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Yes, Your Words Matter

Yes, Your Words Matter

Paul Tournier, the Swiss physician and counselor, told of a patient he treated who felt a chronic sense of unworthiness, an acute sense of emptiness. During counseling, the woman shared an incident from her childhood when she overheard her mother say to her father, “We could have done without that one!” Those words were an open wound decades later. They were more than careless words; they were a curse.

All of us have shame scripts—I am unwanted, unworthy, unlovable. A blessing can flip the script the other way. Remember, our words create worlds. One prophetic word can rewrite an entire narrative! Either way, our words have a ripple effect.

In his Hall of Fame speech, Brett Favre told a story he had never shared publicly. In high school, Favre’s father was also his football coach. After a game when he didn’t play particularly well, he sat outside his dad’s office and overheard him talking to the other coaches: “I can assure you one thing about my son: He will play better. He will redeem himself. I know my son. He has it in him.”

I think it’s fair to say that Brett Favre played better, all the way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. “I never forgot that statement,” he said. “I spent the rest of my career trying to redeem myself.” All of us need someone who believes in us more than we believe in ourselves. For Brett Favre, it was a father who didn’t give up on him.

For better or for worse, our words are self-fulfilling prophecies. Are you giving people something to live up to or something to live down to? Are your words life-giving? Or do your words suck the life out of others? Are your words encouraging or discouraging?

I don’t know what you do for a living, but you, my friend, are a prophet. Your words matter. Your words carry weight. You
have the power to speak life or speak death. Could I be so bold as to add a hyphen to your occupation? I don’t care what you do; you are a doctor-prophet, a teacher-prophet, a barista-prophet, an Uber-driver-prophet. The same is true of parents. Prayer turns ordinary parents into prophets who shape the destinies of their children. Remember the pastor who spoke prophetically over my life? That was the first and last time I ever met him, but he changed the trajectory of my life with ten words: “God is going to use you in a great way.”

In Hebrew, lashon hara denotes derogatory speech that damages another person. It’s expressly forbidden to speak or listen to such language. The first instance of lashon hara happened when the serpent slandered the goodness of God in the Garden of Eden. The spies who brought back a negative report of the Promised Land were guilty of lashon hara. They spoke words against God, and the entire nation lost heart. Their negativity cost them an entire generation!

Can I make a confession? I’m better at complaining than confronting! It’s so much easier, isn’t it? It’s okay to verbalize what you’re feeling, but there is a fine line between processing and gossiping. If you cross the line, it’s lashon hara.

When the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness, Aaron and Miriam got frustrated with Moses. “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses.” (Num. 12:1, NIV) God heard them, and Miriam ended up with leprosy. Was it psychosomatic? I’m not sure. But if our words create worlds, then our external realities are affected by our internal attitudes. The Jewish people weren’t allowed to speak lashon hara. They weren’t allowed to listen to lashon hara either. Why? Because words have incredible power.

There is a Jewish story about a woman who visited a rabbi and confessed to spreading falsehoods about another person. The rabbi gave her two tasks. The first task was to take feathers from a pillow and put one at the doorstep of every home in the village. After doing this, she returned to the rabbi and said, “What’s the second task?” The rabbi said, “Go and gather up all the feathers from each of the houses.” “But, Rabbi, that’s impossible,” the woman objected. “The wind has spread them far and wide.” “Indeed it has,” said the rabbi. “To gather those feathers is as impossible as taking back the harsh words you have spoken. You would do well to remember that before you speak in the future.”

This goes without saying, but there are some things you shouldn’t say! When God called Jeremiah to be His prophet, Jeremiah objected: “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” (Jer. 1:6 NIV) If you’re looking for an excuse, you’ll always find one!

You’ll never be enough of this. You’ll always be too much of that. God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies the called. God gave Jeremiah a gag order: “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ ” (Jer. 1:7 NIV) Why? Because, in so doing, Jeremiah was reinforcing a wrong narrative! He was speaking words that were contrary to God’s plans and purposes, which is lashon hara. “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.” (Jer. 1:7 NIV)

There is a phrase—my word is my bond—that traces back to Shakespearean times. But the idea goes further back than that. “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ ” Jesus said, “and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ ” (Matt. 5:38 BSB) In other words, say what you mean and mean what you say. We waste words, don’t we? Or worse, we don’t really mean what we say! But there is a high value, a high standard, placed on words: “By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt. 12:37 NIV)

Francis Schaeffer once noted that if we were all forced to wear a voice recorder that captured all our conversations and if those conversations were made public for the whole world to hear, all of us would go into hiding for the rest of our lives! All of us have said things we regret. Beating yourself up over it won’t make it better! But I would recommend an honest evaluation of your words. What would a transcript of your conversations say about you? Are there any words that need to be deleted from your vocabulary? Is there a body posture you need to change? How about tone? One small change could alter the trajectory of your life!

Remember my confession in the introduction? I was using negative words with a high degree of frequency, and they were becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. I was committing lashon hara against myself. If you struggle with negative self-talk, give yourself a gag order!

Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it. (Eph. 4:29 AMPC)

It’s time to take inventory.
Are your words reconciling or dividing?
Are your words encouraging or discouraging?
Are your words helpful or hurtful?
Are your words blessing or cursing?

Some of the saddest words in the Bible belong to Esau, right after Jacob stole his blessing. “Do you have only one blessing, my father?” (Gen. 27:38 NIV) Esau was a man’s man. His name literally means “hairy.” He probably shaved twice a day! Esau wasn’t touchy feely, but Scripture says he wept out loud. “Bless me, even me also, O my father.” (Gen. 27:38, ESV)

Blessing is the deepest longing of the human heart. Why? It’s our oldest collective memory! The first thing God did after creating humankind in His image was to bless them: “Then God blessed them.”  (Gen. 1:28, NLT) Original blessing precedes original sin, and that sequence is not insignificant. It sets the tone. It sets the table. God’s default setting is blessing! Blessing is His most ancient instinct. It’s who God is. It’s what God does.

Excerpted from Please, Sorry, Thanks: The Three Words That Change Everything. Copyright © 2023 by Mark Batterson. Published by Multnomah, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

© 2023 RELEVANT Media Group, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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