Of Ships and Fires

If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs.  So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,  and set on fire by hell.  For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,  but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.  Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water?  Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.

James 3:2-12

One thing we all have in common is the misuse of our tongue. Either overuse, underuse or inappropriate use. Perhaps the tongue runs ahead of our mind and the spirit of God spewing words that wound, words we often wish we could put back inside us. On the other hand, there are times when we know we should speak up and speak truth, but nothing comes out. We quench the spirit. Then there are the words that just make us cringe, not from evil, but from insensitivity, error, or just not thinking. In our scripture James warns us about our words.

We would all be careful with a match in dry woods. We’d be cautious using our grill during a drought, we wouldn’t dump the used charcoal in dry leaves, and most likely we’d follow Smokey the Bear’s instructions and douse it with water as we would a campfire. James says we should be equally on guard using our tongue. Are we careful where and when we use our words? Do we sum up each conversation and determine if it is the season for that word? Do we douse the spark with water when we do say something that incites another or injures them? The water of a apology, explanation or whatever action it takes to resolve our misuse of this muscle in our mouths?

James also compares our tongue to the rudder of a ship. The rudder directs the course the ship will take. Depending on how the rudder is handled, the ship may sail safely into calm seas and arrive at its destination in a timely manner. Or it could flounder in shoals, run aground or plow into another ship doing irreparable damage. What about the ship of our lives, how’s the trip going? Perhaps you find yourself always at odds with a husband, mother-in-law, co-worker, or even a stranger. There seems to be tension, a war of words or constant misunderstandings. Our tongue often is the rudder that has steered us into the situation, and it will take some careful steering to get us out.

So how do we handle the tongue?

First, we handle the heart. Words that come out of our mouth flow from the peace or chaos going on in our hearts. James says words are simply the fruit of the tree – if we’re a fig tree we grow figs and if we’re an olive tree we grow olives. What kind of tree are you? An anger tree? A fearful tree? A frustrated tree? An insecure or lonely tree? Our solution for issues with our tongues is to allow Jesus to heal our wounded hearts and turn us into Blessing trees or Kindness trees or Joyful trees or something similar. To have a heart change it takes going to see the Great Physician, spending time in His Presence and allowing Him to work on us and make the necessary repairs. As we are recovering we begin bearing the fruit we see in the verses below, good fruit, from a good tree – a healed heart.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

Galatians 5:22-24

Second, we obey. We exercise self-control even when we would feel more justified in making a smart remark or saying something hateful derogatory. Obeying the call of scripture to put others before ourselves, to walk humbly, to control our tongues is difficult. It takes a constant awareness of where our heart is leaning and a minute by minute decision to submit to God’s ways. But Girls, we can do it. God is at work in us, empowering us to live Holy lives, we simply follow through and do what we know to do.

So today we are challenged to be tongue-tamers! Which is even more challenging than being a lion tamer! We can do this. We want the ship of our lives to take a peaceful voyage that uplifts others as we travel on. We don’t want to be arsonists running around setting fires! Take it one day at a time. No wait, one minute at a time! We can do this!

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