Watch Your Words

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths . . . (Ephesians 4:29)

John Francis is a man of varied identities. He is an environmentalist. An author and speaker, he presented a TED talk in 2008. He is a scholar, having earned a Ph.D. in land management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One thing John Francis certainly is not is a monk.

But for 17 years John Francis did not speak. A vow of silence intended to be binding for one day became a 17 year stretch of quiet. Here’s how that happened.

In 1971 Francis witnessed the collision of two oil tankers in the San Francisco Bay. As a result, he made a commitment to stop using motorized transportation. This decision was not understood by many who knew him. Francis found himself constantly arguing, defending and explaining what he was doing and why.

After a couple of years of that he decided he’d had enough. He needed to quit arguing, explaining, talking. So in 1973 John Francis decided that for one full day he would not speak. One day of silence became two. And so it continued for 17 years.

I Wish I Hadn’t Said That

Let me just get this out there: there’s no way I could do that. There’s no way I would even attempt it. And trust me, I like quiet. I don’t mind solitude. But I make my living largely with words and talking. A day of silence might be possible, but I can’t imagine holding my tongue for seventeen silent years.

That being said, I know that talking can be a problem. I’ve uttered words I wish I could get back. I’ve said one thing but managed to convey something else. With my words I have been careless, thoughtless, and heartless. I’ve spoken when I should have kept my mouth shut. I’ve sat mute when I should have had the courage to speak up.

Simply put, I’ve said things I regret.

Not just years ago, and not just at some point way back when before I was ordained for ‘full-time-Christian-ministry.’ No, I could tell you a specific story (but I won’t) of when I wished I had kept my mouth shut within the past week.

So there we have two extremes when it comes to our words and the things we say. On one hand, you could be like John Francis and simply decide to stop talking. Period. On the other hand, you can throw your words around without really thinking about their impact, and then you can live your days feeling embarrassed about what you said.

Or maybe there’s a better way – a way that truly reflects why our speaking God created us to be speaking beings.

Some Guidelines for Talkers

Our words are the single most effective way we can give encouragement to other people.

That’s not the only way, of course. Sometimes people can be encouraged by your example. They watch the way you live, see the way you handle yourself and handle what life throws at you, and they are encouraged by what they see. Your example shows them what’s possible. It gives them hope.

But there’s an immediate impact, a game-changing power hidden within our words. Words allow you to provide encouragement by direct deposit. The things you say can go straight to another person’s soul. The words you use can build them up, or just as easily tear them down.

In a single verse of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians we get a few simple guidelines for using our words in a way that will encourage others. We don’t hide this gift by taking a vow of silence; we don’t squander the gift by speaking without a filter. The guidelines are simple and straight forward.

First, determine to build others up. Say something that will leave a person better off than they were before they encountered you. You don’t have to be profound, just be positive.

Second, speak words that a fitting to where that person is and what they’re dealing with in their life. Speak according to their needs. It’s nice to tell someone that ‘everything will be ok’ – but there may be times when they can’t hear that. So say what fits the moment.

Finally, let your words be beneficial to any who might hear them. Sometimes your words are not just heard, they are overheard. Make sure being overheard isn’t a source of regret for you.

Good for Someone’s Soul

The writer of Ecclesiastes was exactly right when he wrote that ‘there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak’ (3:7). Silence can be good for your soul but speaking can be good for someone else’s soul.

Giving encouragement is at the heart of Christian community – and the best way to do this is with your words. How will you use words to encourage and build up someone today?


Lord, let my words be filled with your grace today. Help me to speak in such a way that those who hear are encouraged, and those who overhear are glad they did. I ask you to be at work in someone else’s life through things that I say, speaking life into others just as Jesus did, the one through whom we pray. Amen.

One thought on “Watch Your Words

  1. Some one once gave me some good advice which I often wish I was better at taking. That was to say ,
    Words are like Bullets. Once fired you can not take them back. Lots of harm can come when that is not thought about first. just sayin. Keep up the good work Mark . We still miss your presence at Ptree. 🙂


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