“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants it to go. Likewise, the tongues is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on a fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” ~James 3:3-10
I have been embarrassed, humiliated, and saddened by things that have come out of my mouth – and this all under normal life circumstances. When I pair my lack of self-control over my mouth with a stressful day, a cranky or unwieldy child, lack of sleep, fatigued husband, or any number of other situations that can be burdensome, the results are… well… extraordinarily shameful, to say the least. As a parent, adult, teacher, leader, and caregiver I know right from wrong, how I should act/what I should say, and the consequences that can come when I fail to live according to the will and plan of God. I am held to a higher standard and come under greater scrutiny before the Lord because of the influence I hold in my various roles and the fact that, simply put, I know better. As someone who has been a Christian for two decades, my level of maturity (i.e. my ability to control my tongue) really ought to be higher than it is.
My tongue can direct, destroy, or bless. Through the grace of God, I can claim to be someone who has a pretty good handle on using my tongue for appropriate direction of those under my influence and for blessing pretty much everyone in my life, in one way or another. However, the destruction my tongue brings – especially to Jose and Squishy – all but outweighs the benefits it brings. And this is terribly distressing to me because it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (Matthew 12:34, Luke 6:45.) Knowing that, if angry, hurtful, inconsiderate, cutting, bitter, biting, rude, careless, condescending, cold, insincere, unfair, and selfish garbage is what comes out of my mouth more than anything else, what does that mean about the content of my heart?? What is pouring into my heart and mind – the wisdom of the world, which comes from Satan himself, or the wisdom of God?
A single spark can set an entire forest on fire. In the same way, little remarks, insults, words of disapproval, etc. are like tiny little papercuts to my children. And I am killing them with 10,000 papercuts – the words from my mouth. Do I make Jose and Squishy safe, worthwhile, and valuable through my words? Or am I reckless? Piercing them with words like swords? What kind of effect are my words having on my children? Yes! I make sure there is no doubt in their minds that I love them. I tell them daily, I show them through my actions, I praise and thank them, I build them up, I teach them the Word, I guide, direct, instruct, help, comfort, edify, and soothe them. But when they lay down at night, is it the, “I love you”s and “You are so special!”s they remember? Or is it the, “Don’t act so stupid!”s, the “Why are you so naughty??”s, and the “Would you just shut up!!”s???? I know for myself that I hold onto the negatives in life far longer than the positives – why would my children be any different? I can’t dismiss the backlash my words have on others just because I am a woman and women are known for being harpies, bitches, gossipers, shrews, etc. It’s not an excuse and it is not in line with God’s will.
So, what can I do? I can pray, be in the Word, study alone and in groups, pray, seek the council of fellow Christians, upright leaders, and the Spirit, align myself with God, pray, and above all, pray! Pray for heavenly wisdom – wisdom that is pure, clean, wholesome, selfless, peace-loving, considerate of others, deliberate and careful to take other’s thoughts and feelings into account, submissive (having a readiness and willingness to yield to others where I can when it is not against God), compassionate and merciful, empathetic, sympathetic, fair, sincere, and which reaps a harvest of righteousness.
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with the oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” ~James 5:13-16
A prayer life is the mark of a mature Christian, just as is control over the tongue. And if I pray earnestly for the will of God (not just trying to get him to do what I want, when I want), he will work on my behalf. The passage says that it is prayers of the righteous that are powerful and effective. The problem is that the Bible also tells us that there is none righteous – no, not one! (Romans 3:10) So how can my prayers change anything? What is all that praying about my tongue situation really going to accomplish? Where can I get the righteousness I need? From Christ himself. At the moment of my salvation, His righteousness was transferred to me – I need to pray on the basis of HIS righteousness. God is not required or forced to do anything as a result of my prayer, but the earnest prayer of a righteous woman immediately causes God to act on her (my!) behalf.
So does this mean that if I pray through Christ for self-control regarding my tongue, I will immediately be given the ability to never again speak in anger, frustration, bitterness, etc? Probably not. Yes, God could do that for me, if it was His will. But it is more likely that this will be a process. I may not get exactly what I want, but God will move in new and fresh ways to bring about His will in my life – a will that includes heavenly wisdom in speaking to others, especially Jose and Squishy. If I want to mature in my faith and gain control over my tongue, I must pray on the basis of Christ’s righteousness and patiently wait on the compassionate and sovereign God to move on my behalf. I can’t run ahead of God’s time-table, despite my suffering for the things I’ve said and the pain I’ve caused (and will likely still cause) in the lives of my children, and others. I must not give up on prayer – or use prayer to beat up on God – when I feel He doesn’t respond “quickly enough.” God knows what He’s doing, He is pursuing the best for me, and I have to trust the work He’s doing behind the scenes.