When I was in fifth grade, my parents taught the high school Sunday school class at our church. My mom was big on words. “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord my God and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14) would be a good verse to sum up her passion for words. So she decided to tackle the high schoolers and what came out of their mouths by decorating the classroom with posters about words.
She recruited some girls from the neighborhood who had artistic skills (and crushes on my older brothers) and put them to work.
They made a lot of signs.
“Have an Attitude of Gratitude!”
“What You Confess is What You Possess!”
“Your Words Make Your World!”
Those signs made a big impression on me; I loved art and I thought the girls who made them were really cool. As an 11 year old, I found myself really thinking a lot about what those signs said and what my mom was trying to teach.
My mom was also really big on memorizing Scripture. She was never above bribery if it got us memorizing. This was in the days before Applebee’s and Outback Steakhouse and a yummy chain restaurant on every street corner. Because we were a family of six, we did not go out to eat very often, and rarely, if ever, did we go to a fancy restaurant. But Mom told us that if we memorized a book (yes a book!) of the Bible, she and dad would take us out (by themselves, no other siblings) to a really fancy restaurant.
It is hard to believe now, but that really did motivate us kids and I believe we all memorized a book of the Bible. I tackled the book of James (Martin Luther would not have been happy with that choice!)
James 3:2-10 says,
For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body. Indeed, we put bits in horses’ mouths that they may obey us, and we turn the whole body. Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, or reptile and creature of the sea, is tames and has been tamed by mankind. 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 image of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.
As I was working on James, those verses stuck with me. Maybe it was the plain language about horses and ships; I could really understand those analogies. I am very confident that plain language or no, it was the Holy Spirit speaking to me through those verses.
These verses, combined with my mom’s poster campaign, were quite a formidable pair.
The Impact of Words
My mom told me that when I became a mother, I needed to be careful about what I said about the kids in front of the kids, because those kids are always listening. Even when they are really little! Remember the old saying “little pitchers have big ears”?
“Oh, little Johnny is just so strong willed!”
“She never listens to anything I say!”
“I try so hard, but I just can’t get him to obey.”
Kids internalize these little comments we make. I have a friend who is darling and petite, but she doesn’t see herself that way. Her mom always told her she had “big bones.”
The list can go and on and on of careless comments, disparaging words, and negativity that so easily slides out of our mouths.
The Bible is pretty clear though: “For out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matt. 12:24)
So our words are actually a heart issue.
For me, the level of thankfulness that I have in my life is directly tied to the state of my heart.
In her quest to have us conquer our words, my mom always stressed the importance of giving thanks.
As I think about my life, I realize that one of the greatest gifts my mom gave me was thankfulness. It is very interesting to note that during the most difficult times of my life, the tool I most needed was thanksgiving. I am so grateful to my mom for instilling this in me.
When God called us into vocational ministry, I knew that Norman’s career and income level were going to look very different from how I grew up. My dad was very successful in his career; and I, as the last-born, benefitted greatly from that as his paycheck reflected the level of success God had granted him. My folks were always very careful with their money, we never lived in excess or opulence, but we had a good material life.
There is a tendency in support raising to worry about what kind of a life we provide our children. I chose to be very careful of what I said about finances and God’s provision in our lives so they wouldn’t hear me complaining or worrying or being stressed. I resolved early on to make sure that my kids understood that even though their lives looked different from their friends, we have an amazing life for which we are to be very thankful.
Sure, they have never been to Disneyworld, but for crying out loud, two of my children have been to Africa twice! Yes, their friends go on really cool Spring Break trips, but for years my kids got to camp at the beach with 50-100 amazing college students. How awesome was that?
Sure their dad doesn’t work a “normal” job, but how many kids get to have an endless supply of super awesome college students in their lives, year after year?
So we don’t have savings for a vacation? Well then, we will sit back and watch how the Lord provides!
That’s what thankfulness does: it takes my eyes off of what I don’t have and sets them on what I do have.
Your words make your world.
A wise woman builds her house, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands. (Proverbs 14:1)
One of the greatest ways we can build our house is by watching our words: words of gratitude build up our house instead of tearing it down.
Katie and Norm have been on staff since 1998 in WI and now minister in IL. This past year was her first year of parenting to not have a kiddo at home full time! They have been married for 20 years and have 4 children ages 7-18, 2 boys and 2 girls. Katie brings wonderful and focused perspective on what truly matters as she is battling breast cancer for the third time in 6 years.
What stood out to you in this post? What has God taught you about the power of words? Share your comments below or in our FB group.