Good morning! I hope this day finds you and your family well, and I want you to know that you are in my prayers daily during this difficult time.
I invite you to take a few moments with me to reflect on today’s Upper Room Devotional below — as well as on the theology woven into “It is well with my soul.”
Special thanks to Peggy Graff and her guests for providing this uplifting and inspiring addition to us in her Dog Days Duets series. I pray that these weekly selections will uplift your spirits and feed your soul as much as it does mine.
Psalm 120 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Prayer for Deliverance from Slanderers
A Song of Ascents.
1 In my distress I cry to the Lord,
that he may answer me:
2 “Deliver me, O Lord,
from lying lips,
from a deceitful tongue.”
3 What shall be given to you?
And what more shall be done to you,
you deceitful tongue?
4 A warrior’s sharp arrows,
with glowing coals of the broom tree!
5 Woe is me, that I am an alien in Meshech,
that I must live among the tents of Kedar.
6 Too long have I had my dwelling
among those who hate peace.
7 I am for peace;
but when I speak,
they are for war.
Tim’s Devotional Reflection for Today
In Psalm 120 the Psalmist cries out to God in distress because he is the victim of “lying lips” and “a deceitful tongue.” This is not the only place in the Bible where the negative power of speech is the focus. In the New Testament letter of James. James says that the tongue is like the rudder on a huge ship—the whole ship’s course is determined by the small rudder in the water. With horses, says James, we just get control of their mouths with bits, and then their whole bodies follow. The tongue, he says, is the smallest part of the body, but it can direct the whole course of a person’s life.
Then James employs another image which powerfully makes his point: “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell.”
The picture of the tongue as a fire would also have been a familiar image to the first readers of James’ letter. The writer of the book of Proverbs says, “A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.” There are two reasons why the damage which the tongue can do is like a fire: First of all, it is wide-ranging. The tongue can damage at a distance. A word dropped at this end of the country can damage someone at the other end. The Rabbis of the first century had this picture: “Life and death are in the hand of the tongue. Has the tongue a hand? No, but as the hand kills, so the tongue. The hand kills only at close quarter; the tongue is called an arrow because it kills at a distance. An arrow kills at forty or fifty paces, but of the tongue it is said (Psalm 73:9), ‘They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.’ It ranges over the whole earth and reaches to heaven.” Just like a fire, the tongue can wound and hurt and kill from a distance.
The other reason that the tongue is compared to a fire is that it is uncontrollable. In the tinder-dry conditions of Palestine a forest fire was almost immediately out of control; and no one can control the damage of the tongue. There’s an old saying: “Three things do not come back: the spent arrow, the spoken word and the lost opportunity.” There is nothing as difficult (impossible, really) as killing a rumor. There is nothing as impossible as obliterating an idle and destructive story.
Jesus warned in Matthew 12, “By your words you will be justified; and by your words you will be condemned.” Proverbs 15:1-4 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath; but a harsh words stirs up anger. . . . A gentle tongue is a tree of life; but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.”
We learned a little rhyme as children: “Sticks and Stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Is it true? Hardly! Jesus Ben Sirach, the writer of the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, was very concerned about what we say and how we say it and he would never agree with that little rhyme we call learned. Listen to his words from chapter 28:
11 If you blow on a spark, it will glow; if you spit on it, it will be put out; yet both come out of your mouth. 12 Curse the gossips and the double-tongued, for they destroy the peace of many. 13 Slander has shaken many, and scattered them from nation to nation; it has destroyed strong cities, and overturned the houses of the great. 14 Slander has driven virtuous women from their homes, and deprived them of the fruit of their toil. 15 Those who pay heed to slander will not find rest, nor will they settle down in peace. 16 The blow of a whip raises a welt, but a blow of the tongue crushes the bones. 17 Many have fallen by the edge of the sword, but not as many as have fallen because of the tongue. 18 Happy is the one who is protected from it, who has not been exposed to its anger, who has not borne its yoke, and has not been bound with its fetters. 19 For its yoke is a yoke of iron, and its fetters are fetters of bronze; 20 its death is an evil death, and Hades is preferable to it. (Ecclesiasticus or Sirach 28:11-20)
Jesus Ben Sirach would say “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may actually crush them.”
Social media fans the flames of conspiracy theories, rumors, and junk science into a raging wildfire. I get forwarded emails that are long-discredited hoaxes still circulating as fact. Some of them are enormously destructive and hurtful, yet they are forwarded or posted and continue to damage at a distance without the possibility of control. Can’t we do better? Certainly, as people of faith, we can.
Thank you for sharing this early moment of your day with me, with God, and with the words and music that I hope you will carry with you throughout the coming day and night.
I am so grateful for you, for our church, and for the Love that will see us all through this very difficult time. Please stay safe and well and we’ll be together again in spirit tomorrow morning!
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster