Department: What's Vital?
Scripture ascribes tremendous power to speech, saying that “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21, ESV). One's tongue has the potential to praise God or cause shame and dishonor, as Jesus' brother James describes: “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God” (James 3:8-9, ESV). The harmful results of a rebellious tongue can resemble “sword thrusts” (Proverbs 12:18, ESV). A nurse who labels a patient or colleague, using derogatory adjectives, taints future interactions with that person and others.
The tongue is also called “a fire... staining the whole body...” that is “set on fire by hell” (James 3:6, ESV). Nurses who gossip or grumble against a supervisor can ignite antagonistic feelings that destroy healthy relationships and hinder open communication. Scripture makes clear that what we say can kill, hurt, and destroy. Yet, words spoken from a heart yielded to the Spirit of God can produce the opposite effect. Gentle words bring life (Proverbs 15:4); speech laced with wisdom causes healing (Proverbs 12:18); and a good word can relieve an anxious heart and make the hearer glad (Proverbs 12:25).
The writer of Psalm 45 compared his tongue to a pen. “My heart overflows with a pleasing theme; I address my verses to the king; my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe” (Psalm 45:1, ESV). The pen, an inanimate instrument in the hand of a scribe, communicates only what the writer intends to say. But the words a scribe puts down have originated elsewhere. Scribes in ancient times duplicated existing manuscripts or took dictation directly from the king or a prophet (see Jeremiah 36:32). They wrote someone else's words, not their own. The tongue as described in Psalm 45 is poised like a scribe's pen, awaiting dictation from another.
Psalm 45 also describes a heart overflowing with a pleasing theme. Jesus said this another way: “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, ... for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, ESV). As we think about true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, praiseworthy things (Philippians 4:8, ESV), the words that overflow will be similar.
The prophet Isaiah described good speech this way: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary” (Isaiah 50:4, ESV). The origin of this skillful, sustaining tongue is God himself. But the one who speaks must learn to know what is fitting to speak. Even Jesus acknowledged his dependence on the Father for the words he spoke: “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority, but speak just as the Father has taught me” (John 8:28, ESV).
As we present our bodies as living sacrifices to God (Romans 12:1) and our tongues as “slaves to righteousness” (Romans 6:19, ESV), our words will come from God (Proverbs 16:1), the Giver and Sustainer of life. Then our tongues will bring life and not death!
QUESTIONS FOR NURSES TO CONSIDER
- What do our harsh words reveal about the condition of our hearts?
- How does the imagery of a tongue being like fire apply to hurtful speech?
- Think of a time when your words brought comfort to a weary patient, colleague, or friend. How do we find the words that bring healing? How can our words help sustain disheartened people around us?
- Learning to speak life-giving words is a process. How do we learn to use our words to dispel anxiety and usher in gladness? Are your words becoming more helpful as time goes on? What portions of Scripture have been most helpful to you in this area?
- What spiritual disciplines help you to quiet your heart so you can hear the Father's heart and speak his words? Are these disciplines becoming more of a part of your daily routine?