Living Stones Series: First Published in All Around Old Bridge Publication – February 2017
By Pastor Lloyd Pulley
“Many a man’s tongue broke his nose.”
Oh, the truth in these words from the 16th century English poet Seamus MacManus!
The human tongue is perhaps the single most significant muscle in the entire body. With it, wars have been averted and waged, relationships lost and won, physical violence avoided and, in the MacManus’ observation, incited.
Consider the impact of your own words. How many times have you deeply regretted something you have said, wishing you could have a do-over? How many times have your words been misunderstood, misconstrued or misapplied and the result has been colossal damage? How often has a nasty rumor, an angry tirade or a snide, unnecessary word destroyed relationships that took years to build? The old childhood chant of “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is epically erroneous!
In the Bible, the tongue is likened to the rudder of a massive ship directing tons of metal and to a tiny match igniting a whole forest fire. Last year alone, we witnessed the devastating effects of worldwide wildfires originating from one tiny flame! Controlling the tongue is like preventing an out of control fire.
Now, we may have opened 2017 with the best of intentions to tame the bad habits of yesteryear. But, have we addressed what possibly can be done to tame that most powerful muscle between our nose and our chin?
The entire solution can be boiled down, ironically, to simply, “Say less!” What would happen if you simply chose to say less, even when provoked? What would happen if you chose not to share that tasty morsel of gossip, or to unleash that criticism?
One of the wisest men who ever lived put it this way, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent… Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 10:19, 17:27-28).
Think about beginning this “say less” practice at home. What would happen if we walked away to cool off rather than respond to our spouses or our children in fury? I often say that real “religion” begins at home. We often fail in private long before we fail in public. What better place to exercise saying less than right in our own homes!
From my own life, I know how incredibly difficult this is and I believe we truly need help to control our words. Self-control is a highly valued fruit among professing Christians. Saying less won’t come by mere will power because, ultimately, our speech is a matter of the heart. It was Jesus who said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” So the only way to change our words is, ultimately, to have a change of heart, and heart change is a supernatural phenomenon.
As a pastor for over 30 years, I have seen the best and worst of humanity. I have seen people run to Ground Zero within hours of 9/11 or to the Jersey shore after Superstorm Sandy to serve the needs of the hurting. And sadly, I have seen these same people rip each other apart with their words. The critical lesson I have learned, in it all, is that God has given us two ears and one mouth for a reason. We ought to listen twice as much as we speak. In fact, the Bible instructs us to be 1- swift to hear, 2 – slow to speak, and 3 – slow to anger, because human wrath never brings about the righteousness of God.
Note that order – first, to be swift to hear. In the days following 9/11, I learned this lesson ever so well. Sitting in Union Square with people experiencing unspeakable shock and grief, I realized how incredibly important it is to simply listen to people. Just listen. Don’t interrupt and don’t be thinking about what you are going to say. Just listen.
Second, be slow to speak. If you are not sure what to say, don’t say anything at all. If you are angry, just don’t talk. Don’t blow up. Walk away. Put it this way – how many times have you gotten in trouble for what you did not say?
And lastly, be slow to anger. That may be the subject of my next column: our penchant for anger. But for now, in the context of saying less, remember, nothing good ever comes out of a furious tirade. Nothing. Fight the urge to take to social media to blow off steam, or blowing up someones phone with angry texts. Careers and relationships have been destroyed by us saying too much, especially online.
My greatest counsel to us all – say less. American writer Will Durant put it this way, “Talk is cheap because the supply always exceeds the demand. One of the lessons of history is that nothing is often a good thing to do and always a clever thing to say.”