Content & Images © 2008-2014 - Rachel Miller, Ink Road Originals LLC, All Rights Reserved

Monday, August 15, 2011

Finding the Best Words

As you probably already know if you've read my bio, I am a freelance writer.  Because I work with words on a daily basis, I'm constantly aware of their power, especially their eternal consequences.

Spoken and written words can continue to destroy or build people up for centuries after they are written.  It is a ripple effect, best measured over the course of centuries.  I can think of a few notable documents that have changed history forever.  Some had a good effect, like the Ninety-Five Theses, and some are much more destructive, like Mein Kampf or The Communist Manifesto.  Because of that, I see it as a matter of utmost importance that we weigh carefully all of our words.

A college friend once told me that she didn't think a sermon was properly-written unless it was heavily grounded in Scripture, rather than just using one or two verses as a launching-off point to spout the preacher's personal agenda.  That has stayed with me ever since, and I think it has had some effect on all of aspects of my life, from conversations to writing projects, in the years since.  It forced me to hold myself to a higher standard than what is generally called "acceptable."  If my words could not be backed by many Scriptures, perhaps I needed to search the Bible longer before expressing them.

In contrast, I recall a parting jab concerning a devotional I had just shared.  These words still echo through my mind in those weaker moments when I'm struggling with writer's block on a project: "Nothing you've ever said, nothing you've ever written had any meaning.  All of it is worthless to me."  Such comments strike deep at the heart of an author, especially, and I think that was the intention.

The words spoken over us yesterday have a lasting effect on us today.  No doubt you have your own memories of things that corrected you and built you up, as well as things that tore you down (and if aimed well, still have the power to do damage).  Yesterday's teaching can burn our whole world down, if it is evil (James 3: 5,6), or it can instruct us with everything we need to succeed in our lives (2 Timothy 3: 14-17).

My words flow through the keys or roll off my tongue and have an immediate effect.  Is that effect desirable?  As a Christian, I want my words to help people and point them toward God and His ways.  Anything else seems like a waste of everyone's time, and no one knows how much time we have left.

The Bible says, "The soothing tongue is a tree of life, but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit," (Proverbs 15:4 NIV 2011).  In the 1984 version of the NIV, it doesn't say "soothing" and "perverse," it says "the tongue that brings healing," and "deceitful."  In either version, we understand that good, constructive talk is capable of bringing back life, not unlike that tree in the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve were barred from approaching again.  Meanwhile, evil speech goes farther than just offending a person--it has the ability to deal out a crushing blow to the spirit, not merely the body.

So what kind of talk is good and constructive?  Another proverb reads, "Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing," (Proverbs 12: 18 NIV).  We aren't talking about positive affirmation mantras or anything that we can throw out there without much thought, nor are we talking about words spoken out of rage and frustration, without a thought to their consequences.  We are talking about wise words, which have been around since the beginning (Proverbs 8: 22-36), "the first of [God's] works."  Not only have they been around awhile, but also they will last until the end of time.  They are an eternal foundation, which we need in our own lives, and should sow into other people's lives as well.

Over time, food can poison the body or nourish it, but as we see in Scripture, words have a much more lasting power.  I have spoken of the eternal source of our words, and a little about their eternal effects, but no verse makes it more clear than Proverbs 18: 21: "The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit," (NIV 2011).

We know that a king has the power to pronounce judgement over another, or that our wicked words have the power to crush someone to the point that they give up on God.  Words are terribly powerful things, even destructive weapons, when used without wisdom or love.  However, as the verse also points out, those who use them will reap their consequences.  If you build people up, God will reward you, but if you use your words to destroy others, God will turn your own words against you.  Therefore, the most destructive thing in our own lives can be our own words.

Perhaps the most frightening image of the future is the day we will all have to take credit for every word and deed in this life:
Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.   The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. (Revelation 20: 11-13 NIV 2011)
 As we read later in that passage, those that Christ redeemed (whose names were in the book of life) were given eternal life (Revelation 21: 1-8), but those who were not redeemed were thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).  Never does this passage, or any other, say that Christians will not have to explain and own up to everything they have ever done, in front of an audience of all who have ever lived; it only says that they will be spared the death that was coming to them!

So today, I am asking you, even Christians, to give some thought to your words.  If everything you said was paraded before the whole world, would you be ashamed?  Would anything you said be counted as deficient, lacking in wisdom, or bristling with rashness and deception?  If so, I am calling you to repent today, so that tomorrow will be better for you, and so that your words can go out and reap a good harvest throughout future generations.

This is God's example, that we should aspire to follow:

 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55: 10, 11 NIV)