I was swapping stories with a friend of mine; he also was from a small town, so even though our experiences were different, we could relate to each other from a vantage point only small-town folks can share. He played high school basketball, and his overachieving team had reached the regional tournament, only to find themselves opposite an urban powerhouse—a legendary team known throughout the state. From tip-off, the underdogs played hard and played well, down by a mere two points at the half. The hometown boys bounded into the locker room, heads high, confidence swelling, victory possible. So when the coach gathered them around, they eagerly awaited the game plan and pep talk from their leader. “If you continue to rebound and don’t turn the ball over,” he said, “you won’t lose by more than 10 points,” That was it. Confidence exited the room before the now-deflated team could even pivot toward the door. They lost by six.
Words are mysterious things. We cannot see them, but there may be no more powerful force on earth than these outward expressions of the innermost soul. With words, we build people up or tear them down. With words, we instill confidence or inject fear. With words, we glorify our God or berate our family. With words, we uphold others’ honor or shackle them with shame. We give voice to the hope in our heart and others take courage. We confess our wrongs and people are freed to forgive. We speak truth to a lie and justice reigns. Our words change the world, even if only the sliver that surrounds us. Powerful, powerful things, our words.
So the apostle Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. . . . Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:29, 31-32). Tend to your heart, he seemed to say, and your voice will follow.
There was an epilogue to my friend’s story. After the game, the coach took ownership of his leadership lapse and called his team together. He said, “I did you a great injustice. If I had told you at halftime you would win, you would have.” The game was forever lost, but everyone had experienced this lesson for life—the power of words.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,”1 that by your grace my words would bring blessing to others. Amen.
1 Psalm 51:10
[Read today’s Scripture in Ephesians 4:17-32.]