The power of the human tongue is immense. Astonishing. Frightening!
Thus Holy Scripture warns: "Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything" (Proverbs 13:3 NLT). Again: "It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that" (James 3:5-6 MSG).
If you need a recent case study to illustrate how much harm can be done by perverse or corrupt speech, consider the Twitter hoax that sent the New York Stock Exchange into convulsions. A 140-character message ("Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured") was posted when hackers from Syria somehow broke into The Associated Press's Twitter feed.
That false posting caused the Dow Jones industrial average to drop by 150 points almost immediately and to erase $136 in market value.
The hoax was discovered in a matter of minutes, and the markets recovered quickly. While it is surely the case that automated trading systems caused some of the panic by reacting to certain keywords, one expert said, "There's no doubt in my mind that humans were reacting to this and it wasn't just robots."
Yes, we humans react to words. There is an adrenaline rush. Tempers flare and bodies tense. We meet angry words with angry words. People come to blows. Partnerships, friendships, relationships, marriages - their stock crashes! Sometimes never to recover from the harm done in one awful instant.
Nobody avoids the temper-tongue trap! But some are more prone to step into it again and again than others. Bringing a measure of restraint to bear is difficult, and it will never happen without effort. Awareness, intention, self-control, prayer - all have a significant contribution to make to the process. Oh, and apologies!
The good news is that the tongue - or Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social media - can do positive things as well. Again, however, it happens because one chooses to think, intend, and pray for wholesome speech that builds up rather than tears down, encourages rather than discourages.
Now is the time to be more self-aware of the way you use words; perhaps it would be good to ask a few of the people around you with that. Then form the clear and deliberate intention to be one whose words bless rather than blight. God not only will help you avoid the temper-tongue trap but also will teach you how to use words that have a consistently positive effect on those around you.
Others before us have seen the power of words. One of them framed this prayer for all of us: "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14 NLT).
Dr. Rubel Shelly is Pastor of Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, Nashville and authors Fax of Life a weekly service. He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. To subscribe to Fax of Life, send email to faxOfLife@woodmont.org