Kelly Clarkson sang a song on American Idol last season that became an absolutely holy moment. I know that sounds like an oxymoron (holy moment and American Idol), but that is exactly what it was. And anybody who saw it that night would have had to agree it was exactly that.
One of the reasons I say it that way, and saw it as such, is because that song was written out of her own deep personal pain. She wrote about the destructive power of words and how piece by piece it robbed of the most important parts of herself, and by the end of the song she was in tears, the judges were in tears, and most people watching it were too – including me.
The reason I think this was so powerful was because most of the time we underestimate the power of words. In fact, we are told from the time we are very young to pretend they do no harm at all. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. We are supposed to be tough. We are supposed to let these things roll off our backs. People don’t know what they are saying. They don’t really mean it – but I think in those few television moments – in the most unlikely of places (American Idol), we all heard the truth that careless, judgmental, dismissive words are deeply painful – and piece by piece they do take parts of our soul. And no amount of toughening ourselves up will change that reality. Thank-you Kelly for have the courage to say it, and sing it so powerfully.
The scriptures have always warned us of the destructive power of the tongue. James probably said it most directly,
“Among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. People can tame all kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, but no one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”
Words have tremendous potential for destruction. We often think they don’t – but they do! No matter how hard we work to try and convince ourselves otherwise, personal experience has taught us this is most certainly the case. Loose lips sink ships
And yet, if it is true that words have significant destructive power, then they must also have a significant power for good as well. In fact, I think that is the point of the scriptural warnings. The point is simply this: Words have power! The only real remaining question is will that power be used for good or evil?
I think one of the most compelling pieces of the Christmas story – and one (quite frankly) that we don’t consider with much regularity is that,
“The Word became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the Father’s one and only Son.”
God certainly understands the power of words and so he choose to reveal himself as the “word made flesh” in hopes that a different kind of momentum might be created regarding the power of words, that he himself might be the one to set the stage for their power for good!
In this second installation of my Christmas blog we are looking at the story of Christmas through the lens of Gary Chapman’s book entitled the Five Love Languages.
Yesterday, we saw that Jesus came in the form of a servant and was most willing to serve. One of the great surprises of the Christmas story – is that Jesus came as the servant king. He was not what the people expected, but he was exactly what they needed.
Today I want to look at the words surrounding the story of Christmas and invite you to notice how God used words in the coming of Christ to ensure that all those who need words would know that God knows their language of love and proactively used it to communicate his heart toward us in a way we would understand.
I think its fair to say that words have actually always been important to God. In fact, at almost every significant point of revelation, God used words as a central part of his self-revelation. And when you think God (and his divine sense of priority), it is all the more amazing that he would continually come back to them to remind us all that words don’t just have destructive power but can just as easily have creative power as well!
So, for example, when we look at the creation narrative, what do we find in the book of Genesis (over and over again)?
Then God said…
Genesis 1: 3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 29
Time and again, we see God brings to pass the beauty of all creation through the power of words.
Then when it comes to the revelation of what God wants from us, and how it is that we should live, God again comes back to words, in the giving of the ten commandments,
And God spoke all these words, saying:
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt..”
When the great King David is expressing his praise to God, in what for all intents and purposes serves as the center point of our Bibles, in Psalm 119, David proclaims,
“Thy word is a lamp to my feet
. And a light to my path.”
And Christmas was another occasion in which he did!
One of the more memorable points of the Christmas story is the fact that upon the birth of the Christ child, we are told that an angel appeared to the shepherds watching their flocks by night. And its interesting that God chose shepherds as the ones to whom he appeared before – because these were not exactly the high class folks. These were people that would most likely get in trouble. So much so that a shepherd’s testimony wasn’t even allowed in court. I love this part of the story, and it is a detail that is easily missed, but the fact that God in his sovereign outworking of this plan choose shepherds as the initial and primary audience of his coming says something about the priority in the heart of God for those who are furthest away. It’s God’s way of saying I have come for you – the irreligious, the trouble-makers, the notorious sinners – you are the ones who are on my heart on this most holy day!
And what did the angel do? The angel brought words of good news that would bring them great joy. He said,
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
For those of us who need words of affirmation, in order to feel truly known and loved, there are plenty of them in the Christmas story. In fact, if that is your love language, don’t you feel loved knowing that God has seen fit to make sure he spoke your language of love? The great God of the universe in an effort to make sure we would all know the breadth and depth of his love for us, used words to introduce his coming and reveal to us the fact that words can be powerful vehicles by which people experience great joy. Words don’t just have negative/destructive power, they can just as easily have positive/creative power too.
Which brings us to that part of our time where we must ask ourselves, what does all this mean for us? It is great that God went to such lengths to use words to show love to those who need words to experience it – which is awesome! But, on top of that, I think we are forced to ask, what does his action mean in terms of our own changed behavior? How are we different, because of all this?
I think it means a couple things, and the first may sound extremely obvious, but sometimes the more obvious something is the more likely we are to miss it. This focus on this part of the Christmas story is meant to serve as a reminder of the power of words. What we say matters. Let’s not be cavalier or careless. Let us be mindful of what we say. Let us guard ourselves against exaggeration and fabrication. Let us put off gossip and rumor-mongering. This is what I think we are challenged to do – in light of God’s choice with his words – we are to think more carefully about what we say, or maybe more specifically what not to say.
But, it is also more than that. It isn’t just about avoiding the negative it is about purposefully and proactively affirming the positive. It isn’t just about trying to avoid the destructive power of words, it is about following the example of God (in the coming of Jesus – the word made flesh) and looking for opportunities for our words to be laced with life-giving potential.
My wife and I had a talk about this recently. One of my primary love languages is to give words of affirmation. So, today’s topic is very important and very personal to me. But, one of the things I realized in my conversation with Carol is that sometimes (and it probably happens way more often that I’d care to admit), but sometimes I think I have said something positive to her about what she has done for me, or how pretty she looks, or how hard she has worked, and I think because I thought it, I said it. And what I realized (in our conversation) was that there are all too many instances that I actually just thought it, and I didn’t say it.
So, when Carol confronted me about it, I got pretty defensive initially, because I thought to myself, “Look, words of affirmation are my love language – I love words and I love using them to build people up. I always appreciate how good you are to me and how good you look all the time. I say it all the time!” I assumed I was doing it AND doing it rather well, I might add. But, the more we talked this through the more I realized I wasn’t being as attentive on this front as I thought I was being. I thought this was a strong suit. And often it is… But, not here and not with her. I had to become much more proactive not just about restraining my potential negativity. More importantly I needed to be more conscientious about saying what I was thinking. So, this been my habit of late, if I am thinking about something positive, I say it!
So, if Carol walks into the room after getting ready, and I think, “Man, I am a lucky guy, she looks so good tonight!” I say it. If she has just finished spending the day working hard at Christmas decorations out, and I think, “Wow the house looks great!” I say it. Or if I can tell that she has worked really hard on not letting my weaknesses define her impression of me and she has stood up for me, I try and remember to say it. I think it often, but now I have to get better at saying it. I hope I am – and not just with Carol, but with the many people who are kind and gracious and helpful to me. I think it, I want to continue growing in my capacity to say it.
And I am wondering if anyone else identifies with that dynamic for yourself. You think the affirming things often and maybe (like me), you think you say it – therefore, all is well! But, the truth is that you really haven’t done it as much as you think you have. And there are people in your relational world who are desperately waiting for you to speak well of them, to stand up for them, to let them know just how much they mean to you.
Your belief in them, and your willingness to express it, may in fact be the greatest Christmas gift they receive this year!