It Has The Power of Life and Death

"The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit."         Proverbs 18:21

I am a lover of American history. My passion for the subject started early. My dad made history come alive for his children with his ability to interweave a personal story with its historical facts to bring the event to life. I remember taking a trip to Gettysburg, PA the summer before we left for the Congo for the first time. We kids wandered with him into the vast field where General Pickett made his costly charge. We imagined the soldiers in their gray and blue uniforms fighting passionately for their opposite causes. With his skill of painting amazing word pictures in our minds, my dad made us live that moment of long ago as though it had just happened.

Last week, I had the opportunity to go on my daughter's field trip to the Carter House where the Battle of Franklin was fought. We were blessed to have two guides that morning who gave us inside stories about some of the brave men who fought during those battles. Many of the stories were touching, almost bringing tears to my eyes as I listened.

Our guide told us that General Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the Union army, had a rule that he consistently tried to live by during his years of fighting battles. He would write out his true emotions in a letter as he felt them in the heat of anger. Then he would put the letter in his desk drawer and let it sit for one or two days until his anger had subsided. As a result, over 90% of the letters were never sent when he reread the words he had printed several days earlier. He was able to keep the poison of his raw emotion from infecting the important relationships he had with his subordinate officers. He found that he had a much clearer head after his anger had subsided. He would then rewrite the letter without the destructive words which would have caused him great regret and untold damage to the recipient of the letter.

How much regret would I spare myself if I followed that rule more consistently? I often spew out the poison of angry words that I immediately regret. I have a better handle on my tongue with friends and acquaintances, but I often hurt the ones I love the most with my words. Proverbs is so true! The power of life and death is in what I say. The childhood phrase, Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me is a lie through and through. Those wounds we get from others spoken in the heat of anger, jealousy, or thoughtlessness are almost impossible to heal from, no matter how many years have gone by. We all can remember moments seared into our memory, which still cause us pain today from the wounding of words. The shoves, pinches, or slaps that I have received are much more difficult to recall than the death of words spoken into my soul. I have been both the receiver and giver of these horrible words.

I think that General Grant had it right. I love that David, the author of so many psalms, poured out his true feelings in the poetry of the inspired Word of God. But I have to think that the only One who saw most of those poems during David's lifetime was God Himself. When I pour out my anger and all its venom to my heavenly Father, He never spreads it around. He is a safe sounding board for all my feelings. Bottling it up leads to an explosion of words that I immediately regret the moment they leave my mouth. I used to think it wasn't truly spiritual to express my anger in all its fury to Him. Psalm 139 assures me that before one word is on my tongue, He already knows it. He welcomes all that I have to say and then He helps me to decipher the poison of it before I express it to anyone else. 

Jesus, impress on me the power of my tongue to bring life or death to those around me. Help me to choose life, to express my feelings to You, and leave the poison of destructive words out of my relationships. Thank you that I can come to You with my true feelings. With Your help, the taste of the fruit of my tongue will be sweet instead of bitter.