The power of words

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Last fall, an expectant couple having a gender-reveal party started a large forest fire when they set off a smoke-causing pyrotechnic device. The El Dorado fire scorched nearly 23,000 acres in the Yucaipa area about 70 miles east of Los Angeles and burned from September 5 until November 16. News reports did not identify the couple nor the sex of their baby.

It wasn’t the first time a gender reveal went awry. In 2018, a couple set off an explosion in the Arizona desert, sparking a wildfire burning more than 47,000 acres and costing nearly $8 million.

The Bible warns the tongue “is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire … with it we bless our God and Father, and with it, we curse men …” (James 3:5-10).

This muscle in our mouth has no bones, but is strong enough to break a heart, crush a spirit, or slander a reputation. Once a word is spoken, it can never be retrieved. That’s why James wrote, “… let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” (James 1:19).

That’s why we have to be so very careful with our words spoken, posted or tweeted. We’ve seen in recent days a sad and unfortunate example. Whether or not President Trump’s speech roused that crowd to become an out-of-control mob that stormed the capitol building (he said his speech was appropriate, while others blamed his rhetoric for inciting a riot), we got a real-life lesson January 6 on the power of words.

State Senator Jen Jordan of Atlanta, speaking to her colleagues last Tuesday, said, “Words are powerful, especially when they come from those elected to represent the people.”

Words either tear down or build up. For example, teasing, mocking, and harassing in person or online has led to suicide among some teens and younger children. Nearly one in five students report being bullied during the school year, while around 34% of students report being the victim of cyberbullying, which students shared impacted their ability to learn and feel safe at school.

Wouldn’t we rather be someone who builds people up? Or soothes troubled souls?

Words can bring order to chaos. Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Franklin Roosevelt’s steady encouragement during the Depression and World War II: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Winston Churchill’s timely words to England as the German threat mounted.

What about Ronald Reagan speaking after the 1986 Challenger disaster? And who can forget George W. Bush with his bullhorn at Ground Zero after the twin towers fell? Barak Obama after the Charleston church shooting? These speakers, some Republican, some Democrat, built unity during a trying moment and brought people together.

Words may be the most powerful tool available to mankind. How we use our words says a lot about our life. Whether or not our tongue and posts are disciplined says a lot about our spiritual maturity.

Here are some things to think about as we consider using our words:

• Think before you speak or post. If possible, have someone read through your post or tweet and get feedback on your tone or wording. Ask, “Is this post worth losing a friend (or a job) over?”

• We have to learn how to disagree without being angry and hateful. Surely, we can disagree without being disagreeable.

• To respond is positive; to react is negative (Zig Ziglar).

• What comes out of our mouth is determined by what comes into our mind – what are you thinking?

• Holding our tongue until anger passes leads to less regrets.

• There has never been a statue erected to honor a critic (Zig Ziglar).

• Complaining shows lack of gratitude and is totally unproductive.

• Words of encouragement give people the boost they need to overcome obstacles and accomplish their tasks. They fuel confidence. Saying “I believe in you!” and “You can do it!” go a long way towards revitalizing someone.

I recently received a note from a friend who thanked me for sending him a copy of my newest book. He wrote, “Keep your good writing active. You have a good gift for the art.” That made my day!

How can your words make someone’s day today?

[David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, Georgia. Join them Sunday in person at 352 McDonough Road at either 8:45 or 10:55 a.m. or online at www.mcdonoughroad.org. Check out Chancey’s writing ministry at www.davidchancey.com and contact him at davidlchancey@gmail.com.]