Not all sayings, such as, “the customer is always right,” are correct. I have worked in the public sector (managed restaurants), and I know they are not always right. Time does not allow me to go into that but believe me, they are not always right. Customers should always be treated with respect and care, but they are not always right. Another wrong saying is, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” The truth is that words do wound. Broken bones will heal, but a word spoken in anger may never heal. We must not ever underestimate the power of the words we speak.
There are people we run into every day who carry baggage due to hurtful or mean things people said to them years before. You may even be one of those people. Many times, the one who said those things are family members or close friends. It is those who are closest to us who can hurt us the most. Sometimes things are said in anger or maybe in jest, but still, the scars can last a lifetime. Maybe people said you were fat or thin, too tall or too short, ugly, dumb, lazy; the list could go on forever. Perhaps as a child, you were told that you were worthless or no good, that you never would grow up to be anything. Too many times those types of words become a self-fulling prophecy.
One of the greatest tragedies of this type of speech is, if we don’t get help from this, it becomes a vicious cycle which we perpetuate to those around us — speaking curses into their lives instead of blessings.
My dad once told me that everyone made him happy. Some made him happy when they came, and others made him happy when they left. Don’t we all know someone like the latter? Everything that comes out of their mouth is griping and complaining, always putting others down. You can be feeling great, and you spend ten minutes with them, and you are ready to call the suicide hotline. They just take all the air out of the room. I must decide that I am not going to be that way.
The words we speak affect the world around us. What we say, and how we communicate with each other has long-lasting results. The words we speak can give life, hope, and love. Or they can bring death, division, and destruction. Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” Once the word is gone forth from your mouth, it is too late. I believe that is why James says that we are to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger (James 1:19). In other words, engage your mind before you engage your mouth.
There is a story of a woman in an Indian village who maliciously gossiped about another lady and her family in the village. One day she found out that she was wrong about this lady and her family and had a change of heart. She went to the village’s wise man and asked how she could take back all the wrong she had done. The wise man told her to go home and kill her chickens, and pluck their feathers and put them into a bag. After this, she was to go back and see the wise man again, but on her way back she was to scatter all the feathers she had plucked from the chickens.
The lady did as she was asked. When she got back to the man, he told her, “now go back and pick up all the feathers that you have scattered.” The woman was astonished at such a command and said, “By now the wind has carried the feathers throughout the village and beyond.” The wise man then told her, “and so it is with your careless words. They are like the feathers scattered in the wind. You cannot retrieve them.” With that, the woman, with a broken heart because of the words she had spoken, went her way, determined from that day forward to watch her words.
James talked about how hard it is to tame the words that we speak. It is impossible without the help of Jesus. He talks about a bit in the mouth of the horse, the rudder on the ship, a match in the forest. Each of these seemingly small items can change the very course of the future of each (James 3). Our tongue can be something that lifts up and encourages, or it can tear down reputations and lives in an instant. James goes as far as to say that if you want to see a perfect (mature) man look for the person whose words are not offending (verse 2).
Every person you come in contact with needs encouragement. Many need it desperately. As you encourage them, they will be like a sponge soaking up water. It will be nourishment for their soul. Never underestimate the power of the words you speak in helping those around you, starting with your family (Proverbs 12:25, 18:4, 25:11).
I heard the story about a man who had two daughters, one who was five and one who was two. For several years, he had taken the oldest girl out for a “date” time, but he had never taken the two-year-old. On his first “date” with the younger one, he took her out to breakfast at a local fast food restaurant.
They had just gotten their pancakes, and dad decided it would be a good time to tell this child how much he loved and appreciated her.
“Jenny,” dad said, “I want you to know how much I love you, and how special you are to Mom and me. We prayed for you for years, and now that you’re here and growing up to be such a wonderful girl, we couldn’t be prouder of you.”
Once he had said all this, he stopped talking and reached over for his fork to begin eating, but he never got the fork to his mouth.
His daughter reached out her little hand and laid it on her father’s hand. His eyes went to hers, and in a soft, pleading voice she said, “Longer, Daddy .. longer.”
He put down his fork and proceeded to tell her some more reasons and ways they loved and appreciated her, and then he again reached for his fork. A second time, and a third, and a fourth time he heard the words, “Longer, Daddy .. longer.”
This father never did get to eat that morning, but his daughter got the emotional nourishment she needed so much. A few days later, she spontaneously ran up to her mother and said, “I’m a really special daughter, Mommy. Daddy told me so.”
Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus that we were not to let anything corrupt or unwholesome come out of my mouths, but that we are to speak words that will build up and edify those around us. When we do this, we are ministering grace to those around us, and if we do not do this, we will grieve the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:29-30). For me, I want to pray as the Psalmist prayed, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.”