We all know that certain words have the power to cut straight to our souls. Oftentimes they come in the form of undue ridicule, truth spoken yet void of love, or simply as a virile attack on one’s own being. Perhaps as you’re reading your mind recalls that phrase you likely heard as a child, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”
While spoken as a means of offering comfort in the aftermath of name-calling or as a means of protecting against future word-attacks, we all know that, sadly, words do indeed hurt. They have the power of tearing others down. They can easily become weapons of hatred and violence. They can curse the very God who is worthy of the praises of our lips. Words—what profound power they have…
And yet, words cut both ways. They can surely hurt those who are their targets, but they can also ignite life in the weary, encourage the broken hearted, humble the proud, and exalt the God who graciously invites us into relationship with Himself.
And so, for better or for worse, words can—AND DO—indeed cut to the soul. This is true for both the speaker and recipient(s). The ever-present dichotomy is ever before us. Through our words, we can choose to either extend life or impart death.
I’ll never forget that night several years back. Along with another American and a handful of Canadians, I found myself “ministering to” young boys and teens at an orphanage in Tanzania. Stripped of the means of entertainment I had been used to the vast majority of my life, days at the orphanage were spent creating fun or seeking it out. Being proactive and simply slowing down and enjoying life at a different pace took center-stage. Often I found myself bored, dreaming about returning to what was “normal” for me.
And yet, it was in such a setting that I was the recipient of nine words that struck me to the core. These words capped off an unbelievable evening of dancing, a giant bonfire, hot dogs, and an exhilarating sense of camaraderie with our brothers in Christ. Truly one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
It was as the embers began to darken that we all made our way to the dorms. There, 4 or 5 children/teens shared a room. Some shared a bed. Others climbed up four-story bunk beds to wrestle their way into their sheets. Such was the setting of the words that have me reflecting on them here as I write.
One of the teenagers—to be honest, I’ve since forgotten his name—looked me in the eyes, “NO ONE [a non-orphan] HAS EVER SPENT THE NIGHT WITH US.”
Those words were spoken years ago—nine years, to be exact. And yet, how uplifting they are to me. Those words remind me that extending love to others is really quite simple; it is we, broken sinners, who like to complicate it. Those words remind me that in my desire to serve others, I found that they served me more. Those words remind me of the need for humility…always, everywhere, under all conditions. Those words remind me of times when my words have lifted others up, but sadly of times when my words have brought others down.
Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” May we take this truth to heart today and use our words as means to demonstrate our love for God and love for others.