A WORD IN SEASON
Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. –James 1:5
READ: James 1-5
One day before we married, but after it became apparent that Paul and I would spend our lives together, I sported a tone of genuine helpfulness, and asked, “Do you mind if I correct your grammar, not in front of others, but when we’re talking?” He replied, “Not at all. Do you mind if I ignore you?” Okay, there are people who genuinely do not care about the correctness of their speech. But I am so very grateful for my mother, a.k.a., The Grammar Nazi in our home. So much so, that I have ceremoniously taken the mantle with our children, “’I have seen,’ not, ‘I seen’,” and “no, not ‘should have went,’ rather ‘should have gone.’” And, desperate to see some real results, I trained our dogs to “lie down,” not “lay down.” In his letter to the believers, James uses colorful mental imagery to remind his readers of the incredible power of the spoken word. Alas, the power of our words is not in the precision of our grammar, but in the intent of the heart. If you took a moment to reflect, you would likely find that the most profound moments of your life came in the shape of a word, or speech. Words like, “I’d like to offer you the job,” or “Congratulations, I am so proud of you,” or “It’s cancer,” or “I’m leaving.” The power of words is not only felt in intense speeches, however, but even more profoundly embedded in the everyday messages we hear from the people who love us, words like, “you are a good kid,” or “I love you,” or “you will never amount to anything.” In these everyday conversations with others, our speech defines and shapes the lives of those to whom it is directed. I think the secret to this great power can be seen in little Greek word, pneuma (pronounced nooma). It is variously translated breath, wind, and spirit. It was the Holy Spirit who breathed life into humanity, and within that breath lives our spirit. When we stop breathing, we believe that one’s spirit has left their body. Speech, you see, is breath. Words are nothing more than our breath, expelled with a certain force and given shape by vocal cords and tongue and lips. So – with our speech, comes our spirit. That is why it is fairly easy to determine a person’s genuine nature by listening to their speech (unless they are consciously altering their speech in order to deceive). We know down deep that it means something when someone lies regularly, or mocks people, laughing at their expense. We know that dirty jokes betray a deeper belief. We know that foul language shows us something of a person’s heart, and that pain down inside will usually work its way out through the mouth. Likewise, genuine happiness, the capacity to speak value into others, to make them feel better about themselves in even a brief conversation. Our words carry the power to move people to a whole new level of life. That power is in you – even if your grammar could use a little help. Let’s acknowledge the influence of our words, and use them to make the world a better place.
Respond: Spiritual Exercise for the Week of May 19, 2013
Watch Your Mouth
Inventory your speech. Pay attention to casual conversations this week. The easiest way to do it is to take a few minutes before bed and review the day’s interactions with friends, kids, spouse, co-workers, grocery store checkers – whoever you came into contact with. Assign each conversation to a category by finishing this sentence, “After speaking with me today, this person probably walked away feeling,” for example … A) Better about themselves B) Worse about themselves, C) Glad we talked, or D) frustrated … you get the idea. I don’t need to spell out the need for gut level honesty in this exercise. At the end of the week, review the conversations and see what you learn about the wake your words leave behind you.