Do you control your tongue or does it control you?

It’s a small part of our body, but it can cause huge problems, says Michele Morrison   

Most of us are unhappy about some aspect of our bodies, but the truth is that the tongue in our mouth may very well be the least attractive part of our body. Oh, it may look innocent enough lying low between gleaming white teeth, but once it rises up and becomes articulate, it can turn ugly. Blasphemous, filthy or simply critical, the words that pour forth from our mouths are powerful. James wrote: “The tongue is . . . a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person” (James 3:6)

The words we speak, as James implies, can corrupt and harden our heart. If we always criticise others, for instance, that habit becomes our heart’s default attitude, rather than one of mercy and grace. Or if we carelessly mimic the vulgar words of others around us, our own thought patterns can subtly degrade. We must watch our language.

Of course, a bad mouth may not create, but may reveal, a bad heart. Jesus said: “From the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks”. Angry words, which expose our true feelings, so quickly fly out of our mouths. Words can wreck relationships and ruin lives, and though forgiveness may come, no amount of humble grovelling can erase the memory of what was said.

There is no truth in the old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Hurtful names can break more than bones: they can break hearts.
Based on the premise that it takes 21 days to form a new habit, Rev Will Bowen from the US is campaigning to encourage others to break their habit of complaining, which seems to have reached epidemic proportions globally.

In his book, A Complaint Free World, Bowen suggests wearing a rubber bracelet, which you must swap between wrists every time you catch yourself complaining. His website says he has shipped 5.4 million bracelets worldwide. Complaining negates gratitude and can reveal a pre-occupation with selfish desires. God was not happy with the Israelites moaning in the desert, and he’s not happy with us moaning, either.

Our tongues let us down in so many ways. Nothing tempts them to rise up and sing more than a bit of salacious gossip, and the thrill of sharing it with others. Sometimes we Christians sanctimoniously preface a juicy piece of news by flagging it up as a prayer request. But gossip – even camouflaged in a prayer – can destroy reputations.

Words have the power to prevent someone from reaching her God-given potential. A professor so undermined my self-confidence by a critical remark, implying my tongue was disconnected from my brain, that for decades I was too intimidated to speak even at a PTA meeting! Eventually the Holy Spirit freed me from that curse, but it took years. Words are like poison arrows; they penetrate deep and their poison permeates everything.

Pop psychology advises us to express our deepest hurts so they don’t fester. Judging by the proliferation of agony-style talk shows, we humans love to watch others do that, tearing one other apart with bitter accusations and seeking revenge. There is no shortage of people ready to step up to the ‘mike’ with a mouth full of fury. But we are called to take our hurts to God, and to forgive one another as he has forgiven us. Our tongues don’t always reflect consistent obedience in this regard.

We live in an age of enhanced communication, where words are plentiful – spoken in person or on the phone, written in e-mails or in text messages. There is more potential than ever to sin with our tongues, whether through swearing, gossip, criticism or simply because we speak foolishly. We are responsible for every idle word we utter – every idle word!  Scripture suggests that sometimes we’re just too chatty. Whether intentionally vicious or unintentionally silly, our words will one day be replayed before God’s judgment seat. I’m blushing just thinking about it.

The apostle Peter had a problem with his tongue. Having been highly commended for his insight into Jesus’ identity (a tip-off from the Father), he then unwisely decided to give Jesus a bit of advice, declaring he should not be crucified – a tempting thought which Jesus immediately recognised as a tip-off from Satan. Peter must have been shocked. We are all easily deceived into thinking our words are wise and even godly.

A short time later, up a mountain, Peter was so excited by the surprise appearance of Moses and Elijah and the awesome glory of Jesus that he just started babbling. (Ever done that?) He was in full flow, expounding his Great Idea: build three shelters. Suddenly God the Father interrupted, “This is my Son. Listen to him!” A hint of exasperation there? One problem with an over-active tongue is that it drowns out the still, small voice of God.

So how do we tie down these ugly tongues of ours? It’s a matter of self-control, a fruit of the Spirit which grows when we completely depend on God. Jesus, always a good role-model, spent so much time in his Father’s company that his mouth was sanctified, every word uttered for a purpose.

Taming the tongue is like taming a tiger. There’s always the danger it reverts to its natural state. So keep on it.

With God’s help, we can all tame our tongues, so that we can echo Isaiah: “The Sovereign Lord has given me an instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary. He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught” (Isaiah 50:5). 

May our tongues be sources of encouragement and blessing, eliciting from God not a wince, but a smile.

How to tame your tongue

Here’s a few ideas which I’m hoping might help keep mine in check.

* Every morning, first thing, ask the Holy Spirit to maintain a guard on your tongue.
* Practice the presence of Jesus; only speak out what you would happily say were he to materialise during your discourse.
* Cut off the source of verbal sin. Take every critical thought captive to Christ before it takes root in your heart and bubbles out of your mouth.
*  A passionate conviction can come across as self-righteous and judgmental. Pray for wisdom before weighing in on a contentious issue. Remember God’s grace, and let your words be few.
* Distance yourself from gossip, refusing to listen even if that requires walking away. Untrue gossip is slander, and slanderers feature in Paul’s list of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:10) 
* Ask forgiveness for any reckless words you have said – intentionally or unwittingly – which have “pierced like a sword” (Proverbs 12:18).
* Discipline children before you lose your temper. Angry words may echo in your children’s minds forever.
* Reinforce your commitment to taming your tongue by means of some sort of physical reminder, be it a rubber bracelet or a swear box. It will sharpen your ear and increase your resolve. Repent every time you have to swap the band or pay a fine. And start over.
* Finally, pray that yours will become a tongue of wisdom, bringing healing, not brokenness. (Proverbs 12:18) Our mouths were meant to bless, not curse.

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