Oh, but how easy it is to forget the inherent power of our words. We gloss over their significance because they are commonplace to us. We take them for granted the way fish take water for granted. We are used to talk; it just is. We are full of, surrounded by, and constantly inundated with words, words, words. Stepping back and seeing the weight and impact of our ingrained linguistic choices takes intentionality. But when we are able to do just that, we will begin to see that each of our little, carelessly thrown around words actually carries the power of life and death. Don’t take it from me; King Solomon, widely considered the wisest man to ever live, said so himself: “The tongue can bring death or life” (Prov. 18:21).
Life-and-death issues are nothing to take lightly. Until we start realizing that our word choices carry enormous consequences, we will continue to underestimate how they work for us or against us.
What you say today will—not can, but will—do one of two things: either lead you down a path toward a more purposeful, abundant life or move you toward destruction. Not physical destruction necessarily—though words can definitely be a catalyst for health issues—but the destruction of relationships, careers, momentum, joy, peace, hope, and contentment. In his essay “War of Words,” Paul David Tripp wrote:
We think that words are not that important because we think of words as little utilitarian tools for making our life easier and more efficient, when they are actually a powerful gift given by a communicating God for his divine purpose.…
You have never spoken a neutral word in your life. Your words have direction to them. If your words are moving in the life direction, they will be words of encouragement, hope, love, peace, unity, instruction, wisdom, and correction. But if your words are moving in a death direction, they will be words of anger, malice, slander, jealousy, gossip, division, contempt, racism, violence, judgment, and condemnation.2
As you and I become more conscious of the way we use language, we can begin to take advantage of its power to create the lives we want. In the process we can stop inadvertently sabotaging others and ourselves with words that bring death and destruction. If knowledge really is power, then intentional awareness is the live wire.
Still, we should be let off the hook just a little. Our ignorance on this issue isn’t completely our fault. Our understanding and manipulation of language is largely a learned behavior. Most of our harmful speech patterns are etched into our subconscious from an early age. Have you ever opened your mouth to speak to your children and heard your mother come out? Have you ever said something to your spouse only to be struck by how much your comment sounded like your father? Maybe you’ve found yourself in a conversation with a coworker or a friend and heard a tone escape from your lips that you hate—but one that’s been pointed in your direction many times in your own life.
Those innate patterns reflect our early experiences with words; they are the result of conditioning that began before we even knew how to speak. Before you ever said “Ma-ma” or “Da-da,” you began to internalize the meaning and tonality of the conversations taking place around you. When you started finding your voice, you learned to talk by repeating what you heard your parents and other family members say. The words of our closest relatives literally become our words, until we develop words of our own. Even when we begin to craft our language in the ways we want, those initial subconscious linguistic roots hold strong. Without awareness and intentionality, we are destined to repeat the patterns we grew up with—which can be either a blessing or a curse.
Did you like the way your parents spoke to you when you were a child? If not, hopefully you have been intentional about making changes in your own word choices when addressing your children. The way you speak to them now is likely the way they will speak to their own children twenty or thirty years from now. Your words will influence not only your own life’s direction but also the lives of generations after you. Similarly, think about how your father spoke to your mother, and vice versa, while you were growing up. Did you like the way they communicated with each other? Do you like where it has left their relationship today? If not, be mindful or those same words will come out when you talk to your spouse—and they will lead to the same results. The creative force of words cannot be overestimated.
Nelson Searcy, Tongue Pierced: How the Words You Speak Transform the Life You Live (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015).
Want to make this idea a habit in your life?
We have just completed a Bible study to guide your group into meditating on and applying these truths. The Tongue is a Rudder is our Bible Study based on Nelson’s Searcy’s book Tongue Pierced: How the Words You Speak Transform the Life You Live. It consists of 8 ready-to-use question-based Bible Studies suitable for groups. It can be purchased on Amazon and is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service.