The Power of a Word

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish… so is My Word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Isa. 55:10-11

Image of a waterfall, cascading over rocks, the Word of Life and the Bible

Our God is a lover of words. He made the whole of creation with a word. He Himself is the Word of Truth made flesh to dwell among us. And He speaks to us through His Holy Word, the Bible, which is not only true, but alive, “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Our God speaks to us with the same breath of life that He used to bring us to life (Gen. 2:7, Ezek. 37:5).

The Word of God is powerful beyond measure. The Bible tells us that it is active, sharp, penetrating, and able to judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Heb. 4:12). It is useful and equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It is a lamp and a light for our feet and our eyes (Ps. 119:105, Ps. 19:8). It is enduring (Isa. 40:8, Matt. 24:35), flawless (Ps. 18:30), a solid foundation (Matt. 7:24), able to save and sustain (James 1:21, Heb. 1:3). His Word is a fire and a hammer (Jer. 23:29). It is a sword (Eph. 6:17). It is bread (Matt. 4:4). His Word is life (John 6:63).

I, too, am a lover of words. I especially love the written word. I love to use words to encourage a friend, build bridges between people, and most of all to help people know God better. It was a touching moment when I came to the realization not long ago that I bear this trait in common with my Father, that I reflect Him in this way. Just as children tend to inherit certain traits from their parents, I share my Father’s love of words. When a child and parent bear in common something good, it makes both beam with pride.

The Value of Words

God has given us, people made in His image, the ability to speak, and our words have power, as well. They can be a healing balm that speaks life, or they can be a weapon. A few weeks ago, a guest preacher at our church prayed that we would use our gifts to build up rather than to tear down. In that moment I suddenly heard God speak to my heart, “Your words.” I was immediately convicted by the realization that I have been using my words, a gift God has given me and one of the ways in which I reflect Him, to do the very opposite of what they are meant to do—give life.

“A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.” –Prov. 15:4 

“Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” –Eph. 4:29

The people I have been building up the least lately are the ones I am most responsible to speak life to—my children. Raising children takes a lot of patience, something I am apparently in short supply of, and it is all too easy to use my authority and my words to “be right at” my children or try to guilt them into compliance, rather than using my words to teach and encourage them with gentleness. Trying to justify a critical tone comes easily, especially because my goal is to teach them good behavior, which I tell myself is for their good. But if I’m honest, my desire for them to behave well is often more about my own convenience in that moment. That critical tone betrays a critical spirit, and if my words are not said in love, they cannot truly be intended for their good.

“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” 1 Cor. 13:1

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.” –Prov. 14:1

God values words highly, and He has some words of warning for those who don’t use theirs well:

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak” –Matt. 12:36

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” –James 1:26

“But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” –Matt. 15:18

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” –Prov. 18:21

My words have not been kind, and this is a reflection of the condition of my heart. What is in my heart that is defiling me? The idol of ease. Pride in thinking I am superior to these little ones whom God values so highly and tells me I must become like. Lack of patience, when the Lord has been so very patient with me. If I love the Lord, and my family, I must do better. Yet as I’ve tried over and over again to do better in this area, and as I’ve searched the Scriptures, I have come to a sobering realization: I am incapable of taming my tongue. This is not a cop-out. This is an unwelcome reality that has the ability to drive me to near despair.

“The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” –James 3:6-8

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” Gal. 5:17

“The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” –Mk. 14:38

Words Empowered by the Spirit

Still, I keep trying, and in an effort to be more encouraging when disciplining my children, I’ve been teaching them about the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 and commending them with little pieces of paper fruit when they show gentleness, patience, or self-control. As I prepared to teach them these virtues, I realized that this endeavor (along with any of our efforts for good behavior) cannot be simply about trying to be “good” of our own accord. After all, we did not earn God’s favor by our performance (Eph. 2:8-9). So I contemplated what it is that makes this fruit “of the Spirit.” If I’ve learned anything in my own struggle over sin, it’s that we need God to produce the good fruit in us, because our own efforts are not going to be successful. But how can we tap into His Spirit?

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” John 6:63

This verse from the book of John gave me the answer. The very words of God, spoken to me, are Spirit and life. In them is the power to overcome the flesh and to live by the Spirit, which gives life. As one who has accepted the gift of salvation found in Christ, I have been given the Holy Spirit, who dwells in every believer (Eph. 1:13). We need the Word of God—Jesus—dwelling within us to produce in us life eternal. After that, though, we must actively walk in the Spirit to continue the process of letting that seed of eternal life grow to produce its fruit in our lives, and for that to happen, we need the Word of God—Scripture—dwelling in us also, being that light, that fire, that sword, that bread, doing all the things it can do to produce life in us. What a great hope we have that we can overcome the power of sin and death—though we are powerless to do so of ourselves—because of the power of God at work in us. Thanks be to God!

“And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep My laws.” Ezek. 36:27

“No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” Deut. 30:14

So my children and I are going to dig into Scripture and pray for it to bear fruit in our lives, rather than striving on our own. And as for my struggle to speak kindly to my family, I’m coming to understand that what I need in order to gain control over my words is His Word. The words that come from my mouth and my flesh will fail, or worse, destroy. The words that are born of Him will never fail but will produce life! That is what I want to give to my family, and to every person to whom I speak. I want to speak words of life, with a love that reflects the Father’s great love for them.