“Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary. How potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne
Think of the most influential book you’ve ever read. It could be non-fiction, but often, fictional works are just as powerful in their ability to impact readers. Disguised as entertainment, the fiction author’s message comes in a user friendly package. The trappings of the story invite us into worlds created especially for the story. We are introduced to characters we relate to or despise depending on their purpose. We are drawn in, and when we’ve become fully immersed in the story, the message takes on meaning we might have otherwise tuned out. Truths about life, love, and even faith are sweetened with the sugar of realistic characters and intriguing plot lines, and we swallow them down without the battle that would otherwise ensue if the points were blatantly shoved down our throats.
It’s not that we’re ignorant to what is happening. We aren’t powerless to stop it or tricked into accepting an idea we don’t agree with. We’re being shown a picture and left to determine how it is going to affect us. Sometimes the impact is in the characters. We see a belief or quality in them that we hunger to have in ourselves, and we come away looking for ways to embrace it in our own lives. Other times it’s the theme of the story that speaks to us and leaves us challenged to grow in ways we haven’t considered or possibly fought against.
The words of a writer can be powerful. They can confuse or enlighten. They can challenge or convince us there isn’t a reason to try. Understanding this is essential for writers, especially for those who are choosing to infuse their faith into their writing. We have a responsibility that other writers don’t necessarily share. We become teachers as we let our writing become an outgrowth of our faith. James 3:1 cautions that those who teach others should be careful because they will be judged more strictly. It’s not said to scare us away from sharing the things God has shown us. Instead, it is to safeguard the gospel from those who would treat it lightly and then go on to share those twisted teachings as truth to others leading them down a dangerous path.
But maybe you don’t write or teach. Your words are still powerful. Proverbs 18:21 says that death and life can be found in our words. Ephesians has a command for all believers to keep away from corrupting talk and only speak those things that would be good to build others up. James talks about the power of the tongue and the difficulty we face in trying to keep it under control. There are several verses worthy of being highlighted, but I think Matthew 15:18 gives us the perfect verse to consider. And it doesn’t have to do with the results of our words but where they come from in the first place. “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles the person.”
By the Book: Based on your words, what is in your heart?