My friend Adam Niess preached for us last Sunday from James 3 with the exhortation to guard our tongues. It was a helpful, clear and convicting sermon. Our family has been using his outline for family worship this week and I wanted to use this post to consider some possible applications of that sermon. Specifically, given Scripture's clear instruction to guard our "mouth and tongue" (Pro. 21:23) and given our complete dependence on the Holy Spirit's sanctifying work, what are some ways I can more actively guard my words?
Prayer - Convinced by Scripture of the tongue's power to heal (Pro. 10:21) and damn (Jas. 3:6), why don't I pray for God's help more than I do? Especially those of us who preach and teach, whose life callings are primarily wrapped up in words, this ought to be a matter of daily prayer for me. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer." (Ps. 19:14)
Weeding the soil - Jesus made it clear that words are a direct indicator of our heart, that the things we say proceed directly from the deep things inside us. (Mt. 15:18) Thus, any attempt to guard my lips without guarding my heart is a fool's errand. If my words grow in the soil of my heart, that soil needs to be weeded through regular interaction with God's Worrd, especially through repentance. Further, that soil needs to be guarded from unnecessary contaminants. We can't (and shouldn't) avoid talking with sinful people, but we can certainly guard our hearts from the unnecessary filth so often handed to us through the guise of entertainment. "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life." (Pro. 4:23)
Scripture memory - Replacement is always the necessary step, following closely on the heels of repentance (Eph. 4:28). Not only should I seek God's forgiveness for careless, crass and hurtful words, I should seek to replace them. What better to put in place of my sinful words than God's perfect and holy Word? Surely Scripture memory is one of the best ways to ensure our mouths always have something genuinely good and helpful to say (Eph. 4:29). I can testify that my own ministries of counseling and discipleship are much more effective when God's Word has regularly been flowing through my lips. "These words that I command you today shall be on your heart." (Deu. 6:5)
Planning encouragement - While some may have a particular gift of encouragement, able to give words of help and hope without even thinking too much about it, most of us need to plan to be encouraging. For myself, the first step is to be faithful in prayer for others, especially my family and church family. As I pray, it will be easier and easier to thank God for each person particularly. It should be a short trip from praying for someone to giving them a word of encouragement. I could tell them what I've been praying for; I could tell them why I'm thankful for them; I could tell them what they're teaching me. So my goal is to plan more encouragement, to be prepared with thankful, complimentary, Biblical words. I want to think this way on my way home each day and in my preparation for Sunday ministry.
Any other ideas for guarding our tongues?