This summer we are reading through the book of James and looking at some life principles that if we are willing to put into practice, God says our lives and relationships will be better, and our faith stronger. We are calling these practices life hacks because a life hack is a new or novel way of doing something that is better than the old way. A life hack is putting a cup of water in the microwave when you reheat pizza or using a coffee filter to wash your windows and clean your mirrors. Today we want to share some more life hacks that can improve your summer activities:
1. Use an Onion to clean your grill.
2. Doritos to start a fire
3. Toothpaste to soothe bug bites
Again, these life hacks are fun, but what we really want to focus on are the ways we can practically live out the biblical principles we find in the book of James, and today we are going to talk about how we need to use the most powerful muscle in our body, the tongue.
Our tongue is the most powerful muscle in our body because it is with the tongue, we can create life, and with our tongue we can destroy life. Our words have the ability to lift people up and tear people down. Our speech can speak the truth in love or spread lies with an evil intent. Words are powerful because they shape and direct not only our lives but the lives of others. It is words that shape and change the direction of our world. James makes clear to us the power of words in shaping and directing life by using two different images, a bit in a horse’s mouth and a rudder on a boat. James 3:3-4
A bit is a small piece of metal that is put into a horse’s mouth and using a harness and reins, the bit can control a horse that weighs 1,000 pounds. Karen Port gave me this bit to show you and we talked a little bit (no pun intended) about how this small thing gives direction to a horse. (share)
James also uses the image of a rudder on a boat. A rudder is a very small thing but when it shifts just slightly in the water it has the ability to turn something thousands of times larger. On the Aircraft Carrier USS Roosevelt, there are 2 rudders that are 29’x22’ and they control a ship that is 1,092 feet long (longer than the empire state building is tall) and is over 20 stories high and has a flight deck that is 4.5 acres. A relatively small rudder sets this entire ship in motion and helps move it to a new location.
James is saying that it only takes a few words to change the direction of our lives. A few encouraging words can set a child on the course of success, and a few critical words can keep them down. When I was young, I heard the words, your fat, and those words shaped my self-image and my self-esteem for years. My sister was a freshman in HS when her science teacher said, you will never get above a D or C in this class because you are a girl and you are focused on and thinking about other things. She says that those words kept her from trying harder and reaching for higher goals. Just a few words can shape our lives.
For all of us, there may have been some critical words that closed doors and kept us down, but my hope is that there were also words of encouragement that fueled our hopes and dreams. Words not only shape our history, but just a few words can shape world history. Think about the power of these words. (video)
President Kennedy’s words, we choose to go to the moon, changed how we looked at the universe. They sparked a generation of science that has taken us to the moon and beyond. His words led to moon landings, space shuttles, mars probes and the exploration of space.
President Reagan’s words, tear down this wall, changed nations. Not only did the wall come down, and Germany became one nation again, but the entire Eastern Bloc of Europe changed, and freedom came to millions of people.
Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, I have a dream, forever changed our society. His words continue to shape us as we strive to look at people not by the color of their skin but the content of their character. We fundamentally see people differently because of his four words.
Words are powerful and they always have been. God didn’t create the world with his hands, he spoke it into being with his words. God said, let there be light, and there was light. God said, Let the water teem with living creatures and let birds fly in the sky, and there were birds and fish. God said, let us make mankind in our image, and men and women were created. God’s word spoke history into being, and our words continues to shape our history and the history of our world. Our words are powerful and they can create life or destroy life, but James also says that once our words are spoken they take on a life of their own. We see this in the third image James uses for our words, fire. James 3:5b-6
No matter how careful we may be when we start a fire, it always has the potential of becoming uncontrollable and uncontainable. We see this every year across the mountains of California. A campfire left unattended, a match thrown on the ground, even the spark from a car can set entire communities on fire, and the same is true with words once they are spoken. Once a word is said out loud, we cannot take it back. We can try and minimize its impact, we can try and give a fuller context to what we were trying to say, and explain what we meant to say, but once a word is spoken, we cannot control it and we cannot contain it. We see this all around us in the world of social media. Once a word is tweeted, or posted to Facebook or Instagram, we no longer are able to contain it and we are no longer able to control it.
Which brings me to the reality that when we talk about our words today, we are not just talking about what we say out loud, we are also talking about what we say on social media. Social media is dangerous because it is like putting a bullhorn up to every word we say and thought we have. When we post to Facebook and Instagram we might as well be broadcasting to the entire world because we have no idea who will see it or how people will hear it. With all social media, once the words are spoken, we can no longer control them and we can no longer contain them and the consequences of what we have said can be devastating.
