Speak Life!

I have been a fan of Toby Mac for many years.  I began listening to his music when he was a member of DC Talk, and have continued to do so throughout his solo career.  He has penned many songs, most of which I enjoy.  One song, however, has shot to the top of my list of favorites.  I don’t mean just my favorite Toby Mac songs, but my favorite songs overall.  That song is entitled, “Speak Life.”  And here’s why it’s a favorite.

Like me, I am sure that most of you have been around people who are incessantly negative or self-loathsome.  You know the type – always saying negative things about themselves or about other people, continuously talking poorly or even deriding their own or other people’s jobs, churches, relationships, general lot in life . . . the list goes on.   Then there are those who are just plain nasty.  These people have moved beyond mere negativity, and dwell in the world of personal destruction.  Their goal in life is to use words to destroy others.

Well, I find these people both frustrating and exhausting.  They drain me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  It matters not whether I am the target of their negativity or vituperation, or whether someone else, or even they themselves, are the target.  When I am around them, I want nothing more than to walk (perhaps even run) away.  Why?  For the same reason I would not hang around and allow a person to punch me, shoot me, or set me afire – the end result is pain and destruction.

Conversely, I am drawn toward people who are persistently positive, and thus speak positively.  Not just about others, but about themselves.  Let me be clear, by “about themselves” I don’t mean speaking in a delusional or arrogant manner.  For that, too, is repulsive.  Rather, I mean they speak in a manner that displays confidence in who and what they are as a person.  Not as victims of particular people, of their particular circumstances, or of society in general.

James, the brother of Jesus, recognized the power of the tongue.  He described the tongue as “a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body” (James 3:6, NIV).  In this same verse, James writes that the tongue, as a consequence, “corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  Such evocative verbiage!  It is, nonetheless, accurately descriptive.  Our words, which we form with our tongues, can be used to bring forth death or life (Proverbs 18:21).

James additionally analogizes the tongue to a bit that is placed in a horse’s mouth, and to a ship’s rudder (James 3:3-5).  Both the bit and the rudder, though relatively small, can be used to control large, powerful entities.   Similarly, our tongue, though relatively small, wields immense power.  We need, therefore, to tame it.  For if we do, we can use our words to positively influence others, to esteem others, to speak life into others.

Jesus said, “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34, NKJV).  In other words, our words reveal our character, our true self, who we truly are deep down in our soul.  Thus, when people speak negatively to or about others, not only are their words destructive to their victims and their victims’ friends, their words reveal their own sad, negative, self-destructive character.  Similarly, when people speak positively, not only do their words breathe life and health to the recipients, their words reveal their own confident, happy, healthy character.

If you want to be a person whose words bring life and hope to others, yet struggle doing so, I suggest taking a long, hard look inwardly.  Acknowledge this insidious character flaw, and then begin consciously working toward change.  I suggest, as a first step in this effort, asking God for help.  Then, stop speaking negatively, and begin speaking positively.

Please do not misinterpret me.  I am not suggesting that we should go through life communicating from the perspective of rose-colored glasses – that everyone is great, that everyone persistently performs at peak efficiency, that everyone does everything correctly all of the time.  No, we all fall short, and thus we all need redemption (Romans 3:23).  We need, at times, to have someone speak correction into our lives.  We need, at times, to speak correction into other’s lives.  This can be done disrespectfully and insultingly, or it can be done gracefully and graciously.

I am a person who continuously seeks, indeed needs, feedback.  I understand that this feedback may sometimes be corrective.  I am always more receptive to corrective feedback when it is presented gracefully and respectfully.  Professionally, I am in a position that requires me to periodically provide corrective feedback.  Given my own disposition, it is always my goal to provide it with grace and respect.  I have found that such feedback, when received as intended, is actually life-giving.

Our words can destroy or restore, injure or heal, depress or edify, corrupt or honor.  The choice is ours.  We can choose words of hate or words of love, words that bring despair or words that bring hope.  In short, we can choose to speak death or we can choose to speak life.

I don’t know about you, but I overwhelmingly prefer to both hear and speak words of hope over words of despair, words of love over words of hatred.  The reward in doing so is twofold.  Firstly, such words bring life to the recipient.  Secondly, the speaker experiences the joy that comes from the recipient’s reaction.

So speak life!  And then watch.  You’ll see the difference that your words make.  Not just to others, but to yourself.

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