Relationships Articles

CONTROLLING YOUR TONGUE

“Sorry that I’m late for the meeting.  Traffic!”  With frequency, such half-truths were becoming easier and easier to tell.  Of course, there had been some traffic on the freeway but nothing out of the ordinary that would have delayed my arrival had I left on time.  The real truth was that I had overslept because I had stayed up to watch the late night edition of the Oprah Show.  Notice I didn’t actually say that traffic was extremely heavy; I just implied it so that the team members would conclude that my tardiness was outside of my control.  For quite some time, my husband had been trying to convince me that any intent to deceive is a lie.  Besides his stern warning, my conscience was faithful in reminding me of Proverbs 12:22 (NIV): “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful”.  Therefore, whether the misrepresentation took the form of half-truth, flattery, exaggeration, or blatant deceitfulness, it was still a lie-plain and simple.

It seems that I’ve been challenged with sins of the mouth for as long as I’ve been able to talk.  However, a couple of years ago, I reached the height of frustration with my tongue trouble after my indiscreet words wreaked havoc in a valued relationship. The moment that I spoke the words, I regretted them.  I knew that trying to get them back was as impossible as recapturing a pillowcase of feathers released in the wind. I decided then that it was time to bring my tongue, that little unruly member, under control.

I began my journey by researching every negative use of the tongue that I could find in the Bible.  I ultimately identified 30!  I’m sure there are more but I knew that if I could conquer even half of them, I would have gained a major victory.  I made a commitment to go on a 30-day “tongue fast”, a period of verbal abstinence from all ungodly speaking. With my arsenal of Scriptures, I embarked upon my quest for a wholesome tongue that would be a well spring of life in every situation. I knew that the task would be impossible without Divine empowerment.  I was well aware of  James’ warning, “But no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8 NIV).  Notwithstanding, I took courage from the words of my savior, “The things which are impossible with men are possible with God” (Luke 18:27 KJV). Each time I caught a negative talker in the act, I drafted her to join my mission.  My strategy when faced with the temptation to dishonor God in any way with negative speech was to catch myself; stop mid-sentence and exclaim, “Tongue Fast”! It seemed that I had to restart the fast a zillion times during the first few days. I would succumb to some of the tongue temptations even though the Holy Spirit was flashing a yellow caution light, warning me to stop.  Sometimes I deliberately ran the red light and said the wrong thing; other times I stopped and won the battle.

It was eye opening and disappointing to find out  how many of God’s children suffered from tongue trouble. I realized that this was big problem in the body of Christ. Many seemed to be oblivious to the power of their words to build or tear down, motivate or discourage, heal or hurt, spread or squash rumors, and, to delight or deceive.  Perhaps you can identify with my struggles and triumphs in the instances below.

Complaining: “Why don’t they just get more tellers?” whined the woman standing in the line behind me at the bank. In my desire to relate to her misery, I chimed in and agreed. What else was I supposed to do? Isn’t commiserating how you instantly bond with people? Was I going to risk her alienation by disagreeing? Heaven’s no!  This incident seemed like eons ago. I now have a new strategy.  When faced with a long wait, I pull out some reading material, intercede for the salvation of each person in the particular environment, or try to get the complainer to see the bright side of the situation.  I have not forgotten that it was their murmuring and complaining that caused most of the Israelites to die in the wilderness and miss the Promised Land. I frequently challenge myself  to note the number of times I am tempted to complain within a 24-hour period. My goal is to resist the temptation to express displeasure with any person or situation.  I once expanded the no-complaints challenge to seven days when I took an exciting trip to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Before I boarded the plane, I had to resist murmuring about the traffic at the airport, security procedures, the lack of meals on the plane, the length of the flight, and a host of other unimportant issues-all before we arrived in Maui!  I am making every effort these days to “pour out my complaint before Him” (Psalms 142:2 NIV) – only. Sure, it’s okay to solicit a friend’s input on a problem, but constant complaining is a contagious  and God-dishonoring pastime.  I’m trying to make gratitude a lifelong attitude.

Judging: Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers once said, “I will speak ill of no man, not even in the matter of truth, but rather excuse the faults I hear, and, upon proper occasions, speak all the good I know of everybody.” His philosophy paralleled my grandmother’s age-old advice:  “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”  Easier said than done!  During my tongue fast, I went on a mission to stamp out my tendency to judge people who speak too loudly, women who overexpose their bodies particularly in their church attire, people who smack their lips while eating, and a host of other behaviors that caused me to silently reject people.  Whatever happened to love covering a multitude of faults? For sure, I needed more love and I knew the Source of it. I also knew that whatever way I judged others, God would use the same criteria to judge me (Matthew 7:1-2). Yikes!

