To start changing things for the better, we first need to recognize three essential truths about the nature of words. If we can begin to work these truths into our thinking, they will help us steer away from words that bring death and toward words that create life. We’ll explore each of these truths in more detail in the pages ahead, but here’s a brief overview.
1. Words are a gift from God.
The ability to use words at all is a gift that has been given to us by our Creator. As such, we have a responsibility to use our words well. As we’ve seen, God was the first one to harness the creative force of words—and he has entrusted us with the same ability to use words to create the world around us. Given the substantial nature of this gift, we can’t just throw our words around any old way we please; they contain too much power. The only acceptable response to the gift we’ve been given is to show respect to the Giver by using it well.
Imagine if someone you love were to pull you aside one day and hand you $10,000, saying, “Hey, this is my gift to you, free and clear. I want you to use it to create a better life for yourself and to help make life better for others.” You would be intentional about how you spent that money, right? You wouldn’t go out and blow it on worthless junk. You would be careful to spend it wisely, squeezing all the possible good out of it. Well, believe it or not, our words are infinitely more important in shaping our lives than any amount of money—and they have been given to us with those exact instructions: use this power to create a better life for yourself and to help make life better for others. With that gift comes responsibility. Jesus’s disciple Luke wrote in his gospel:
When someone has been given much, much will
be required in return; and when someone has been
entrusted with much, even more will be required.
2. Words can build up or tear down.
As a kid, you probably chanted the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I know I did. With a little age and experience, we come to realize that even though it sounds good in theory, the phrase is just plain wrong. Words can hurt. I bet you don’t have any problem remembering the last harsh words that were spoken to you or the last encouraging words you received. Other people’s words can have an incredible impact on us, whether we want them to or not. They have the ability to create the atmosphere of our lives. They also have the ability to create atmosphere for others.
Not long ago, while I was boarding a flight from Los Angeles to New York, I got an unwelcomed reminder about the potential words have to create an air of negativity. I had just put my bag in the overhead compartment and was settling into the aisle seat I had booked weeks in advance when a burly guy walked up to me and huffed, “You’re in my seat!” I pulled out my boarding pass and double-checked it. I was in the right seat—but that didn’t make any difference to him. This guy was adamant. Getting angrier by the minute, he used a few choice words to tell me how stupid I was for sitting in his seat and how I needed to move out of the way so he could sit down.
About that time, a flight attendant realized what was going on and stepped in to settle things. She looked at our boarding passes, which, sure enough, both indicated the same seat number. But there was one major difference: my accuser’s ticket was for a flight to San Francisco, not to New York. He had boarded the wrong airplane. As you can imagine, he didn’t take the embarrassment well. Barreling back down the aisle toward the exit, he berated the attendants for allowing him to get on the wrong flight and spewed venom about how he would be filing a complaint with the airline’s management.
As I sat back down, I began to notice how the energy around me had changed. One man’s thoughtless, angry words had dispersed a negative cloud over everyone in my section of the plane. The flight attendants were rattled, and my own blood pressure was skyrocketing. Mr. San Francisco had left me feeling disjointed and defensive. Because he had chosen to dole out massive negativity and criticism over what could have been a simple, easily addressed misunderstanding, he tore the entire atmosphere around him down, along with everyone within it. With his words, he shifted everyone’s reality.
3. The quality of your life is determined by the quality of your words.
The way you choose to communicate will ultimately affect every area of your life. Words aren’t neutral. Every word that goes out has a consequence attached to it. How you speak to your friends, family members, and coworkers will determine the quality of those relationships. The same is true in your spiritual life. How well you communicate with God through prayer will determine the quality of your connection with him. Your internal dialogue with yourself will determine the quality of your actions and interactions each day. When you consider all these things together, it naturally follows that the quality of your very life is determined by the words you speak. Being able to express yourself effectively is crucial to living the life you’ve imagined.
I recently came across a study conducted by linguistic researchers on a large cross section of violent prisoners.3 The researchers met with the prisoners and studied the range and type of vocabulary they used. They determined that these prisoners had about one-fifth the vocabulary of the average person in America, noting that one of the major contributing factors to the violent histories of the men was that they had no other way to express themselves. What a clear example of how the ability to use words—or in this case, the inability to use words—determines the quality of life itself.
The above was taken as an excerpt from Tongue Pierced: How the Words You Speak Transform the Life You Live by Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Dykes Henson. For more information on how you can use your words to build a better life, visit tonguepierced.com.
Nelson Searcy is the Founding and Lead Pastor of The Journey Church and the author of more than 80 church leadership resources, including 14 best-selling books. He currently lives in Boca Raton, Florida, with his family. Jennifer Dykes Henson is a writer based in New York City. Before finding success with Tongue Pierced, Jennifer worked with Dr. Charles Stanley for In Touch Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.