Tim Clinton, Ed.D.
“Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles!”
“Cold words freeze people, and hot words scorch them, and bitter words make them bitter, and wrathful words make them wrathful. Kind words also produce their image on men’s souls; and a beautiful image it is. They smooth, and quiet, and comfort the hearer.”
— Blaise Pascal
We’ve all seen the devastation on the news that resulted from wildfires out of control. Acres and acres of beautiful forests, multi-million-dollar homes, and more importantly, lives, all destroyed by the raging fires. What’s interesting is that in almost all of the cases, these massive wildfires started from a just single spark. Someone dropped a cigarette butt or left some coals on a campfire and the wind kicked it up. Four out of five wildfires are started by humans. It’s hard to imagine that such devastation begins with a seemingly insignificant little spark. But the damage produced by that spark will be visible for several decades.
While out of control fires can be devastating, in the right place they can be warm and inviting. So it is with our tongue. Ever since kindergarten we have been taught the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Don’t believe it. It’s not true. Words have power—power to encourage, create, transform, or hurt, tear, and destroy. Our tongue is a fire. Proverbs 18: Proverbs 18:21 says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
You can speak death into someone or you can speak life into someone. New York Times Bestselling author, Helen Yglesias’ brother’s words broke her spirit. When Helen was a teenager during the Great Depression, she aspired to be a writer. She started writing a book and was excited about it. She eagerly let her brother read her manuscript, expecting encouragement and even a bit of constructive criticism. But his response almost destroyed Helen. “Nobody in the world is going to be interested in that &$#@* stuff you’re writing,” he said brashly. “You’d have to be a genius to get away with this boring stuff, and you’re no genius.” Frustrated and hurt, Helen ripped her manuscript to shreds. Those words, spoken by her insensitive brother, caused a forty-year delay in Helen Yglesias’s writing career. But after that long delay, Helen couldn’t take it anymore and, with the constant encouragement of a friend, finally wrote her book. The book became a New York Times bestseller and she went on to write many other bestsellers!
We all go through life with a remarkable power right under our nose? It is a power so great that it is capable of producing life or death depending on how it’s used. What about you? What are your words producing?
“Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10).
“Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24 KJV)
Tim Clinton, Ed. D., LPC, LMFT (The College of William and Mary) is President of the nearly 50,000-member American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC), the largest and most diverse Christian counseling association in the world. He is Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care, and Executive Director of the Center for Counseling and Family Studies at Liberty University. Licensed in Virginia as both a Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist, Tim now spends a majority of his time working with Christian leaders and professional athletes. He is recognized as a world leader in faith and mental health issues and has authored over 20 books including Breakthrough: When to Give In, When to Push Back. Most importantly, Tim has been married 36 years to his wife Julie and together they have two children, Megan, who recently married Ben Allison and is practicing medicine in dermatology, and Zach, who plays baseball at Liberty University. In his free time, you’ll find him outdoors or at a game with family and friends.