Read Psalm 141
Focus on verse 3
“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me!” I remember hearing that being shouted across the schoolyard when I was in third grade. It is entirely possible I shouted it myself at times. I believed it at the time, but I don’t believe it anymore. Words do have the power to hurt. Harsh words can inflict lasting trauma to the mind of a child especially when the hurtful words come from a person the child is close to such as a parent or sibling.
As I was growing up I was fortunate to have a family that for the most part used words in supportive and loving ways. I also had the advantage of being partially deaf in one ear, so I likely missed some of the hurtful words that may have been directed toward me as a result.
In today’s reading the psalmist petitions the Lord to help him filter his words. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” The writer is concerned that he might use his mouth to utter words that are not righteous. Any words that do not build up or encourage have the potential to do the opposite. When we are careless with our words, we risk offending people, and more importantly offending God. The thing about words is, that once we let them out – we can’t take them back. We can say “I take it back” or “I didn’t mean it”, the offended person may even forgive us and insist that there is no harm done, but it will never be the same as if the words had not been said. It is like that little puff of smoke that come out of your laptop computer when the processor melts down…there is now way to put the smoke back in! You can’t undo it.
Words also have positive power. Words can be used to instruct, when we fail to give needed instructions, bad things happen. Just this last week I failed to instruct my son that our weed-wacker runs on mixed fuel only, so when he filled it with regular lawnmower gas it was a only a matter of a few minutes till it melted down quit working. How I wished for an undo button to go back and give him the instruction he needed to know… that there was a separate can of mixed fuel right beside the wrong fuel. It was my failure to give him the words he needed to succeed at his task, so I did not chastise him for the mistake.
God has given us a book called the Bible that is filled with His words. Everything we need to know to live our lives successfully is written in that book. All we have to do is read it and ask Him to give us understanding, yet so many of us just toss it aside and blunder our way through life wondering why we have so much trouble. Some day when this life is over we will stand before God and will be asked to give an account of what we did with the words He has spoken to us. All of us have been given some level of understanding of God. For some it is very little more than a general knowledge, for others it is significant detail of the things of God. I do not believe that God will hold us accountable for anything He has not yet revealed to us about Himself, only for that which He has revealed. So the question for me today is…”What have I done with what I already know about God?”