The power of words: this morning’s service
A great children’s talk from Phil this morning, which summed up the theme of the service.
He issued each of the kids who were willing to come to the front with a plastic plate and a tube of toothpaste, and set them to task of drawing pictures on the plate with toothpaste. After a few minutes, they’d produced some lovely artwork – a tree, a flower, a stick-figure among them.
‘Now’, said Phil when we had all admired the children’s handiwork. ‘I want you to try to get the toothpaste back into the tubes.’ The kids had a bash at this, but its fair to say that while a lot of toothpaste went into their hands (Phil had thoughtfully provided towels for the necessary destickyfying process) while very, very little – of in fact any – reached the inside of a tube.
A bit of a waste of toothpaste, perhaps, but worth it for the lesson it taught the children, and everyone in the church. It was a lesson which Phil later reinforced in his sermon on James 3:1-12.
‘Once it’s out, it’s out!’ Phil noted about the toothpaste. And it is exactly the same with the words we say, and the words we write on social media. Words are uttered or written, they have their effect on the listening, an affect which may be devastating of the words were ill-chosen. Words, once said, can never be recalled.
We have this great capacity to ‘build up’ one another with our words, or to ‘tear down’ one another. Our ability to control our tongues is a measure of the self-knowledge and maturity we have reached. Phil gave us a helpful piece of advice: ‘Never trust your tongue when your heart is bitter.’ But it takes self-awareness to discern our heart’s weather, and self-discipline to hold back from speaking until the storm has passed.
Phil told us that research shows that once something negative and unhelpfully critical has been said to us, we need to hear seven positive things to restore us to the sense of wellbeing we were at before the hard words tore into us.
We are challenged to speak with grace, thoughtfulness, and empathy so that we are those who build up, rather than tear down. Phil quoted Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:18-19) to remind us that what we say is often a reflection of what we think, and are in our deepest selves, so if our speech is to change, then our hearts must be more connected with love and with God.
I think (John speaking here) that how we speak is often influenced by what we hear, or allow ourselves to hear. If we constantly pay attention to the negative stuff people say about us, the negative stuff we say about ourselves, and even the negative stuff we mistakenly believe God is saying about us, then it’s likely that we will say negative stuff to others.
The secret to right speaking is right listening: hearing God’s word to us that we are loved, and precious; loving ourselves as God’s cherished children and speaking positive things about ourselves. These positive messages will prompt the positive words of empathy which encourage others. Knowing ourselves wholly loved will help us, on our better days, to love wholly. But of course there will still be bad times when clouds block the sun, and we are tempted to lash out verbally. That’s when the self control comes in.
Phil particularly mentioned social media: the danger of reacting in anger, saying things about people in the seeming anonymity of cyberspace what we would never say face to face. Interact on-line with grace, seeking always to build up and encourage,
Now of course, sometimes constructive criticism of others is appropriate in the context of our relationship with them. But we should seek a way of encouraging someone to grow which while mentioning some failing of theirs, does so in such a way, and in such love that the recipient is inspired and not downcast.
Here are some other pieces of advice among those Phil mentioned this morning:
‘The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.’ (Proverbs 12:18)
‘Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.’ (Proverbs 16:24)
‘Before you speak, let your words pass through these gates: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?
Anh he quoted Thumper, the rabbit in the Wal Disney Bambi film whose catch-phrase was ‘ If you can’t say nothin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.’
And finally, Phil gave us a wee exercise to encourage us to think positively about one another. On the way in, each of us had been given a tie-on parcel label attached to a piece of string. We had to write our name on it, and then pass it to someone near us in exchange for their label. On the label, we had to write something positive and encouraging about the other person.
What a challenge! Today, in the coming week – seeking to speak and write online in a way which encourages and upbuilds, ensuring that even constructive criticism comes with love.
We will not always succeed, but even in our failures God assures us ‘You are my beloved child,’ and once these words touch our souls, the well of grace is unstopped, and love flows freely within us and shapes all our living – words included.