I’m at work as I write this…36 hours into a 48 hour shift, and I’m struggling with something. What is it about me that can’t let go of who I was? I have for as long as I can remember, struggled with controlling my tongue…keeping silent when I should…and with cursing and swearing. What is it about me that thinks I need to talk? When my mind is screaming at me “keep your mouth shut!! Don’t say anything!!”, I find myself tripping over my own words as I’m spewing out ugliness and disgust. Why is that?
It’s not that I walk around swearing “like a sailor”…cursing all the time…an obscenity spewed out in every sentence I utter everywhere I go. That would be a disgrace, right? No…certainly not that bad. It’s WORSE!!! How, you ask, could it be worse than that? Well, I pick and choose who I want to be to different people. I don’t like to admit that, and I certainly am not proud of it…but it’s true. My struggle is at work. At work, I’m not always the example of a Christ-follower I long to be, and more often than not, I let the true me come out. That is worse than cursing all the time, in that I’m supposed to be representing Christ. When I claim to be a Christian and then don’t act different than non-Christians, how am I shining Christ’s light? How am I showing others that I’m changed through the grace of Christ? How can people look at me and think “There’s something different about him! I want what he’s got!”?
I used to think I was alone in doing that…that I was the only one on the planet who was one person with some people…and someone different to others. Then I witnessed a fellow Christian friend do just that…right in front of me. Have you ever been arguing with someone? A family member…a friend…a coworker? As Christians, we often call those “discussions”, yet we find ourselves somewhere in the middle of that “discussion” getting angry…frustrated…upset…selfish…prideful…impatient…even hateful. Then somewhere during that discussion the phone rings? Someone knocks on the door? And when you answer the door or take that call you do so with a pleasant voice, expressing happiness that they called? Answer their “how are you?” with a “I’m good. How are you?” Yeah…me too. Isn’t that the same thing?
If there’s one thing I could change about me, this would certainly be at the top of the list. Some days I think that if I could just get this sin in check, so many of my other sins would fall by the wayside with it. And then, as if God is listening to my thoughts, I open to James again this afternoon…and immediately find encouragement that it’s not just me.
“for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body.” – James 3:2
James spends the next ten verses warning of how the tongue controls the whole body…that what we say leads us…that the tongue is a “fire…a world of unrighteousness…[that] pollutes the whole body…a restless evil, full of deadly poison…” Pretty clear that I’ve got some work to do in this…that if I can indeed control my tongue, the other sins in my life will be easier to control. So, that answers the “why?“…I’m a practical guy though…what about the “how?”
Perhaps mom said it best when she said, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” But perhaps she heard that from her mom…who heard it from her mom…who heard it from her mom…all the way back to the writer of Proverbs who has a lot to say about controlling the tongue:
“When there are many words, sin is avoidable, but the one who controls his lips is wise.” – Proverbs 10:19
“The intelligent person restrains his words, and one who keeps a cool head is a man of understanding. Even a fool is considered wise when he keeps silent, discerning when he seals his lips.” – Proverbs 17:27-28
“The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” – Proverbs 21:23
Father God, please come alongside me in this struggle and strengthen me in the way only you can. Support me when I’m weak and lift me when I’m falling. Show me how to be the father my children will respect. I don’t just crave their love and affection. I long for their respect…for them to know the dad I am with them is the same man I am in all situations and circumstances. I so deeply want them to know that I have experienced many of the same struggles and difficult times they will one day face themselves…not that I always overcame them…but that I rely on you for my strength to win my battles…that I recognize I can do nothing without you. Lord, please fill me with your Spirit when I’m tempted to open my mouth, and please keep my eyes open to the evil around me so that I can heed the warning in Proverbs 4:23 to “Guard [my] heart above all else for it is the source of life.” Lord, when I’m tempted to open my mouth when I shouldn’t, please slap me upside the head and tell me “Zip it!!!”