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Taming the Tongue

I can say this because I’m a woman. Sometimes we misuse our tongues. We criticize. We judge. And we gossip about what we criticize and judge. But we don’t have to be this way. It’s a choice, really. We can both choose what comes out of our mouths, as well as how to react when we are the ones hurt by words coming from someone else’s mouth.

Why is it important to get in the habit of speaking well of others? Because according to Jesus, if we have a tongue problem, the diagnosis is that we really have a heart problem. He says in Matthew 12:34, “‘For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.’” So rather than just biting our tongue, what we really need to do is to work on softening our hearts. I remember the day I came across a text that says something similar, only much stronger–and it made a huge impact on me: “If anyone thinks himself religious and yet does not keep a tight reign on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” Wow. Why is this? Because once again—who we are—who we really are in our hearts—will come out of our mouths.

Overcoming a Critical Attitude

Here are some steps to take in overcoming a critical spirit and taming the tongue:

Step 1 – Train yourself to look for the good qualities in people. Overlook their flaws as you wish others to overlook yours.

Step 2 – Practice speaking well of others. When tempted to criticize, find something positive to say instead.

Step 3 – Make a “Words to Live By” poster. First, write that title at the top of a piece of paper. Then find Bible texts that speak of having a gentle spirit and write them below. Hang in a prominent place and read often.

Step 4 – Strive to be like Jesus. Daily read and think about how accepting, gentle, and loving He was and is. Read how patient He was—even with the worst of sinners.

Step 5 – Serve others. It’s easier to harbor a critical spirit when you’re living a self-centered life, and harder when your life is focused outside yourself toward others and their needs.

Step 6 – Ask God for help. Pray this prayer at the beginning of every day: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, and keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).

Overcoming Hurt

But what if you’re on the receiving end of the hurtful words? What if you’re the subject of someone’s criticism or gossip? The childhood saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” just isn’t true, is it? There are steps you can take, too.

Step 1 – Pray for the person who has hurt you. It might be hard at first, but it’s actually something Jesus asks of you because He knows that it will help you. He said in Matthew 5:43, 44: “‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you….’” Now the prayer isn’t that God’s judgment will come down on them! But that He will heal their hurts, soften their hearts, and heal the situation.

Step 2 – Pray for yourself. Ask God to show you if there’s any truth in the criticism. If there’s not, pray for help to not dwell on the hurtful words. Ask Him to help you forgive and forget. And even to help you…love…your critic.

Step 3 – Choose not to take offense. Don’t return hurt for hurt. Follow this advice in James 1:26: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry….”

Step 4 – Go to the person who has hurt you. This can be very hard to do. In fact, it seems the opposite of what we’re use to doing. If someone hurts us, we feel that it’s their responsibility to come to us. But once again, Jesus asks something different of us. He asks in Matthew 18:15: “‘If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you….’” That doesn’t mean to go to the person and let her know in no uncertain terms what a sinner she is! But I believe it means to go to her and be honest, yet considerate. Let her know why her words hurt, and do your best to reconcile.

Step 5 – Place yourself in your critic’s shoes. I have come to believe that there is always a reason why someone acts unkind. Ask yourself why she might be acting the way she does. Is she hurting? Is she bitter? Understanding is the key to breaking down resentments.

Step 6 – Extend the same forgiveness Jesus gives you. When we think of the many times He’s forgiven us, how can we give any less to others? Follow Paul’s advice in Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Jesus’ Desire for us to Overcome

The night before Jesus was crucified, He prayed a lengthy prayer to God the Father. One of the things He prayed for touches me every time I read it because He prayed for us—you and me. After He prayed for His disciples He said, “‘I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you’” (Matthew 17:20, 21).

Of all the things that were on His mind that night, we were also on His mind. One of His dying wishes was that we would be one—that we would, as His children, be a family. And not only that, but that we might be one in the same manner that Jesus and God the Father are one. What a giant challenge! But it must be doable, or He wouldn’t have prayed for it.

I want for us as women to help make Jesus’ desire become a reality–that we love each other. I’ve always said that if you expect to be in Heaven, and the woman you don’t get along with expects to be there, you’d better start getting along now! Unity doesn’t happen between here and Heaven at the second coming. It begins today. It begins with you and me making that phone call, knocking on that door, or writing that letter.

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