“Would you hold that thing down?”
In my Novocain and fear-induced state, the words sounded surreal. The entire left side of my face was numb and drool was dripping out of the corner of my mouth. The dentist looming over me was concentrating deeply on his task when he muttered the sarcastic words to the hygienist suctioning out my mouth.
The “thing” getting in his way was my tongue.
I have a personal confession to make. My tongue is on the big side. Okay, it’s very big. I’ve frustrated dentists, grossed out friends, and even won a contest with this tongue. A who-can-touch-their-tongue-to-their-nose contest.
What exactly is the tongue, and what is its purpose? The tongue is a powerful muscle on the bottom of our mouths. Its main function as an organ is tasting food, since much of the upper surface of the tongue is covered in taste buds. It’s made up of groups of muscles and like the heart it’s always working. The tongue is also able to expertly bind and contort itself to form letters when we speak.
The tongue is absolutely necessary for speech.
I’ve come to realize the amazing power and deadly influence my tongue can have. It’s the bridge between my heart and thoughts to the people around me. The tongue can be a tool to inflict pain or make someone’s day. It can bless and it can curse.
As God laid this on my heart to write, a fearful uncertainty settled in my chest. Not me, Lord. The excuses came fast and furious.
Lord, I am the LAST person who should write about taming the tongue!
Hypocrite is spelled M-E.
Lord, I have diarrhea of the mouth! Please don’t ask me to do this!
Still, I felt God pressing on my heart about my tongue. And when I read Proverbs 21:23 one morning, the words washed over me like a holy fire. “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles.” Misuse of the tongue will bring death to our soul. Not literal death, but death of our spiritual life and separation from the Holy Spirit.
I want to guard my tongue in order to protect my soul – for You!
What kind of words do I say…and, for the writers out there, type? Words that bless or words that curse? Think about this…“The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness” (Proverbs 15:2). Am I wise, or a fool?Gossip, slander, and lying are foolish and self-serving. They cause harm to the speaker and the hearer and they’re welcome ammunition for the Devil.
Words spoken in love, praise of others, expressions of gratitude, and encouragement build others up. “Pleasant words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
Many verses talk about the tendency of our tongues to be perverse. The word perverse describes something, or someone, who turned away from what is good or right and becomes corrupt. “He who has a deceitful heart finds no good, and he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil” (Proverbs 17:20). Our heart condition is evidenced by the words coming off our tongue. And if we’re not in right relationship with the Lord, our tongue will testify that. “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but the perverse tongue will be cut out” (Proverbs 10:31).
Beware of bitterness and anger! They are perverse emotions because we allow ourselves to feel them, using life’s circumstances to justify our emotions. Bitterness and anger are virus-like; they multiply easily and take over every aspect of our lives when allowed. “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit” (Proverbs 15:4).
I pray my tongue will be a “tree of life” and not cause me to “fall into evil.”
James made perfectly clear the spiritual danger our tongues pose. “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3: 8-10).
My husband and I watched Steve Irwin on Animal Planet many times before his death. He often handled venomous snakes, face taut with concentration as the creatures twisted wildly around his hands and arms. In the above passage James points out that our words are as dangerous as a venomous snake. They can be a “deadly poison.” When we criticize others, who are made in God’s image and whom He loves as much as He loves us, we’re giving power to our tongue James considered “evil.”
How can I use my tongue for God? How do we learn to have a “wholesome tongue” and keep it from causing “deadly evil”?
There are three important exercises we can do with our tongues to glorify God:
The first exercise I recommend is not using your tongue. Oh, how I struggle with this! Remember as a child your mom told you to, “Bite your tongue?” Though I wouldn’t recommend that, I do recommend holding your tongue still and giving your ears a workout instead. “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive” (Proverbs 17:27-28.) Go on a word diet and listen instead of speaking.
Words are compared to arrows shot out of a bow because they fly fast and furious, especially when we’re emotion-driven. “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Generally I’ve found the higher quantity of words, the lower quality they become. I’m learning to be more like my quiet, thoughtful husband – talk less, listen carefully and consider more before speaking. The result is less complaining and criticizing…less “word garbage.”
The second exercise I recommend for the tongue is using it for good, for God. In the words of Peter Parker (aka Spiderman), “With great power comes great responsibility.” We house power in our tongues. Using that power for the encouragement and edification of others is God-glorifying and trains our hearts for selflessness. “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29).
Allow the Holy Spirit to add a measure of joy to someone’s life through your words. Encourage a friend by complimenting their family or children, praise their parenting or home-schooling success, or pray together. Edification can also be a word of encouragement in the Lord or a Bible verse that was helpful for you in a similar situation.
As a wife and mother I seek to align my life with Proverbs 31. “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness” (31:26). When we mix godly wisdom with edification and coat our words in love, then God can accomplish much through us as mothers, wives, and friends.
Finally, the most important activity we are to do with our tongue is praise God! “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy… (Jude 1:24). Only through Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross can I ever be considered “faultless.” He is the most precious gift ever given or received!
How can I not give Him constant praise as a result? “Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalm 106:1).
Although God doesn’t need our praise, His Word testifies that He wants to hear from His children. “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name” (Hebrews 13:15). Praise and thanksgiving offered to Jesus will lift our eyes off ourselves and our circumstances and onto Him, where they belong.
I’ve learned that praising God has a wonderful purpose! Our faith is strengthened and purified when we praise Him in the dark moments of our lives. “I cried to Him with my mouth, and He was extolled with my tongue” (Psalm 66:17). When I’m speechless before God, whether through the trials or the blessings of this life, praise should never cease to roll off my tongue for Him and the wonders of His works.
After all, Jesus’ actions were drenched in grace for me, and my life should be drenched in praise for Him.
Ultimately my prayer is that my tongue will speak life-giving words from my Savior. David said at the end of his life, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). For if the word of the Lord is always on our tongue, we won’t have to worry about “holding that thing down.”