God expects us to tremble at his words, and to tremble over ours.
We Christians ought to be the most careful speakers in the world. We are to heed God’s words ourselves and communicate them to others with care, and we are to speak our words carefully since we will “give an account [to God] for every careless word [we] speak” (Matthew 12:36).
“Lord, forgive me for trembling too little over your holy words and too little over my unholy words.”
This whole talking business is a very serious business. It’s life-and-death serious: “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21). I would think that anything this serious would naturally be a focus of my regular prayer. But as I’ve examined my prayer habits as it relates to my talking habits, I’ve noticed that I tend to only pray about what I say when I’m aware that a lot is at stake in what I say. But Jesus says a lot is at stake when I’m not aware and speaking carelessly: “for by [my] words [I] will be justified, and by [my] words [I] will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
What does that mean — that we’ll be justified or condemned by our words? It means our words will witness for or against us when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10). Because “out of the abundance of the heart the Mouth
speaks” (Matthew 12:34). What comes out of our mouths (or through our fingers when we type) reveals what fills our hearts. Our words reveal whether or not we truly have a “fear of the Lord” that “keep[s] [our] tongue from evil” (Psalm 34:11–13).
I must pray far more about what I say. And if you’re like me, I welcome you to join me. The following are ways I’ve turned biblical texts regarding speech into specific prayers that life, not death, will come from our tongues.
1. Teach me to tremble.
Lord, I fear I do not fear words enough. Forgive me for trembling too little over your holy words and too little over my unholy words. Teach me the wisdom of trembling, for “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
Lord, teach me to be quicker to hear and slower to speak, especially when I’m tempted to speak in anger (James 1:19). For if I do not bridle my tongue, my “religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
Lord, teach me to use more restraint in all aspects of my speech, for “when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent” (Proverbs 10:19). And, “whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble” (Proverbs 21:23).
2. Guard my mouth from speaking death.
Lord, I believe “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), and I do not want to speak death of any kind to anyone. So “set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3).
Lord, help me put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander [and] malice” so they will not pour out of me in words. Rather, help me be and speak what is “kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving” of others, just as you in Christ forgave me (Ephesians 4:31–32).
“Our words will witness for or against us when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.”
Lord, help me immediately discern when I am being tempted to be “puffed up with conceit” or have “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions.” Prevent me from marring your glory or harming any of your saints with sinful speech (1 Timothy 6:4).
“Deliver me, O Lord, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue” — especially my own! (Psalm 120:2) For “a lying tongue hates its victims, and a flattering mouth works ruin” (Proverbs 26:28).
Lord, deliver me from my evil propensity to slander others, for “whoever utters slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). You hate slander (Psalm 50:19–21), for it comes from selfish evil in our hearts (Matthew 15:19). So help me “keep [my] tongue from evil and [my] lips from speaking deceit” about anyone else (Psalm 34:13).
Lord, I know that my tongue has the potential to light a forest fire of sin (James 3:5–6), for I’ve ignited such fires in the past. And I also believe that “no human being can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). I need your Holy Spirit’s help to tame my tongue, so I may reap “a harvest of righteousness. . . sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18).
3. Release my mouth to speak life.