upset couple
The power of life and death are in the tongue, according to a proverb. (Charisma archives)

"Sorry I'm late for the meeting. Traffic!" Half-truths such as this one were becoming easier and easier for me to tell.

Of course, there had been some traffic on the freeway, but nothing that would have delayed my arrival if I had left on time. The real truth was that I had overslept because I had stayed up to watch the late-night edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show.

Notice I didn't actually say that traffic was extremely heavy or that it was the traffic that had delayed me. I just implied it so that my team members would conclude my tardiness was outside my control.

For some time prior to this incident my husband had been trying to convince me that any intent to deceive is a lie. My conscience had also been faithful to remind me of Proverbs 12:22: "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight" (NKJV).

I had to acknowledge that whether the misrepresentation takes the form of a half-truth, flattery, an exaggeration or blatant deceitfulness, it is still a lie—plain and simple.

I've been challenged with sins of the mouth for as long as I've been able to talk. However, a few years ago, I reached the height of frustration with my tongue after some unguarded words I spoke wreaked havoc in a valued relationship. The moment I uttered the words, I regretted them. I knew that trying to get them back was as impossible as recapturing a pillowcase of feathers released in the wind.

I decided then that it was time to bring my tongue, that unruly member the apostle James talks about, under control. I began my journey by researching every negative use of the tongue I could find in the Bible. I ultimately identified 30. I'm sure there are more but I knew that if I could conquer even half of them, I would have gained a major victory.

I made a commitment to go on a 30-day "tongue fast," a period of verbal abstinence from all ungodly speaking. With my arsenal of Scriptures, I embarked upon my quest for a wholesome tongue that would be a wellspring of life in every situation.

I knew the task would be impossible without God's help. I was well aware of James' warning: "But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison" (James 3:8).

Nevertheless, I took courage from the words of our Savior, " 'The things which are impossible with men are possible with God' " (Luke 18:27). Each time I caught a negative talker in the act, I drafted her to join my mission.

My strategy when faced with the temptation to dishonor God in any way with negative speech was to catch myself, stop midsentence and exclaim, "Tongue fast!" It seemed that I had to restart the fast a zillion times during the first few days.

I would succumb to some of the tongue temptations even though the Holy Spirit was flashing a yellow caution light, warning me to stop. Sometimes I deliberately ran the red light and said the wrong thing; other times I stopped and won the battle.

It was eye-opening as well as disappointing to find out I wasn't the only one suffering from tongue trouble. During my fast I realized that this is a big problem throughout the body of Christ.

Many people seem to be oblivious to the power of their words to build up or tear down, motivate or discourage, heal or hurt, spread or squash rumors, and delight or deceive. Perhaps you can identify with my struggles and triumphs in the following instances.

Complaining. "Why don't they just get more tellers?" whined the woman standing in line behind me at the bank. In my desire to relate to her misery, I chimed in and agreed. What else was I supposed to do? Isn't commiserating how you instantly bond with people?

Was I going to risk alienating myself from her by disagreeing? Heaven's no!

This incident seems like eons ago. I now have a new strategy. When faced with a long wait, I pull out some reading material, intercede for the salvation of each person around me or try to get the complainer to see the bright side of the situation.

I have not forgotten that it was murmuring and complaining that caused most of the Israelites to die in the wilderness and miss the Promised Land.

I frequently challenge myself to note the number of times I am tempted to complain within a 24-hour period. My goal is to resist the temptation to express displeasure with any person or situation.

I once expanded the no-complaints challenge to seven days when I took an exciting trip to the Hawaiian island of Maui. Before I boarded the plane, I had to resist murmuring about the traffic at the airport, security procedures, the lack of meals on the plane, the length of the flight and a host of other unimportant issues—all before we arrived in Maui.

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