Just the title alone conjures up memories for many of us. I remember my parents telling me when I was very young and someone had said something cruel to me that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Even now I can picture myself reciting it to the person with a sassiness that let them know I didn’t care what they said to me – it was just gonna roll right off my back and have no effect any more. But the truth of the matter was, it did still hurt. I didn’t realize until many, many years later how much an impact not just those words, but all of the negative and hurtful words that had been spoken over me had shaped who I was.
There is power in our words – power to speak life into someone by encouraging them and building them up or power to speak death when we criticize and tear down. As I think back over my own life and especially in the beginning years of my marriage, words have played a huge role in determining the direction of my life. Early in life hurtful and discouraging words caused self doubt and insecurity in me. The words that others spoke to me were played over and over in my thoughts until they were no longer just words to me, they became truths that I believed about myself. It didn’t matter if they were true or not, they wielded the power to change my thoughts about myself which in turn affected my actions. I allowed those words to consume my thoughts. I was beaten down and defeated simply by the words that I had given power to. And in turn I used words to tear down and hurt everyone around me.
The bible says in Proverbs 18:21 that life and death are in the power of the tongue. And the Message version says it like this “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” God’s Word makes it very clear. Words are extremely powerful. They have the ability to completely transform how people see themselves, how they react to you, how they respond in a situation and how they treat others.
“President Kennedy has been shot”.
“A second plane has hit the building.”
“I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!”
“Challenger, go with throttle up.”
“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
“Do you believe in miracles? Yes!!”
Most of us see those words and know exactly where we were when we first heard them. We can remember the emotion we felt and how those words changed the world we live in.
Now think about the words that are personal to just you. The words that someone may have said to you years ago that you still remember exactly how you felt the moment they were spoken. Words of criticism, words of judgement, words of gossip or hate. Words that had the power to destroy. Words that may have shaken your confidence, caused deep, unhealed wounds or even changed the course of your life.
“I hate you.”
“You can’t do anything right.”
“I want a divorce.”
“You didn’t make the team.”
“Why are your ears so big?! You look like Dumbo!”
You may be someone that words have torn you down and caused you to doubt yourself. But just as there are words that can cause damage, there are words that can repair and build you back up. Later in my life when I began to follow Jesus and study the Word, I began to understand how words spoken over me may have affected me in very negative ways. But I also learned that what God’s Word says about me is truth. And that when I began to play those negative words in my mind, I needed to stop and begin to play the words of affirmation my Father in heaven has spoken over me. When I found myself replaying damaging words that had been spoken to me, I began to pray and ask God to renew my mind. I quit being defined by what others said I was and began to believe the words that described who I really was – child of God, forgiven, highly favored, an overcomer, blessed, chosen, accepted and loved. And just like when I was younger, when I thought about these words they had the power to change my thoughts about myself which in turn affected my actions. I allowed God’s words to consume my thoughts. I was built up, reaffirmed and confident simply by the words that I had given power to.
Although words have power, we have the control over what words we speak to others and how we respond to the words that they speak to us. We must choose our words wisely. I recently challenged my friends on Facebook to join me as I made every effort to use my mouth to build up, not tear down, to bless and not to curse and to not judge, gossip, criticize or give my opinion when I hadn’t been asked to. The response was remarkable. People want to be positive with their words but they are also extrememly aware of how difficult it is to refrain from speaking negatively. It has become so prevalent in our world that it takes great effort to keep our words and our thoughts upbeat and encouraging. The best way to ensure this is by spending time each day reading God’s word. God instructs us to fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. To think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. (Phil. 4:8). And when our hearts and minds are transformed by our thoughts the bible says “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:34). We will use our words to bring healing and nourishment to the broken and thirsty souls we encounter. The words we speak will have the power to encourage, build up, cheer up and inspire others. Think about the impact each of these simple words have on you when someone you love says them to you:
“I’m proud of you.”
“Can I help?”
“I believe in you.”
“Don’t give up.”
“I love you.”
So each day think about the words you are using – are you speaking life into others or do your words speak death? What are the words that consume your thoughts – are they words that build up or words that tear down? If the words your thoughts are fixed on are causing damage ask God to renew your mind and remember who you are in Christ. And if words have been used to bring you down and you feel defeated, think of the greatest words ever spoken: “He is not here; He has risen!” (Matt. 28:6). You have a Lord and Savior who is alive and right by your side whispering words of love and affirmation to you. Let His words be the ones that define who you are.