Potency of Words

Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. _Proverbs 18:21 (MSG) 

Words are potent.  We know this all too well, don’t we?  Words have the potential to build us up, to strengthen our hearts, to give us courage, to change the course of our day for the better, to provide hope and much-needed encouragement…and at the same time, words have the potential to completely tear us down, rip our hearts out, overwhelm us with fear and doubt, send us spiraling downward, and leave us discouraged and in despair.

Words are potent.  When used wisely, words have the power to literally speak someone into their God-given potential and into their future.  When used recklessly and foolishly, words have the power to completely side-track someone and set them off course; and sadly, in some cases, they never recover.

There have been so many people over the course my journey whose words have completely changed my trajectory in life, who have challenged me, who have seen some potential and – who have used their words as a catalyst to unleash that potential and make it potent.  Sometime around the age of 13, I remember hearing the words of an old, retired Methodist minister who would often catch me after church and often say something like, There’s my little preacher!  This continued weekly well into my teenage years, and though I struggled to believe how a future like that would ever be possible (for more reasons than I’ve got time to write about), something in me began to hope, to desperately long to believe that what he was actually saying was true; that someone took notice of my potential (in this case, a call to ministry) and chose to speak that potential into reality.

Hopefully we’ve all experienced the life-giving potency of words in our lives.

Since preaching on this a few weeks ago, I’ve been pondering the question: If God has given our words such power, such potency to literally speak someone into the future that God has for them, then why don’t we use our words for such a divine purpose more often?

A quick ‘stab’ at answering this question can be found in our selfish, sinful nature that keeps us focused more on ourselves and less on others.  Since early in our lives, we’ve been adjusting to the fact that the world actually doesn’t revolve around us…a reality that many people never quite get a handle on.  And sometimes regardless of our commitment as a follower of Christ or how much we’ve grown in areas of spiritual maturity, most of us continue to struggle to step outside of ourselves long enough to see people around us through the lens of our Heavenly Father – to see and understand the potential, the good, the uniqueness and giftedness in others – and subsequently use our words to speak life, encouragement and hope into the hearts of others.

I posed these questions below for myself, first.  But perhaps these are some questions you might consider asking yourself when it comes to the life-giving nature of your own words:

  • Where/How am I using my words to speak someone into the future that God has for them?
  • How are my words impacting those I’m responsible for?  Are those under my care flourishing or are they feeling oppressed and held down by the things I say (or don’t say)?
  • How are my words serving to build-up those who are responsible for me, who are in positions of authority over me?
  • In what ways are my words being used more as weapons of evil than tools of grace, hope and life?
  • Where are my insecurities, self-centeredness, pride, fear and anger getting in the way of being a life-giver with my words and actions?  Of what do I need to repent?

With a word, God spoke ALL creation into existence, including all of humanity that has been created in His image and likeness.  As image-bearers, we have been given the power to create things around us with our words.  Opportunities stand before us today to use the power and potency of our words to create good in the lives of others around us – or, to accomplish the opposite.  As the wisdom-writer tells us in Proverbs 18:21, it’s our choice.

I will forever be grateful for the words of Reverend Lindsay Strader, a humble man of small stature, who God used to completely change the trajectory of my life. 

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