People post all kinds of things about their jobs that they would never say to their boss, but when their boss finds out, and they always do, that person often hears the two words that change their history –you’re fired. We might think we are sending a private message to a friend on Facebook complaining about our spouse, only to find out it was posted for all to see, and suddenly we are trying to find the right words to say, I’m sorry. Social media simply makes the power of our words that much stronger and it shows us how true this life principle really is: words, once spoken, are uncontrollable and uncontainable.
Because words are so powerful and can quickly move beyond our control, James gives us some sound principles that we need to consider. The first comes from James 1:19-20. James tells us to listen more, speak less, and to make sure we don’t speak when we are angry, so our first life hack is to shut up when we are angry.
Now I know that saying shut up is not considered very polite, and I thought about another way of saying this, but then I thought that maybe we need to hear it just this way. There are times when we all need to learn to keep our mouths shut. Just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should and not all truth needs to be spoken. There are times we will serve ourselves well if we will let our tongues remain silent.
There is a reason God put our tongues behind a set of teeth and two lips, because there are times we need to keep it locked up and silent and this is especially true when we are angry. When we are angry, there are so many things that we want to say. We want to vent our frustration. We want people to know we have been hurt or offended. We want to shout about how we are right, and while there is a time and place for all of this, we need to be very cautious about when we share any of these words. There really is value in counting to 10 when we are angry instead of saying the first thing that comes into our mind.
Now this doesn’t mean we avoid talking about our problems, or working to resolve our differences, the Bible also says that we should not let the sun go down on our anger and that we should seek to restore relationships and resolve conflicts, but it is always better to shut up when we are angry and allow God’s spirit to guide us to more peaceful and wise places.
The second thing we need to learn to do with our speech is to speak up while we have the time. There are two very important times when we need to do this, when our children are young and when our parents are older. We only get one chance in life to shape the life of a child and that is when they are a child. The words we speak to children when they are very young, and the way we encourage and speak to our teens, shapes their hearts and lives. Our words can ignite their passion and give fuel to their future, or our words can burn down their dreams and destroy their destinies.
At every turn, we need to encourage our children. We need to praise them, and love them, and fill their world with a faith and vision that tells them they can do and be anything. And let me say this to the men here today. Our children are waiting for, longing for, and needing to hear words of affirmation and love from us. Women are often better at using words to nurture and encourage, but the words of fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles and male friends is desperately needed in the world today.
If you are a father of children – speak up while you have the chance. If you are a grandfather or uncle – speak up while you have the chance. If you are a coach, work with children in any capacity, and have the opportunity to speak words of encouragement to children – speak up while you have the chance. We will never get this chance again.
And the same is true when we are dealing with our parents or grandparents. Life is short and we need to say today the things that are important. We need to say today that we love and appreciate people. We need to say what we can while we have the chance, and this isn’t just true for our parents, and grandparents, but those we work with as well. Most people at work are hungry for affirmation. There is no such thing as too much affirmation as long as our words are genuine and heartfelt. The words of affirmation we say today might the words that change the direction of a person’s life.
And the last thing we need to do with our words is to clean up what we mess up. We all say things that we shouldn’t, and whether we said it in anger, or frustration, or we really meant it but now regret it, we need to use new words to clean up what we have messed up. Jesus talked a lot about forgiveness and much of what we need to be forgiven for is what we have said to, or about others.
This past week there was a story of a student from the Parkland Florida school who had his acceptance to Harvard rescinded because of hateful words he said to his friends in an email and social media posts when he was 16. What I appreciated about this young man was that he didn’t blame someone else for his words, he apologized for them, and said they were wrong. He was trying to clean up what he had messed up. It may not get him back into Harvard, but he is living out this principle in a more mature and honest way than many people in politics, sports, and entertainment. Most people who are in trouble for saying something they now regret find someone to blame, but what we need to do is apologize, and begin to clean up what our words have messed up.
James is clear that our tongue is powerful, and our words shape history. Our words can bring life or death, they can build others up or tear them down, they can point people to Jesus, or they can diminish our witness and the glory of God in this world. Our words are powerful, and once spoken we lose the ability to control them or contain them, so we need to shut up when we are angry, speak up when we have the chance, and clean up what we have messed up.
Life Hacks – Our Speech
Life Principle: Words, once spoken, are uncontrollable and uncontainable. (James 1:19-20, 33-12)
1. Shut Up – when you are angry.
- Read James 1:19-20.
- Where do you need to spend more time listening and less time talking?
- When angry, type up an email to vent your frustration and then hit “DELETE”.
2. Speak Up – while you have the time.
- Commit to speaking words of love and encouragement this week to your spouse and children.
- Commit to speaking words of appreciation to parents, coaches, mentors, and friends.
- Find ways to speak words of support at work to all those you work with.
3. Clean Up – what you have messed up.
- Where have your words created a mess in a relationship?
- How can new words ask for forgiveness?
- How can new words restore relationships?
- Ask God for forgiveness and ask for strength to reconcile all that is broken in your life.