourages us to become the type of person that people want to be around: positive, accepting, non-critical, non-judgmental, and light-hearted. A study was done of some of the longest-lived persons. What they expected to find was that there was some sort of dietary or environmental similarities. Instead, what they found was that 90% of these people had positive attitudes, forgave others quickly, and refrained from complaining. Their attitudes kept them living longer and happier.

Radio host, Bernard C. Meltzer is credited for saying, “Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, is kind, is necessary, is helpful. If the answer is no, maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.” Certainly, my jokes in church do not always pass through those filters. But jokes are a special case, with the intent to bring joy from a ridiculous circumstance. Jokes are not the same as a personal assault followed by “I’m just kidding.” I find that as offensive and hurtful as a gossiper.

Words can drive people away and make them feel uncomfortable, defensive, and awkward, or they can put people at ease and make them feel welcome and appreciated. Sometimes, out of ignorance, we cause people discomfort. For instance, if someone shows up at church with a wrap on their wrist or a Band-Aid on their forehead, rather than asking them “What happened,” and force them to explain their injury all day long, I would like to suggest an alternative approach. Why not simply say something like, “I will be praying for a quick healing of your wrist.” This does a couple important things. It shows our concern, and at the same time it allows them dignity. If they want to talk about it, they will, but they are not cornered into having to tell you that they don’t want to talk about their injury if they are uncomfortable. We do not need to know details to pray for them.

Conversely, if it is us who has the Band-Aid and someone asks us what happened, just lovingly say, “Thank you for your concern. Pray for a quick healing.” Sadly, this will not stop everyone from prying. But acknowledging in a kind way that you are not comfortable talking about the details should be enough.

Of course, there are those who will take that information and start spreading it around to others within the church and everyone they meet. Why? Because they like to gossip.

Now let me say that I am not trying to make anyone feel bad or cast accusations. The situations I am using are fictitious and are not meant to point a finger. I am only illuminating areas that may need more of our awareness. If, you recognize your behavior, as I have as I was writing this talk, then perhaps we can make some adjustments.

Many of our hurtful words do not come because they are unkind, or untrue, or unhelpful. They fall under the category of “Is it necessary?” I have read of a behavioral classification labeled Dot People. Dot People are those that can look at something beautiful and be drawn to the flaw – the speck on the otherwise pristine canvas. They then feel the obligation to point out the flaw or speck to everyone. These are Dot People. They tend to spotlight the obvious, and it tends to be the negative.

You can be looking at a beautiful sunset and the Dot Person will notice the traffic noise or the plane disrupting the view. Somehow the beauty is lost to them as they focus exclusively on the negative.

Another category of pushing people away by saying things that are unnecessary is the Appraiser. These folks openly share their unfiltered appraisal and impression of others. We can be a "Praiser" or an Appraiser. We can tell someone, “I really like your outfit,” or we can tell them, “You really look tired today. Are you feeling well?” No, it isn’t unkind, it may be true from your perspective, but is it necessary or helpful? I have found that most people don’t come to church or to a social engagement to have their health questioned. But appraiser-type people just like to share their negative opinions about things with others. Let us strive to praise others, point out their best, most attractive qualities.

The Bible has much to say about words:

Proverbs 19:9 -- “Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.”

Ephesians 4:29 -- Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

James 1:26 -- Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.

Proverbs 10:18 -- Whoever conceals hatred with lying lips and spreads slander is a fool.

Again, we can ask ourselves, "Are we pushing people away, or drawing them towards Christ? Are we being compassionate or unthinking?"

And finally, the words that we use to ourselves, and about ourselves, must follow the same guidelines. Patrick, it is not true that you are incompetent in most areas. It is just that you are not trained in those areas.

All that can be said about our words can be applied to our thoughts, which are basically words that we hear and see in our minds. There are often extraneous thoughts filling our minds, and whispers spoken to ourselves in a constant dialogue about ourselves. Are they positive or negative? How about we take that Words Can Heal pledge and apply it to ourselves. “I will try to replace words that hurt with words that encourage, engage and enrich.” We are worthy and deserving of consideration and respect, as is everyone.

Don Miguel Ruiz wrote a wonderful book entitled The Four Agreements. The first agreement is to be impeccable with your word. This means to speak with integrity and honesty and truthfulness. To say what we mean. We are to utter words imbued with positivity and love. Our words build integrity, character, and reputation in ourselves and others.

Dale Carnegie wrote: You have it easily in your power to increase the sum total of this world's happiness now. How? By giving a few words of sincere appreciation to someone who is lonely or discouraged. Perhaps you will forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient may cherish them over a lifetime.

My prayer is that we can become more aware of the power of words that we use toward ourselves and others, and make those words more caring, understanding, and kind. May they be necessary, kind, true, and helpful, and may we keep our tongues silent as offenses occur. I pray that our choices of behavior can serve as an example to others, and that we become the understanding, kindness, and love that we seek in the world, and let it begin with our words.


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