On a sunny autumn Saturday morning in a small Ohio town, a farmer made his way to the grain elevator with a part of his grain harvest. He had a sense of well-being that morning. His harvest was in. Yield was good. He waved at his friends up and down Main Street in his hometown. Without any warning one of the grain wagons became disconnected and veered into the opposing lane of traffic colliding with an on-coming car. He didn’t expect much damage because he was only traveling about twenty-five miles and hour. He pulled over and walked back to exchange insurance information with the driver of the car.
To his surprise a crowd had already gathered around the car and people were frantically calling for an ambulance. The tongue of the wagon had shattered the windshield and impaled the driver. The driver died at the scene.
His sense of serenity quickly turned to horror. Beauty and peace turned in a moment to devastating tragedy. I heard the farmer himself tell the story of that unforgettable day. He said his life changed forever on that clear Saturday morning.
Our tongue, our words, can be like that. Words that seem harmless and benign can bring horrifying destruction. There are few things on earth as powerful as the human tongue to help or to harm.
Who really knows the power of the tongue to destroy? Who can measure the power of the tongue to discipline? James, the half-brother of Jesus wrote that the tongue can destroy like a fire or act as a deadly poison. James said words can be like a little spark that sets on fire the whole course of nature. Words can wound, destroy and even sometimes kill. You have this potential in you. There are many precious people in range of your tongue. These are the people who will be influenced by your words.
James also wrote that even though it is very small the tongue can be an instrument of direction, too. He said the tongue can be like the small rudder of a ship. He also used a bit in the horse’s mouth as a metaphor to illustrate the power of the tongue to direct. You also have this potential to direct others with your tongue. You can encourage and embolden. You can impart hope and stimulate faith. You can inspire good deeds with simple, well timed, carefully chosen words. Or you can discourage and dishearten with your words. You can, with your tongue, wound spirits and kill dreams. You can destroy things of beauty that have taken years to grow like a fire raging through a pristine forest.
When the Bible addresses the power of the tongue to destroy it uses the term “curse.” The Bible word used to addresses the power of the tongue to build and impart life is “bless.” You can choose to bless the people in your life or curse them. That is exactly what James said, “Out of the same mouth… blessing and cursing…”
Once a young man set in my office trying to sort out difficult career questions. He was frustrated with his job. I asked him why he didn’t look for work in a field that interested him more. He said he was influenced by his dad to be in the construction trade.
“Really,” I said, “How did your dad influence you to work in construction.?”
He said, “When I was young my dad and I were roofing the garage. I kept bending over nails as I worked. My dad sarcastically said; ?I hope you don’t ever try to earn a living with your hands.'”
Right there on the roof in that moment a seed was planted in the soil of his impressionable young heart to one day convince his father that he was wrong. His father’s words and his reaction to them acted as agents of bondage to him for years.
Few fathers understand the big effect a little word can have especially in the ears of one who is hungry for affirmation and eager for direction.
Hear Esau weeping, pleading for the blessing of this father. See the smile of the face of the little boy standing at the edge of a circle of men in the foyer of the church. His eyes are alight as he listens to his father describe to his friends his joy in the fact that his boy went next door the day before without being asked raked leaves for a widow without being asked. He was doing a powerful thing. He was blessing his son.
David said, “Set a watch at the door of my mouth.” Better than silence though are sweet words of blessing. Paul wrote “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good for the use of edifying that they may minister grace to the hearers.” Never curse, always bless. Jesus even said to bless those who curse you. It’s hard to improve on the advice my mother often gave; probably your mother said the same thing. “If you don’t have anything good to say, then don’t say anything at all.”
Kenneth L. Pierpont
Riverfront Character Inn
April 1, 2003