I’d like to share a short story and devotion with you but before I do, I’d like to extend a request to all of you. Please be thinking of the group of 12 men and women going down to the Dominican Republic this month, Feb 11th-18th. Please pray for safe and easy travels as well as effective ministry and training with the groups of fire fighters we will be serving.
I’d like to share with you one of my favorite stories from the Brothers Without Borders inaugural trip to the Dominican Republic back in November 2012. One of the highlights of the trip was when several different fire departments came together with one big day of training at the regional city fire department in La Romana. This was the culmination of the four previous days of visiting outlying fire departments throughout the island. We hosted roughly 50 fire fighters from several different departments. During lunch that day, we were all outside mingling together, getting to know the fire fighters. Most of the guys in our group were making feeble attempts to communicate without a translator (what my old high school Spanish teacher would have called “Spanglish”). The Dominican fire fighters laughed at us but would attempt to speak English back. The mood was light and fun, a brotherhood bonding over our common goal of protecting our city despite the language barrier.
Suddenly, from overhead came those all too familiar tones of a call for help. “Fuego Fuego Fuego!” they all yelled. Now, I may not be the smartest when it comes to knowing my Spanish vocabulary, however, I did understand what fuego means…. They are going to a fire! I looked over at our leader Brandon and fellow fire fighter Mike who had the same child-like grin staring back at me. We gotta join them! We subsequently jumped on the first due truck to offer any assistance we could. We zoomed down the narrow city streets of La Romana in a fire engine that would make any nascar driver proud. Before I could check if I had paid up my life insurance policy on my phone, we arrived at the fire. We quickly jumped out of the fire engine and could instantly smell smoke. We walked down a long narrow alley toward the fire, with every step the smell of smoke getting stronger and stronger. As we followed one of the Dominican fire fighters, we finally arrived at the scene of the fire. The fire was contained to a small bedroom and was quickly extinguished with our assistance. After the fire was out, we did some investigation on the fire. The room and its contents were completely destroyed as well as a few surrounding rooms. Walls charred, mattress left with just the springs standing, night stand reduced to ashes, everything else in the room was unrecognizable. Thankfully, no one was hurt. The cause of the fire, a single cigarette left unattended. I thought to myself, it’s amazing how such a small cigarette could cause so much damage.
This brings me to the word of God and our verse for today in the book of James. In chapter 3 James writes, “So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.”
Our tongue has a destructive nature. Like the small cigarette capable of lighting whole rooms on fire, so the tiny organ of our tongue can spark huge discord with just a single ill-timed word. With the tongue, one careless sentence can destroy a relationship, lead someone into a spiral of depression, or completely ruin your or someone else’s good character. I’ve seen too many friendships end with misunderstandings that stem from the words we speak. James speaks about how small our tongue is but yet how great a force it could have. Much like that one cigarette causing several thousand dollars of damage to the room, the tongue can cause a life time of pain, resentment, and anger.
I wish I could write to you and tell you that I’ve never uttered a wrong word about someone. I’d love to say that I’ve never accidentally let a 4-letter word fly out of my mouth in anger when things don’t go my way. I wish I could say that I’m in control of the things I say all of the time. I’m also a realist in thinking that it’s not possible to keep your mouth in check 100% of the time. However, thats not an excuse. I foolishly try to rationalize and justify my foolish words by thinking, well the Bible says “for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks ” and “the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick”. Now if one hears this you’ll think to yourself “I’ll forever be doomed to speak hate and slander for the rest of my life!”, right? Wrong! There is hope!
You see ultimately, I will never contain my tongue. James says that “the tongue is set on fire by hell.” Simply stated, the tongue and the words it speaks often comes straight from the devil himself. However, if we attempt to fix our heart, this will slowly and over time change the way we speak to others. The tongue isn’t the root of our problem, it’s our heart. So then we ask the question, how do we fix the heart in order to fix the tongue? That’s a very deep discussion that I will save for a later date however, let me give you three ways in which we can attempt to allow God to heal our heart and in turn help us speak words of love instead of hate towards one another.
Step one: Humble submission to God brings His abundant grace. This grace brings us supernatural enablement to speak words of love and resistance to utter words of hate. AKA, try praying to God. The book of James in chapter 4 says to “Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you”. Humbly ask him to give your heart direction and ultimately the over flow of your changed heart will soon reflect less and less hateful words.
Step two: Now that we are working on being humble, this is a gradual process. Since this takes time and until we master our tongue, try silence. AKA, shut up! (I say this to myself most of all and in a loving encouraging tone.) Proverbs 17:28 says, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise.” Being quiet and asking ourselves the question, why am I speaking? What is my motive? Is the next word I speak necessary? Is it meant to build someone up or tear someone down? Think before you speak.
Step three: Try digging into the book of Proverbs in the Bible. There is much wisdom that speaks to how we are to act and how we are to speak with others. Don’t know where to start, try the beginning. There are 31 Proverbs, try reading one proverb a day for one month. It will only take you about 2-3 minutes a day. Today is February 1st, why not start? I guarantee as you open up God’s word each day, it will change the way you talk and interact with others.
I pray that you would consider doing this exercise with me this month. I promise you that just by changing the words you speak will improve your relationships in your fire halls, places of work, and homes. Instead of spitting the fire of the tongue, I pray that you would ask God to help you speak the breath of new life into all you encounter.