Reading Time: 7 Minutes
Getting Control of the Tongue
Have you ever tried to put James’ teaching to be slow to speak or to bridle your tongue into action? Maybe, you are like me and you have resolved to curb your tongue, only to fail and fail, again. It’s really hard to control our speech, isn’t it? James agrees with our dilemma and tells us that taming the tongue is difficult.
He writes, “For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine figs? No more can salt water yield fresh” (James 3.7-12).
Every person who is good in sales knows that you have to give the customer a “desire to want,” before you offer them your product. If we are going to make an effort to tame our tongue, we need to know that it is worth the effort.
Most of us can remember a time of failure with our speech and I’ve had my share. There are many conversations that I wish I could take back. How many times have I attempted to impress someone with my words, only to wish later that I had kept silent? How many times have I gossiped about someone, only to have my conscience convicted by the Holy Spirit about the wrong I had “dished out?” How many times have I attempted to control a situation with my words, only to realize that I was self-seeking and not self-giving in doing so? The list could continue, but the point has been made.
I remember a time in a pizza restaurant where a very crude and rude woman was “going off” on the owner and the customers, so much so that she had the attention of the entire place. On her way out of the restaurant, she stumbled and dropped her purse right in front of my table. Out of her purse spilled a Bible. I said to the person with me with a fair dose of sarcasm, “What great advertising for Jesus and his church!”
How many times have our words in public been bad advertising for Jesus? I can remember many times when I wish I had bridled my tongue and been slow to speak.
Whether we realize it or not, we are part of God’s advertising team on earth. When Jesus told us that we were the “salt” and the “light” of the world (Matthew 5.13-16), he made it clear that people will either be drawn to Jesus or turned away from him by our words and deeds.
The Book of Proverbs states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18.21).
One of my great joys in life is to see how words can bring people to life. I recently spoke with someone about a family member, giving her hope about a situation with her brother. Even though we were speaking on the phone, God was able to use my words to bring peace and comfort to this person. It is a tremendous privilege to be able to use words to bring comfort, direction, help and life to others.
One of my favorite stories from my time in Louisiana involved a man who became a good friend of mine. Three men with the Corps of Engineers were working in Western Louisiana, where I was serving as pastor in the 1970s. One of the men used his words to introduce one of the engineers to Jesus. His words created a ripple effect.
Jim, the new convert, returned in a few months to his job in New Orleans a new person. He started volunteering in a boy’s home, while he obtained a teaching degree. Eventually, he left engineering to teach math and coach cross country at an urban school in New Orleans. He quickly became a very popular and influential teacher in his school.
One man’s words produced life in another, and that man has produced life in countless others to the glory of God.
If we want our words to be life-giving, we have to get control of what comes out of our mouths. James teaches us that we can’t praise God and speak ill of others at the same time, no matter how hard we try.
The question for us is, “How can we tame our seemingly unteachable tongue?”
Jesus makes it clear that the condition of our heart will determine what comes out of our mouths. He said, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit . . . For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12.33-34).
Coach Jake Taylor often gives us simple steps that are designed to make changes in our inside condition. If we practice these activities, we can be sure that the Holy Spirit will use them to make changes in our thoughts and attitudes. In turn, our new inside condition will be reflected by our speech. I have listed three of Jake’s ideas that I’d like you to consider practicing.
(1) Coach Jake’s recently filmed a Facebook video in front of an outdoor stairway. He took one step up the stairway and encouraged us to take just one step toward Jesus each day. The image was clear. If we keep taking steps, we will reach the top.
The step Jake wants us to take is to read one Bible verse every day, if we don’t already have a Bible reading practice. That seems like a small step, but like climbing the staircase, it works. If we read one verse a day, we will open the door of our life for God to take us to the top of the life he has for us.
Both Jake and I read books by Richard Foster, the author of “Celebration of Discipline.” Foster tells his readers that there are joggers and marathon runners. He states the obvious when he tells us that we can’t run a marathon until we have trained and exceeded the jogging phase.
The first step Jake is asking us to consider is to begin as a “spiritual” jogger. In time, God will move us to being a “spiritual” runner.
Try out Jake’s plan and see what kind of difference it makes.
(2) Coach Jake also encourages people to get in the longest line at the grocery store or some other small-step kind of self-denial. The purpose of this is to help us overcome the unceasing demand to always get our own way. The goal of this exercise is to move self-will off of the throne of our lives and to enthrone Jesus. With Jesus on the throne, we will find our tongue coming under greater control of the Holy Spirit.
I remember listening to a man, who had made Jesus Lord of his life. He told Jesus that all he had and all he was belonged to Jesus. One day, he was driving on the Los Angeles freeway when his car stopped running. He pulled to the side and said, “Jesus, your car is broke.”
Imagine the scene if Jesus hadn’t been sitting on the throne of this man’s heart. Let’s make steps, even if they are small, to allow Jesus to over-rule our self-rule.
(3) Coach Jake often challenges people to practice solitude. Turn off your cell phone and find a place where you can be alone with God are his instructions. Jake’s Flight Training (leadership development) group often practices solitude. I hear from people who engage in solitude that it is both difficult to do and beneficial. It is difficult, because we are so tied to the “noise” of our cell phones, music apps, and people. It is beneficial, because God often speaks to us, as we slow down long enough to hear from him.
Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes
The saying, “nothing changes if nothing changes,” is quite true when it comes to our inside condition and speech. I encourage you to take Coach Jake’s advice and begin taking small steps. Small steps over time will produce significant results.
You may want to pray about the three exercises Jake suggests. Ask God which one he wants you to practice. Then, take the first step, then another, and then another, and more.
Dear Jesus, we first have to ask your forgiveness for the many times our words offended you and injured people. Please show us what you want to do in our lives, so you can deepen our inside condition and change how we speak.