A few years ago, in Colarado, a woman named Terry Barton was burning a letter from her husband. She was careful to put the fire out, but still sparks blew up into the air and away from her. One of those sparks started a fire that burned down 140,000 acres of forest, including 600 buildings and 300 homes. Just one spark.
The Bible says the tongue is like a fire. "Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire..." James 3:5 Isn't that amazing - how realistic the Bible is regarding the great forest being set on fire by a small spark. It's also true how our tongues can act as fire - setting fires in the hearts and minds of those who hear us.
What kind of fires have I set with my tongue? It says in Ephesians 4:29, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." Are others better off because of listening to me? Am I ministering to others, according to their needs?
(FYI - Those of you who think I don't ever yell at my kids might appreciate reading this brutally honest portrayal of who I can sometimes be)
I tend to yell at my kids when they don't clean their room. Oh, not at first. At first, I say (in a sing-songy voice) "Guess what? You're going to clean your room today! And if you all work together, it won't take long at all! And when you finish getting everything off your floor, you get to vacuum!" (yes, that used to work) Then I leave them to it.
About half an hour later, I go to see how they are doing and their floor looks remarkable picked up and they are lounging on their beds. "Wow," I say, "Where'd you put everything?" Then I look under their beds. "I said to clean your room, not shove everything under your beds! Put your things where they belong!" (this is said with a bit of force - not quite yelling yet.)
Within the next ten minutes, each girl has come out to complain that one of the others isn't helping, or to tell me she desperately needs to use the bathroom, or to ask me if they can be done yet - they've been working all day, you know, and they're tired and hungry. Poor little things. Then my voice gets a bit louder. "Get your room cleaned up or else!" Yes, I do resort to threats. "Stop whining and get along!" "I don't care what she's doing, I care about what you are doing - clean up your mess!"
Then my rants start to follow me around, (as I pick up things around the house and throw them where they belong) "Why am I the only one who ever cleans up around here? My goodness, do you really think I want to spend my whole day picking up after 6 people! You are old enough to help!" And finally, I go into their room, and either growl or yell at the top of my lungs, "If this isn't picked up in 10 minutes, everything I can see that is not put away will go into the trash can and you will never get it back!"
When I go in with the vacuum 10 minutes later, everything is put away and I start vacuuming with steam coming out of my ears, and my kids scurry off to get away from me. Not exactly how I pictured our happy little life when they were babes in their cribs.
Do you think last Sunday's sermon spoke to me a bit? Yeah, I'd say so. I already knew this wasn't how I wanted to handle room cleaning, and raising my kids in general, but what to do instead? These kids don't respond until I start yelling and making threats. (yes, I realize some of you will say I trained them to be like that)
To add insult to injury, I remembered this verse from James 3:9. "With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be." Ow.
As a child, my favorite hymn was, "Pass It On." The lyrics go like this:
It only takes a spark to get a fire going
and soon all those around will warm up in its glowing
That's how it is with God's love
once you've experienced it
You spread His love to everyone
You want to pass it on.
So I guess what I'm getting at is I want the sparks coming off my tongue to be igniting a warm glow of God's love in the people around me. I don't want to be burning down their houses, or scorching their spirits. I want my sparks to be building them up according to their needs.
My daughter Olivia, is having an awful time going to school right now. I get so frustrated with her whining and tears every morning, "I don't want to go!" But is my yelling at her to "be quiet and deal with it!" building her up? How can I talk her through this, while building her up, and meeting her needs? She needs me to love her and she needs me to find out what is causing this sudden dislike of school.
And for getting the kids to clean their room without yelling, whining, or tears? I'm still working on that. But I know how I don't want to do it. And I know it may take biting my tongue. I was talking to a friend of mine a few years ago about the disrespectful way she spoke to her husband. She told me she couldn't help herself. My advice? Every time you are about to say something mean or disrespectful, literally bite your tongue. After a while, your tongue will hurt so bad, it won't be worth your pain. And you will stop causing pain to your husband, not to mention the little ears listening. So I guess it's time I swallow a spoonful of my own advice and bite my tongue.
Here's my criteria for deciding what I should say:
Is this going to benefit and build up the person listening?
Is what I am about to say going to meet that person's needs?
How would I feel if someone said this to me?
Thanks Dad, for setting a spark in my heart with your sermon on Sunday. Love you.
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