Gossiping: “Deborah, we have to pray.  I hear that John, the Music Director, might be having an affair with the sexy soprano who just joined the choir.”  Now, we all know that such statements are an invitation to gossip-cloaked in a prayer request. And rare is the person who has not been a bearer or eager hearer of information about somebody else’s personal affairs. Because I have been the subject of a few “newsy” conversations, I have an aversion to such non-productive exchanges. I found that the best way for me to resist gossip is to catch myself before I start!  I engage in a little self-interrogation: Why am I willing to use the temple of God as a “trash receptacle” by being a receiver of gossip?   Is this my way of establishing a rapport with someone? Do I need to be the center of attention? Does it make me  feel superior to know something negative about somebody that the hearer doesn’t know? Am I envious of the subject’s good fortune? What do I plan to do with the information a gossip shares with me? Am I bored with my life and need more meaningful pursuits? Of course, my best anti-gossip strategy is to heed Solomon’s admonition in Proverbs 20:19 (NLT): “A gossip tells secrets, so don’t hang around with someone who talks too much”.  Wherever I am, I declare it to be a gossip-free zone.

Retaliating: I have little respect for wimpy people because they remind me of a few significant people in my life who have allowed others to treat them as doormats.  It stands to reason  that I am adamant about setting a better example in my own life.  However, I found that I often failed to make the distinction between being assertive and setting healthy boundaries and responding in kind to negative behavior directed my way.  My motto was, “Whatever you say to me is what you’re going to get back”.  And then I stumbled upon 1 Peter 3:9:  “Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate when people say unkind things about you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God wants you to do, and he will bless you for it” (NLT). This is still the area that I have to commit the most to prayer.  I know that I make God sad when I take his job in avenging the verbal wrongs; however, I feel ten feet tall in my spirit when I “pay them back with a blessing.”  I find that the best way to do that is to remain pleasantly silent. Enough said.

Cursing: Cursing? Do you mean as in “profanity”? Christians? Yes, many of God’s children use profanity. “Oh, that just slipped out”, some say.  Well, the truth is that it slipped out of the heart. “. . .for out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34 NIV). While I was not given to a profane tongue, when I would stomp my toe, break something of value, upset a stack of papers, spill a drink, have an encounter with an extremely difficult person or any other frustrating situation, I would silently use profanity. When I saw that it was becoming the norm, I ran to God.  “Lord, I understand according to Luke 6:45 (NLT) that  ‘A good person produces good deeds from a good heart, and an evil person produces evil deeds from an evil heart. Whatever is in your heart determines what you say.’ Would you please take the four letter words out of my heart and replace them with your expressions?  I thank you in advance for purging me of profanity and for allowing the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart to be acceptable in your sight.”

Every day presents us with an opportunity to respond or to speak in a manner that would dishonor our heavenly Father. But is it spiritual naivety to think that we can always say the right thing, at the right time, and in the right way?  And, how in the world was that woman in

Proverbs able to come along and set a communication standard that raised the bar so high?

“When she speaks, her words are wise, and kindness is the rule when she gives instructions” (Proverbs 31: 26 NLT). Looks like she was able to tame her tongue! One of my spiritual mentors, Dr. Marlene Talley, held the secret.  Over 25 years ago when she observed my tendency to speak without much forethought, she cautioned, “Stop, think, and pray before you speak!”   When we stop, think and pray before we speak, we will find ourselves blessing rather than blasting others, exhibiting patience rather than pushiness, sharing good rather than gossip, and, choosing caring rather than cutting words. Otherwise, we find our tongue in drive while our brain is in neutral. It is then that our words become verbal shrapnel that lodges in another person’s emotions  with disastrous, long-lasting results-for words never die.

So, here’s what I have concluded. Words are verbalized thoughts that emanate from our heart.  When I use Philippians 4:8 as my thought-sifter, my communication will always go from negative to positive: “. . .Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (NLT).  I find that memorizing “tongue” Scriptures such as this is essential to transforming my speech. I store them in my spiritual war chest for use whenever a situation arises. King David declared, “I said, ‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth. . .’” (Psalms 39:1 NIV).  Do you share his desire to honor God in your speech?  Why not try a day-to-day tongue fast to get started? And, don’t forget that the Holy Spirit, your helper, is standing at attention ready to give you all the grace that you need to succeed.