One time when I was a kid, I went to this church lock-in, and for whatever reason – I don’t remember – I was being so negative about everything. I was criticizing the building, the food, the people; if it had something to do with the lock-in, it was a target for my put-downs.
There was a middle-aged woman named Ellen West who was one of the chaperons at the lock-in; and late that evening, she took me aside, sat down on a couch with me, and said we needed to talk.
She said, “Joshua, you need to understand something: your words have power. They can make this lock-in or break it. When you say negative things about a situation, your words plant seeds that make it a bad experience for everyone. But if you choose to highlight the positive, you can help make it a good experience for everyone.
“So choose and use your words wisely, because they have the power to shape the world around you.”
Ellen was basically sharing the wisdom of Proverbs 18:21, which says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” And to this day, I still hear Ellen’s life-giving words sometimes when I’m being negative about a person or situation. They remind me that my words are powerful because I’m created in the image of the One whose very words spoke the universe into existence (Genesis 1).
But it’s not like the solution is to zip my lips and only say nice things when I find myself in a negative funk (though that’s certainly a start). Jesus said that “out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). So whenever I’m spewing negativity, there’s usually something toxic going on in my heart – a prideful spirit, unforgiveness, or feeling rejected and insecure.
Unfortunately, when I’m in one of these funks, the person who’s most likely to be on the receiving end of my critical tongue is my spouse (for you, it might be your child, a roommate, or a co-worker). And the most effective thing I can do to disable that negativity is locate the source of it, name it, tell God and my wife, and apologize.
I’m writing this early in the morning, before I’ve gotten a chance to feel agitated or insecure and become critical. I want to be a builder; I want my words to speak life today – so maybe you can join me in this prayer to start (or restart) the day:
Holy Spirit, my words, like Your words, are powerful. Over the years, I’ve done far too much damage to the people around me – loved ones and strangers – through my careless words. If I have a critical attitude hiding in my heart right now, please reveal it to me and help me locate its source before I inflict irreparable damage on someone.
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).