Several years ago, our family was invited to a party at someone’s house.  After we were done eating, a group of adults started playing volleyball.  Meanwhile, the children gathered into groups and held up bed sheets while a couple of us launched water balloons into the air.  The idea was for them to catch the balloons on the sheet without breaking them.  As I gently lofted balloons to the kids, I turned to my buddy, gave him a sinister smirk, and pointed to the volleyball players located about 50 yards away.  He instinctively knew what I was thinking and we began unleashing balloon bombs on the unsuspecting adults. 

The balloons weren’t very large.  In fact, the big ones were so heavy that one of the larger ones exploded on the launch pad!  We were out of control and didn’t stop our volley until all the balloons were gone.  The kids wanted more, while the volleyball players kept looking up at the sky in dread of missiles coming their way.

Our water grenades were small, and yet they had the ability to cause delight or destruction, depending on how they were used.  Likewise, our words have the same power — they can bring joy or cause despair.  In the Bible book of Proverbs, God puts it this way:  “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).  Our tongues can build others up, or they can tear them down.

The New Testament Book of James devotes almost an entire chapter to the challenge of taming our tongues.  Three illustrations are used to show how small, yet powerful our words are.  The first is the bit that is put into a horse’s mouth.  This relatively small piece of metal can control a very powerful animal.  The tongue is also compared to a rudder on a ship.  Just as a tiny tiller can control the direction of a large boat, so too, the tongue can control our lives.  A third metaphor is used when James compares what comes out of our mouths with a blazing forest fire: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue is also a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body” (James 3:5-6).

Sometimes we throw our words around carelessly and we’re oblivious to the fire of doubt and discouragement that can inflame those who are close to us.  Other times, we’re deliberately caustic as we look for ways to skewer someone with our words.  Like launching a water balloon, it can bring us strange pleasure to tear someone down. 

How many people have you wounded with your words?  Are your kids hurting because of your lethal verbiage?  Is your tongue quick to criticize?  Do your words build up or tear down?  It’s good for each of us to do an inventory of what flows out of our mouths.  Jesus reminds us that the stakes are high: “I tell you that you will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word you have spoken.  For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).

I had a choice to make each time I picked up a balloon that afternoon.  Depending on how I chose to use the balloon, I could cause delight or destruction.  Likewise, you have a choice to make with your words.  Do you want to speak life words or death words?  If you want to clean up your mouth, you don’t need to eat a bar of soap (as I experienced numerous times when I was growing up); you need the cleansing power of Jesus in your life.  Ask Him to give you a new heart.  Invite Him into your life, request forgiveness for your sins and determine to live under His leadership.  He’ll help you make the right choice with your words — and those around you won’t have to fear any more verbal missiles.

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